Joe Strummer’s legacy starts with The Clash. The London punk pioneers didn’t just ride the blade’s edge of a musical revolution. They were the revolution. So in the mid-1980s when the group disintegrated after a decade together, departing with the rather anticlimactic Cut the Crap, it was anybody’s guess where the band’s individual creative forces would next appear.
Strummer, one half (with Mick Jones) of The Clash’s potent songwriting duo, turned to film scores, then at the turn of the 21st century formed a new band, The Mescaleros. The Mescaleros were a gritty pub rock outfit, perfectly eager to follow Strummer’s forays into world music, techno-folk, and wherever else he felt like going. Together they turned out three doughty, and underappreciated, albums on the Hellcat label; the final, and maybe the strongest, Streetcore; a posthumous release after Strummer’s unexpected passing in December of 2002.
Now, nearly 20 years later comes Assembly, collecting what is, if not the “best of,” certainly a thoughtful and concise distillation of that era. There are nods to The Clash- inclusions of live Mescalero renditions of “I Fought the Law” and “Rudie Can’t Fail”- that come closest to echoing those dawning days of punk. Really, though, what Assembly does best is recast Strummer as an ambitious artist that was so much more than just those rebellious days. The 16-track compilation of the Mescalero period skillfully demonstrates how fresh and invigorated Strummer’s songwriting is in these new environs, and how vital he sounds in performance.
This retrospective set is issued by Dark Horse Records; founded by the late Beatle, George Harrison, and now overseen by his son, Dhani. It’s an irony Strummer would’ve loved, having once spit out lines of phony Beatlemania biting the dust. That Strummer was the young lion raging against sentimentality. This is an older, wiser incarnation still roaring ahead, embracing diversity and change and scoring with as much piss and vinegar in his 40s as in his 20s.
Yes, Strummer’s legacy begins with The Clash. Yet from there, to borrow from the title of the Strummer documentary, the future was unwritten. Consider Assembly as one much needed chapter in the Joe Strummer story.