With the passing of Joe Strummer at the end of last year, one has to at least consider the monumental achievement and influence of his work on the modern rock scene. With The Clash and later as Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, Strummer pushed the envelope of rock – a genre-bender from the day he picked up a guitar. Blending rock, reggae, punk, traditional English and Irish elements, Caribbean and jazz, Strummer revalorized rock music, helping to spark the evolution of modern rock. Strummer also made political rock cool again, which is something that may soon witness a reemergence.
Today, musicians are always trying to push the limits in everything that they do, expanding in a thousand directions at one time. They are always in search of something new. If they ever run out of inspiration or need a blueprint for how to be all the things that make a rock star more than a rock star – precisely, how to be an artist – they have to look no further than the work of Joe Strummer. The following artists integrate Strummer’s influence into their work, proving that the spirit of this rock legend lives on as rock rolls on.
Ted Leo/ The Pharmacists
“Hearts of Oak”
H H H H
In a fashion reminiscent of The Clash, Ted Leo / The Pharmacists use crashing guitars and spoken/sung lyrics with melodic hooks. The band is a throwback to 80s new-wave punk, but with a more urban twist.
A great art band coming out of the exploding Brooklyn scene, Ted Leo/ The Pharmacists have a legitimacy that is lacking in many of the pre-packaged commercial rock bands that you find getting the major pushes by record companies and MTV. Leo, a 15-year veteran of the New York and D.C. rock scenes in various settings from hardcore to punk, combines all of his former styles on his latest album. “Hearts of Oak” sees a real growth in Leo’s performance and complexity, which was already sophisticated on his older albums.
Leo’s emotionally wrought and gripping lyrics backed by passionate guitars make this an album to keep around for when you want to think and rock out at the same time. Standout tracks: “The High Party,” “Hearts of Oak,” “The Ballad of the Sin Eater,” “Bridges, Squares,” “2nd Ave, 11 AM” and “First to Finish, Last to Start.”
Hot Hot Heat
“Make Up the Breakdown”
Just as The Clash made punk marketable and accessible, Hot Hot Heat makes rock fun again. Mixing the sounds of the Clash, the Strokes and The Buggles, Hot Hot Heat is what happens when a bunk of dorks form a cool band with a great sound. With the same kind of Weezer “I’m a dork, you’re a dork” attitude but with a little more subtlety, Hot Hot Heat creates great pop-rock that makes you feel like you’re on the inside of something special and sophisticated while still having the enthusiasms of a little kid. The catchy and simple lyrics make for great sing-along material. The guitars and keyboard are mixed with synthesized effects for a distinctively 80s sound, but with the stripped-down attitude of contemporary rock. The childlike joy on this album is inescapable. Pounding drums and bass make it easy to get into and once you’re in, you’ll want to dance. In times when the music world is lashing out against the pure pop sound that flooded the market in the late 90s, Hot Hot Heat is trekking ahead in that same genre and moving things forward.
Standout tracks: “Naked in the City Again,” “Get In or Get Out,” “Oh, Goddamnit,” “This Town,” “Talk to Me, Dance with Me” and “Save Us, SOS.”
“Up the Bracket”
H H H 1/2
Coming out of the London underground with the same streetwise spirit of early Clash, The Libertines pick up the torch of great, grubby London rock bands. Unfairly marked as an English version of The Strokes, The Libertines show a little more punk edge while still being appealing to the kiddies. The English influence can’t be underestimated in their sound, which is clearly reminiscent of The Clash and The Sex Pistols, but unlike the New York sound of those like The Ramones. Lead Singer Carl Bar?t rambles his lyrics with a mixture of screams, spoken phrases and sung choruses. Bringing back the solo, which has long been gone from rock, The Libertines actually have expansive, meaningful solos that deviate from melody. Their return to a more classic punk style is a welcome, refreshing change of pace from most modern rock of late. If you like any of the “The” bands, or if you like 70s style punk or 80s new-wave, then The Libertines are probably what you’ve been waiting for.
Standout tracks: “Vertigo,” “Horrorshow,” “Boys in the Band,” Tell the King,” “Begging,” “The Good Old Days” and “I Get Along.”