On Assembly, Joe Strummer's untameable rock’n’roll spirit rears vividly back to life

Assembly is a post-Clash ‘greatest hits’ from Joe Strummer that heralds new Dark Horse label reissue deal

Joe Strummer: Assembly
(Image: © BMG)

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Joe Strummer’s sudden passing in December 2002 still hurts as the cruellest tragedy, robbing our culture of his incandescent spirit, Joe from realising his late-life Mescaleros masterpiece Streetcore, and much more for those who knew him. 

Although propelled to becoming a posthumous rebel icon alongside John Lennon and Bob Marley, Strummer’s solo endeavours have still been overshadowed by The Clash joining The Beatles and the Rolling Stones as relentlessly repackaged national treasures, bereft of worthwhile compilations until 2018’s rarities-stuffed Joe Strummer 001

Assembly follows 2020’s announcement that George Harrison’s son Dhani had resuscitated his dad’s Dark Horse imprint and acquired Strummer’s catalogue. 

Boasting liner notes by Bob Dylan’s son Jakob, it’s the nearest Strummer has had to a ‘greatest hits’, replicating six tracks from 001, bolstered for diehards by a previously unreleased acoustic demo of Junco Partner, and 2001 Brixton Academy versions of The Clash’s I Fought The Law and Rudie Can’t Fail that so faithfully replicate Mick Jones’s complex arrangements it sounds like Joe giving it some welly over a well-drilled tribute band.

But Strummer shouldn’t be denied celebrating the shit-hot band he’d craved since The Clash’s ignominious disintegration fifteen years earlier sent him, guilt-ridden at sacking Jones and Topper Headon, into endless movie roles and one-offs. 

Those Strummer-described “wilderness years” are marked by 1986’s Love Kills, the rocker he wrote for director Alex Cox’s movie before it was retitled Sid And Nancy (Jones’s participation showing how easily The Clash could have survived), and the softly sashaying Sleepwalk from 1989’s solo Earthquake Weather.

The rest is drawn from the Mescaleros’ soul-saving multi-cultural hot sauce, 1999’s Rock Art And The X-Ray Style, represented by Yalla Yalla, Tony Adams, Forbidden City and the title track. More a team effort, 2001’s rollicking Global A-Go-Go sees Strummer continuing to find his feet on Johnny Appleseed, Mondo Bongo and At The Border, Guy.

After Strummer’s death, Mescaleros Martin Slattery and Scott Shields brought home Streetcore as his bittersweet epitaph. Electrifying festival romp Coma Girl and the reggae-rocking Get Down Moses are joined by the two Rick Rubin-produced acoustic tracks that stand among Strummer’s greatest statements through his heart-searingly defiant reading of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and Long Shadow, the latter written for Johnny Cash on a pizza box. 

Like everything here, they now carry an unfathomably deeper emotional resonance as Strummer’s untameable rock’n’roll spirit rears vividly back to life. 

Now how about some box sets, Dhani?

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!