If I had been more on my game for Independence Day, I might have suggested Joe Strummer’s 1989 album Earthquake Weather. It was supposedly the product of a renewed sense of confidence in his powers which may indeed be true, but according to his biography by Chris Salewicz (a real ox-stunner at 600+ pages!) he was a habitual weed-smoker. While I am totally down to Legalize It, we can also be (ahem) clear-eyed about what it can do to one’s sense of motivation. Rock legends can work to whatever schedule pleases them, anyhow.
I would have recommended it because it is a very American-feeling album, in the same sense that Big Audio Dynamite feels European. It’s made with an all-American cast of musicians, apart from Joe, some of whom you might recognize from the film Repo Man. Strummer writes about American politics and cars and highways and diners and dive bars and jazz. The traditional stuff non-Americans gawk at. For someone with such a reputation of being a punk rock teller of hard truths, Strummer’s lyrics are quite dazzlingly poetic. They are beat-like, too, and don’t always make a lot of linear sense. Fine by me! They fit the music like a glove.
The music is Clash-level quality. It’s even got a reggae cover. Strummer’s later solo albums had great moments, but I don’t think he ever sustained as high a quality of songwriting subsequently. Every time I would teach a Jimmy Buffet song to some grey-faced office worker, florescent-light-sick and lusting after some color, chaos, and sunshine, I would think of how Strummer’s Island Hopping captured everything Buffet had ever done more vividly and tunefully and in under three minutes. And the pity of the fact that, too late to cash in on Combat Rock and too early for Grunge which it resembles more than a little, this splendid album got overlooked.