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Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - The Hellcat Years [digital] (Cover Artwork)

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros: The Hellcat Years [digital]The Hellcat Years [digital] (2012)
Hellcat Records

Reviewer Rating: 5
User Rating:


Contributed by: JeloneJelone
(others by this writer | submit your own)

If you have any sense at all, you like the Clash. Maybe you prefer the punkier material on The Clash and Give 'Em Enough Rope. Maybe you like the more dub-influenced mid-period stuff or the more pop-friendly Combat Rock. You definitely don't acknowledge Cut the Crap's existence, though, and everythi.
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If you have any sense at all, you like the Clash. Maybe you prefer the punkier material on The Clash and Give 'Em Enough Rope. Maybe you like the more dub-influenced mid-period stuff or the more pop-friendly Combat Rock. You definitely don't acknowledge Cut the Crap's existence, though, and everything the members did after that is hazy. All you know is you like Joe Strummer's bark and wit, the way he just oozed rock ‚??n' roll cool, but you never kept up with his "wilderness years" or his late period creative resurgence a few years before his 2002 death. If your wits are still about you, then you need to click the iTunes link above and buy The Hellcat Years.

For $24.99, Hellcat Records is offering up a digital box set containing the three best albums of Strummer's post-Clash career, which just so happen to have been recorded with his other band, the Mescaleros, plus a whole mess of rarities (more on those later for all you diehards. I still got some baptisms to initiate). The records will receive a physical release Sept. 25 [Note: I am thoroughly stoked to finally own Rock Art and the X-Ray Style on vinyl], but they can't compare to the price or immediate satisfaction of going digital. Yeah, I already own most of the rarities via singles and bootlegs, and the records aren't even remastered, and really, we need a true rarities box set a la Bruce Springsteen's Tracks, but got-dammit, this is Woody we're talking about here.

While Strummer never really slowed down artistically in the late '80s and '90s, he never quite put out a record as stirring as, say, London Calling, during that time. The best of that period, arguably the mostly instrumental Walker soundtrack, was more conducted by Strummer than it was written by him. That all changed with the Mescaleros' 1999 debut, Rock Art and the X-Ray Style. Previously, Strummer took his love of all music down many paths; here is where he fused it all together, combining folk, rock and electronic vibes with a handful of dub flourishes. Rock Art is also the cleanest-sounding of the Mescaleros records, perhaps owing to it originally being released by Mercury Records before Clash super fan Tim Armstrong swooped in and gave the band a better support network.

Rock Art is perhaps the most underrated of the Mescaleros albums, probably because it doesn't rock so much as groove. While there are some certified bangers ("Techno D-Day," "Tony Adams"), it's more defined by slightly spacey dancers like single "Yalla, Yalla." But it's still a damn fine listening experience, and the reissue adds in some choice B-sides like "Time and the Tide" and a surprisingly awesome dub remix of "Yalla, Yalla" that runs seven minutes.

By any measurement (production, lyrics, energy, genre mashing) follow-up Global A Go-Go is the better record, though. It only gets one rarity tacked on (a live version of "Bhindi Bhagee," which just seems anticlimactic after the lengthy Celtic folk of proper closer "Minstrel Boy"), but it still wins out by simply refining Rock Art's qualities. The folk is folksier on "Johnny Appleseed." The dub is slicker on the title track. The electronic textures are less pronounced, but they definitely add a splash of flavor. Strummer's lyrics bounce platitudes and rhymes ("If you're after getting the honey / Then you don't go killing all the bees" is up there with "He who fucks nuns will later join the Church" and "Ha / You think it's funny / Turning rebellion into money"). At 80 minutes or so, it's really a double album, and would have been a fitting end to the Mescaleros' legacy as the group's last proper studio effort.

