Thursday, March 6, 2014

Scrabble Value Letters (X): X-Ray Style

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros: X-Ray Style

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros: X-Ray Style (live)


Who knows? Maybe I will still get to my first idea for our current theme, a song starting with Z. But Z has been well represented, so I wanted to see what could be done with X. I‘m glad I looked into it, because X-ray Style is a fine addition to our theme.

Joe Strummer is justifiably best known as a founding member of the Clash. That’s understandable, since the Clash lasted for ten years, and nothing else Strummer did had the same popularity or influence. After the Clash broke up, Strummer did solo work, acted in films, worked on soundtracks, and was an occasional member of the Pogues. But the Mescaleros were the other band that Strummer really made his own. X-Ray Style is a good introduction to what this band was about. Strummer’s political concerns were a constant in all of his work, including the acting projects he chose, and X-Ray Style once again displays Strummer’s concern for the downtrodden in various societies around the world. The music has a tropical feel, and is a continuation of the global musical exploration Strummer had begun with the Clash albums London Calling and Sandinista. What I find most interesting though is Strummer’s approach to the vocal on X-Ray Style. I have presented videos for both the studio and a live version for a reason. The song comes from The Mescaleros’ first album, and Strummer is trying to decide how to present himself. The punk shouter of the past is gone, he seems to be saying, and his vocal on the album is restrained at first. Strummer seems to be saying that this is more thoughtful music, and he wants us not just to react viscerally, as we once did to his music, but now he asks us to think as well as feel. Still, this is Joe Strummer, and he was always passionate about what he did. His vocal gains more bite as the song proceeds. I assume the live version comes from a time when Strummer had lived with the song for a while, and also gained greater comfort with his new band. It’s a plugged in version that loses none of the wonderful lilt of the original, but Strummer begins with more of an edge in his voice, and gets more intense as the song goes on. He never reaches the all-out abandon of his Clash vocals, but the live X-Ray Style sounds more like the same singer.

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