The 101'ers - Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited (Cover Artwork)

The 101'ers

Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited (2005)

Astralwerks / EMI

The 101'ers, named after the address of the band's flat, was Joe Strummer's (then known as Woody Mellor) short-lived pre-Clash pub rock band (1974-76). Pub rock, a London based backlash to England's prog-rock explosion, was geared towards the simplification of rock back to 2-3 minute boogies, as opposed to the 7+ minute forays into excess that typified the times. Strummer's experience with this ethos set the stage for greatness down the line, as it led him to the discovery of his knack for the minimalist arrangements that dominate punk before the genre had even emerged.

As you may or may not know, the Clash's political fervor in their early days was largely due to manager Bernie Rhodes' guidance. The most popular example is of Bernie suggesting they put a new spin on their breakup ode "I'm So Bored of You." I don't think I need to spell out what become of the song. The reason for bringing this up is that if you approach this record with the expectation of hearing Strummer's sociopolitical diatribe, you might be mumbling, "I'm so bored with the 101'ers" in less time than Strummer could determine whether or not Montgomery Clift was in the Misfits. Rather, at this point in Joe's journey he is more concerned with the highs ("Keys to Your Heart") and lows ("Silent Telephone") of intimate relationships than the ebb and flow of dangerous political waters. The fervor of his voice, however, is fully developed and illustrates a performer passionate about life in general.

This album does not take long to get rockin', as opening track "Letsagetabitarockin'" suggests. Following this two-minute assault are adequately spaced highs and lows: discussions of the joys and woes of life in 1970s England. Quality songs like "Motor Boys Motor" and "Steamgauge 99" have the shuffling chord changes of early Clash anthems, while heartfelt ballads "Silent Telephone" and "Sweet Revenge" could easily have been resurrected for Strummer's final, mellowed incarnation with the Mescaleros. The later, with its acoustic guitar accompaniment, sounds like it could be a hit in any time period. Even the bassist Dan Kelleher-sung "Surf City" is a quality track, though obviously not a focal point of the album.

At 20 tracks in length, the last 8 tunes on this album are live cuts from various shows and are, quite frankly, of little significance. That the sound quality fluctuates drastically during this section certainty doesn't increase their relevance. However, notable inclusions are a straight-ahead rock version of James Wayne's "Junco Partner," and Strummer's rocker "Lonely Mother's Son," both of which resurfaced during Strummer's Clash career in one form or another. Aside from the aforementioned, there are some decent covers of classics that can serve as a catalyst to the exploration of the roots rock genre if the listener so desires, but for most of us this album's practicality done after song 12. All tracks on the record are pleasant, but the unequivocal highlights are located early in the track list, being "Keys to Your Heart" (Strummer's first composition), "Steamgauge 99," and "Sweet Revenge."

Oh, but allow me to elaborate on an earlier statement: While Strummer had embraced the songwriting technique that would embody the punk genre before it was born, it wasn't too long before the variety was established. A mere two years into the band's tenure, Strummer and his fellow 101'ers landed a gig with the hottest new group in town: the gaudy punk outfit the Sex Pistols. It was after sitting in on their performance that Woody Mellor realized his full potential in the form of a punk rocker. The Sex Pistols must have put on one hell of a show that night, because the 101'ers were departed before their lead singer went to sleep that night.