But I still say Streetcore is the best of the three albums. While Strummer laid down a few tracks before his passing ("Coma Girl," "Get Down Moses"), the record is really a demo collection, pulling in acoustic songs from Strummer's vaults, such as "Long Shadow," which Strummer unsuccessfully wrote for Johnny Cash, along with "Redemption Song" and "Silver and Gold." The Mescaleros' material up to this point was pretty jammy, but they still worked in plenty of Clash songs live, creating an intense ebb/flow. Streetcore's most fully realized songs find a middle ground, keeping the world music approach but upping the oomph. It contains some of Strummer's best songs, and I do mean of all time. "Coma Girl," an ode to his daughters and Glastonbury, England, is a straight up catchy rocker. "Get Down Moses" lives up to its title. "Arms Aloft" is searing. In some ways it feels unfinished and even a little slight at just 10 tracks, but that makes it all the more poignant as the group's last record. Streetcore was put together after Strummer died, but it somehow still feels like the best representation of the Mescaleros.

Because of their slight diversity, any one of these albums makes an ideal starting point, and this cheap digital box set makes the choice that much easier. Also, the bevy of live rarities are exclusive to the digital version. My word. While these have been available elsewhere for years, there's still a great thrill in hearing the band take on Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come," the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" and Dandy Livingstone's "Rudy, A Message to You.". Plenty of Clash tunes get revisited as well, like "Rudy Can't Fail," "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais" and "Police on My Back." The best of the bunch, though, is three tracks that been circulating for a while on a bootleg called The Acton E.P..

The Acton E.P. was a recording of one the Mescaleros' last shows, Nov. 15, 2002, at a Fire Brigades Union benefit show‚?¶featuring a reunion with Clash guitarist/vocalist Mick Jones. Up first is a nine-and-a-half dubbed out take on "Bankrobber." As great as the original Clash version sounded, this is the best rendition. The listener feels every organ hit, every melodica shot. Drummer Luke Bullen holds down a nice beat throughout, letting the other members take turns soloing before finally the track up a notch at the end for a rocking finale. Then everybody rips through "White Riot" and "London's Burning" like it ain't no thing. Holy shit.

Strummer died too young. But with a set as heavy as this one, which was released to coincide with his birthday no less, his many accomplishments still resonate. I cannot be hyperbolic enough; buy this.

 

 
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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
MN_DrNick (August 27, 2012)

Don't forget Devo. He also mentioned Devo!

bd0926 (August 27, 2012)

EchosMyron, please tell me you were trolling with that BS, "I couldn't listen to the Clash because they were on a major label" line. I really hope so, especially since The Ramones, and Wire were both on major labels too.

NotPatriotic (August 27, 2012)

I have never heard the Mescaleros, but as I get older my rating of The Clash just keeps increasing.

Damn amazing band!

EchosMyron (August 26, 2012)

I like their self-titled punk debut more than London Calling, and AM including LC in my assessment of their 70s output. Besides, I think that the Ramones` debut and Pink Flag are way more influential and catchy than that slightly bloated album. It`s not as bloated as Sandinista, obviously, but it has 5 tracks that do nothing for me. "Lost in the Supermarket" has cool verses but a lame chorus, "The Right Profile," "I`m Not Down" and "Four Horsemen" are unnecessary b-side quality tracks, and "Koka Kola" is their attempt at replicating the punk from the debut, but it just isn`t as catchy and sticks out since the rest of the album features mostly longer pop sounds. I don`t think I have ever heard an album over 60 minutes that didn`t have at least one filler track.

jelone (August 25, 2012)

Actually Echos has a point about 70s output, depending on if he counts London Calling from its 1979 British release date vs its 1980 U.S. release. If it's the former, he's crazy. If it's the latter, well then it's a lot harder to stack up against the first 3 Wire albums... Or the first four Ramones records.

EchosMyron (August 25, 2012)

I never posted as WussEmoIsaCockAss. My usernames have been Chinatown, AnEpicProblem, and now this.

Strummer`s collected solo output is worth about a 7. None of it is as catchy as The Clash`s best work, but it has good diversity and isn`t repetitive. I put it on the same level as the best of Bob Mould`s solo material (and I think that Husker Du owns The Clash).

MN_DrNick (August 25, 2012)

Seriously. Anybody that doesn't think that "Give 'Em Enough Rope" is a "legitimate punk album" is a dipshit.

