ASSEMBLY offers too little to compete with previous Strummer compilations.
Dark Horse Records is the new home of Joe Strummer’s extensive back catalogue, stretching back from his time with The 101ers through to his work alongside The Mescaleros. Commemorating this, ASSEMBLY brings together what the NME dubiously called his ‘greatest hits’ in a sixteen-track tour of his solo back catalogue.
Which is great, but given a thirty-two track compilation was released three years ago that’s already filled the now non-existent void, there is a question as to the function it plays.
Granted, there are three new and unheard tracks ready for public consumption. The jewel of these is an acoustic home recording of ‘Junco Partner’, which later became a joyously mutant blues-reggae fusion on Sandinista!. It’s a beauty, to say the least, and one that will undoubtedly please fans new and old. Strummer is on fiery form in the live versions of ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ and ‘I Fought The Law’, too. The 2001 recordings are clean, professional and welcome additions to the back catalogue.
Elsewhere, however, ASSEMBLY isn’t exactly covering new ground. The aforementioned 2018 compilation Joe Strummer 001 set a gold standard for career-spanning compilations, transcending staples like The Fall’s 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong and The Jam’s Compact Snap! for an altogether more captivating collection.
Strummer’s self-described ‘Wilderness Years’ spent dabbling in film had finally been pulled away from grainy Youtube videos and given a proper home. Out of this came the stunning ‘Burning Lights’ and ‘Afro-Cuban Be-Bop’ from the Aki Kaurismaki directed I Hired A Contract Killer, and the beautiful ‘Rose of Erin’ from Sara Driver’s When Pigs Fly. Elsewhere, the brooding ‘The Cool Impossible’ gave a fascinating insight into Strummer’s musical direction going into the new millennium before his death in 2002.
So when it comes to ASSEMBLY, you are left wondering why a whole album was felt necessary. Despite welcome entries of Earthquake Weather‘s stunning closing track ‘Sleepwalk’ and Streetcore‘s ‘Get Down Moses’, only six of the already-released tracks didn’t previously feature on 001. Even the cover art for ASSEMBLY is painfully, perhaps serendipitously, reminiscent of the mugshot feature on the cover of 001.
What’s the purpose of ASSEMBLY, then? It’s unclear. Dark Horse could have put together a genuinely valuable and worthwhile collector’s item from the new tracks, an exclusive EP that, in a sense, would have spanned Strummer’s career. When was the last time a Joe Strummer 7″ single had been released?
This obviously wasn’t the desired avenue to go down. We’re left instead with a collection that offers little in both the sense of a quantitative uncovering of Strummer’s catalogue or in providing anything that radically differs from previous compilations. There is such a wealth of choice to draw inspiration from and bring together, but ASSEMBLY falls a little flat.