In high school, I was obsessed with The Clash. To say that they were a major influence on my person and political outlook is a bit of an understatement. Like many people, I worshipped at the altar of Joe Strummer. His fiery and passionate lyrics resonated with me in a way that few artists have. As a teenager shifting into adulthood, figuring out the type of person I wanted to be, The Clash were the right band at the right time.
So, naturally I was intrigued by the idea of what a Joe Strummer solo album would sound like. I put off purchasing it for a long time, mostly out of fear that it would be a disappoint. More often that not, solo albums by lead singers of a legendary band, are pretty terrible. Solo albums allow artists to indulge in their worst tendencies. Even the great solo albums, have a tendency to drift into self-indulgence. As much as I like Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon’s solo debut is the work of a whiny prick. Pete Townshend’s solo albums bought his all of his pretentiousness to the forefront, losing much of the humor and unbridled energy of The Who.
Luckily, 1999’s Rock Art and the X-Ray Style was actually quite good. Strummer delivered a focused record that added new shades and colors to his already wide musical palette. It was experimental, without being “arty”. The word “organic” is used a lot, but the record did have a natural feeling that suggested Strummer was coming to terms with growing older.
The highlight of the album is “Road to Rock N’ Roll” which combines folk, hip-hop and country. Over looped drums and an acoustic guitar, Strummer seems at ease, letting the music over-take him as he muses about good and evil, snowing falling on the city and the meaning of music in people’s lives. Supposedly written with Johnny Cash in mind, “Road to Rock N’ Roll” is the kind of song that could be written by a man who truly believed that rock and roll could change the world.