Various - Permanent Record (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Permanent Record (1988)


I'm not a big fan of giving albums scores. Readers focus on the number too much and ignore the content of reviews. It assumes that I can quantify why I like/respect/hate a given album, and those values are applicable to every album ever released. But in reality, I sometimes prefer records that are flawed to records that are aesthetically perfect. Sometimes a handful of truly amazing songs can compensate for truly terrible ones.

I mention this because Permanent Record, the soundtrack to a 1988 Keanu Reeves film of the same name, is essential listening for any Joe Strummer fan, even though half of it is pretty much shit.

If you buy it on vinyl, though, you can treat the soundtrack as two EPs. All of Joe Strummer's material (a.k.a. the good stuff) is on the first side. Backed by the Latino Rockabilly War, Strummer offers up four stellar world music-tinged rockers, plus an excellent instrumental theme. "Trash City" leads with a danceable guitar part and some enticing Latin percussion. And then there's good ol' Strummer, dropping what's essentially a retro rock ‘n' roll love song over some peppy world beats. He doesn't bark like he did with the Clash, but it turns out his croon was just as good. "Baby the Trans" and "Nefertiti Rock" have a ramshackle charm not unlike Strummer's first group, the 101'ers. "Nothin' 'Bout Nothin'" has a more '80s rock vibe, which Strummer cultivate a little more on Earthquake Weather, the following year. While it could stand to be a little rawer, it's still top notch Strummer, so everybody wins.

Permanent Vacation's flipside, however, is just a string of awful '80s rock. The Godfathers start off with sterile garage rock before Bodeans cue up a dubious '80s ballad, "Waiting on Love." J.D. Souther does the same thing. The Stranglers and Lou Reed have some punk credibility, but you'd never know it from the embarrassing "All Day and All of the Night" and "Something Happened," respectively. These songs are terrible, schmaltzy drek.

But when Strummer's playing, well, Permanent Record sounds pretty darn good. That's why I'm comfortable giving it four stars, even though half of the record bites. So there.