Sooner or later, every artist spends some time “in the wilderness.” He and/or she loses his and/or her artistic perspective and struggles to create more, ya know… art. Depending on who you ask, Joe Strummer either spent one year in the wilderness – the time it took to make the horrid final Clash album Cut the Crap and the actually pretty good Sid and Nancy soundtrack, say I – or 16 – from the time Joe kicked Mick Jones out of The Clash until the release of Rock Art and the X-Ray Style, his first album with The Mescaleros. Either way, we are contractually obligated by good taste to agree that Joe’s late period work was ridiculously awesome, upon penalty of sounding like a cock that I will not tolerate.
But the road to critical redemption was rough. After he lost Jones as a songwriting partner, Strummer struggled to find a musical balance. He was arguably one of the best lyricists of all time, but Strummer’s greatest strength – his rambling, playful, internal rhymes – became he biggest flaw when he lost Mick’s pop sensibility. In some folks’ eyes, the guy just couldn’t write catchy songs anymore. Those people can cram it into every last orifice for all I care, though. In 1989, Joe Strummer returned to form with a devastatingly underappreciated solo LP, Earthquake Weather.
Unfairly maligned (and compared to Jones’ new project Big Audio Dynamite.) upon its release, the record eventually achieved somewhat of a cult following among Strummer enthusiasts like myself. On a certain level, I guess I understand why some critics didn’t dig the album. When you’re the guy who wrote London Calling, I imagine a lot of your other stuff seems petty by comparison, but even Strummer's lesser releases are better than most.
Earthquake Weather is perhaps best explained as the prequel to Joe’s run with The Mescaleros, filtered through cheesy ’80s production. The album transcends its studio limitations, however, showcasing the hurricane of influences that coursed through Joe’s veins. Elements of punk, rockabilly, reggae, folk, ska, funk, Caribbean and pop music intertwine. At times delirious, Earthquake Weather also feels like a Brian Wilson moment for Joe; it’s crammed with instruments and changes, as if the man never could make up his mind on how to go solo. And outside of scoring films, it would take him another decade to release another album.
But from the gentle rhythms of “Island Boogie” to the stomp ‘n’ pomp of “Gangstervielle” to the awkwardly Prince/Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque “Boogie With Your Children,” Earthquake Weather shows the guy still had a lot of potential, ideas, and talent left. I’ll be clear; it doesn’t exceed any of The Clash’s albums with Jones, nor does it beat the Mescaleros' three releases. But it is a pleasant bridge between the two. It’s not a perfect album – again I cite the RHCP tone on “Boogie With Your Children” – but it is a charming one. Earthquake Weather is out of print now, but it’s available on iTunes. A CD or two always pops up on eBay for those looking for a physical copy. Either way, I hope more people tune in to Joe’s post-Clash work.