Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros / Joe Strummer

Global a Go-Go

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In many ways, it's easiest to appreciate Joe Strummer's album Global a Go-Go if you forget that it was made by Joe Strummer. This isn't meant to insult the music in question, which is often engaging and always passionate, or suggest that it doesn't bear any significant signs of Strummer's personality; if you loved the syllable-drenched wordplay of songs like "The Magnificent Seven," "Lightning Strikes," or "Car Jamming," you're in for a treat, because here you get nearly a whole album of it. But if you're expecting the former leader of the Clash to be backed by two guitars, bass, and drums and playing something easily recognizable as rock & roll -- not a difficult assumption to make -- then you're flat out of luck. Best described as eccentric internationalist folk-rock, Global a Go-Go is dominated by acoustic instruments (Tymon Dogg, the fiddler from the Clash's "Loose This Skin," is all over this album like a pillowcase) and a wild gumbo of flavors from Africa, Latin America, and the West Indies, and while a few tunes have a prominent electric guitar (particularly "Cool 'n' Out"), most do not. And if you're hoping for lots of punk-wise sloganeering from the usually provocative Mr. Strummer, there isn't a great deal of that, either, though it's obvious from the Dylanesque density of his wordplay that Strummer's got a lot on his mind, and the one-world perspective that shines throughout is food for thought in itself, especially on the tasty "Bhindi Bhagee" and the globetrotting title cut. And while the epic instrumental "Minstrel Boy" wouldn't lead you to imagine it's the work of one of the great icons of punk rock, it at least proves Strummer is willing to mess with his audience's expectations, which is a very punk rock thing to do. Global a Go-Go is an intelligent and uniquely absorbing record, but listening to it is like eating sushi or escargot for the first time -- knowing what it is might shape your expectations in the wrong direction.

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