Back to this: All of it is excellent Strummer was at the peak of his creative output with this I thought.

MN_DrNick (August 25, 2012)

Fuck you, Echos! Make a score for this and not the fucking Clash because they're not being reviewed here!

telegraphrocks (August 25, 2012)

" The Clash, since it was released by Anti-, and therefore indie and acceptable to listen to."

You are more ridiculous than Brokencyde and their fans combined. Absolutely nothing you can ever say can redeem how fucking stupid of a comment that is. Though everything you've ever posted under Wussemo, epicsomething, and your current name is hipster-troll-bullshit, you've officially taken the title of "Dumbest Motherfucker With Access To The Internet".

You're a worthless cunt. Make me a list.

bipedcasserole (August 25, 2012)

Terrific review!

The title track of Global A Go-Go has been one of my favorite songs for years, and it takes everything in my power to not go get a big stupid Joe Strummer tattoo every day of my life.

EchosMyron (August 24, 2012)

Score is for The Clash. I think The Ramones, Wire, The Damned, and Devo all had better output in the 70s - not that I have much knowledge about that decade, since I couldn`t name more than 25 bands who were active during that time.

ozmanx (August 24, 2012)

If this isn't worth 5 stars then I don't know what is.

EchosMyron (August 24, 2012)

After about 10 years of ignoring them for being on a major label, I finally went ahead this year and downloaded all of The Clash albums (except for Cut the Crap; I took the five best songs from that one, and renamed it Cut Down EP). They were a good pop band. Seriously. Only their debut can be regarded as a legitimate punk album. "Train in Vain" is, in my opinion, their best song, but there is no way you can call it a punk song with a straight face.

I actually heard Joe Strummer`s solo material long before listening to The Clash, since it was released by Anti-, and therefore indie and acceptable to listen to. Decent stuff, but not worth five stars.

Thumbs (August 24, 2012)

One of, if not THE, greatest musicians / songwriters ever.
Looking forward to the physical releases.

nuclearboy (August 24, 2012)

"Police On My Back" is an Equals cover, not a Clash original

paulrulzdood (August 24, 2012)

great review.

i ALMOST made my FB status on his 60th birthday "he who fucks nuns will later join the church", i agree that is just a standout line, and i found it amusing to see it in a review just a couple days later. and of course London Calling is my favorite work of his.

i also agree with Streetcore being his best post-clash album even if it isn't a proper album. (i would similarly argue bob marley's "confrontation" post-humus album as one of his better works even if it wasn't a "proper" album as it included polished demos and prior-album b-sides)

great artist, good read here.

Paul

sometwo (August 24, 2012)

Great review. Mescaleros kick ass. I listen to them as much as the Clash. I just wish the Acton show had more originals and less Clash covers because their originals are so good.

schaumpton (August 24, 2012)

The only redeeming thing about that shitty HBO television show, John from Cincinnati, were the opening credits w/ Johnny Appleseed.

bensomewhere (August 24, 2012)

This stuff is essential. Good review, for once the 5 stars are warranted.

Problematiclogic (August 24, 2012)

Good review!

But..."Glastonbury, Scotland"?

ozmanx (August 24, 2012)

The whole concert is up on youtube. Where are people getting this digital set from?

lushj (August 24, 2012)

If you're in SF this Saturday, I'm DJing the Joe Strummer Tribute over at the Bottom Of The Hill w/ The Hooks, CVS, Eastern Span, and Interchords.

FB invite: http://www.facebook.com/events/409002722479190/

Some of those boots are awesome, and I hope that the 3 live tracks come out on vinyl somewhere. I haven't heard that version of Bankrobber!!!

ozmanx (August 24, 2012)

They should also remaster Earthquake Weather. My cd isn't cutting it. I want all 4 of the post Clash albums on vinyl.

shark-e (August 24, 2012)

Great review. For some reason I never checked out the Mescaleros to any real degree, but I will now.

renaldo69 (August 24, 2012)

solid stuff

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