Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Rock Art and the X-Ray Style (Cover Artwork)

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros

Rock Art and the X-Ray Style (1999)


Joe Strummer's first solo album in a decade, Rock Art and the X-Ray Style abandoned the straight-forward rock-n-roll of his 1989 effort, Earthquake Weather, to seemingly pick up where Combat Rock left off ("Ghetto Defendant," for example, could have been dropped in the middle of this album with no questions asked). Depending on how you felt about Combat Rock, this could be a welcome or a warning.

On Rock Art you will hear reggae, afro-beat, hip-hop, and, of course, a little rock. But gone are the days where the rock outweighs the weird in Joe's catalog (though he came close on his final effort, Streetcore). Lyrically, Joe turns in his most cerebral and downright mysterious lyrics yet. Nine years later, I still have very little idea as to what some of these songs are about. But when I am in the dark, the obscure imagery of his lyrics cut the mustard well enough.

So how do the Mescaleros stack up against Joe's previous groups, the Clash and (no, I'm not making this next one up) the Latino Rockabilly War? The Mescaleros complement Joe's worldly musical vision better than the Clash did, and are certainly more knowledgeable about the subject. Don't get me wrong, "Let's Go Crazy" and "Washington Bullets" are great songs, but they sound like rock songs with marimbas and shit thrown on top. X-Ray Style features songs designed for chanting, melodica, and all that other good stuff that usually doesn't serve as accompaniment to a middle-aged white dude waxing cryptically.

Still, the album doesn't quite have the personality or chemistry that the Clash possessed. Eclectic highlights like "Tony Adams," "X-Ray Style" and the absolutely lovely "Willesden to Cricklewood," combined with more straightforward attempts like "Forbidden City," make this album easily worth its 50-minute run-time, but there is something missing. Rock Art and the X-Ray Style doesn't deliver that X-factor that makes an otherwise good album really great. Nevertheless, this is certainly an album worth buying (or, if you aren't into that sort of thing, illegally downloading) and if you ask me, this is the most consistent of his albums with the Meskies.