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Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros – X-Ray Style (90s – 90)

May 23, 2013

Ask me a year ago and I would have chosen another track from this album, probably Sandpaper Blues or Tony Adams. But I’ve found vocalising this track induces sleep in one tiny person, and in doing so have found it the most reflective track on the album.

The album being Joe Strummer’s return to recording in a decade: Rock Art the X-Ray Style.

In 1999, out of University but still in town, living in my own place – working while most of my friend studied – I started taking to hanging around my radio station on Tuesday nights. The evening’s line-up saw me in the company of the punks followed by the anarchists (who were also punk fans). Thus began my education in the louder side of music, and ultimately my love of post-punk (which is another story).

Suffice it to say punk had passed me by. It was over by the time my tiny mind first comprehended what was on the radio, a time even post-punk had morphed into/made way for the New Romantics. I had barely heard any until 1998, when 2UNE was dominated by punk and ska for a year, but this was contemporary pop punk and ska, part smashing fun (The Porkers) part try-hard (you name a band), so I barely got a whiff of the past.

1999 saw the first influx of students born in the 1980s, who celebrated the fact by bringing the New Romantics back on air en mass during the day shifts. But on Tuesday nights things got loud and I was introduced to the non-Rock the Casbah/Should I Stay or Should I Go songs of the Clash. This came just at the time Joe Strummer decided to come out of recording retirement.

One of the anarchists ensured I heard Rock Art and the X-Ray Style long before I found it in a specials bin in K-Mart. Being a soccer tragic I remember loving the track Tony Adams, named after the Arsenal and England captain. But I didn’t delve fully into the album until buying it in the wake of Strummer’s next album, Global A Go-Go.

Rock Art and the X-Ray Style is definitely the warmer album, which is probably because it sounds more produced than it’s follow-up. It sounds like a painting where each element is carefully recorded and positioned. For X-Ray Style it’s vaguely Middle Eastern percussion and the intimately recorded guitars. This is a circle song – there’s no verse-chorus – though there are some repeated lyric. Instead the main riff and chords just wash around and around, with a little extra added every time. There’s tension there too, with the languid beginning becoming a frenzy of little elements against which Strummer’s voice strains to keep up.

All of which makes for a convenient tune to vocalise in endless circles as a little one sighs themselves to sleep. The song also matches the dark room, tired reflection, a sense of lost wanderlust balanced by the endless, unknown possibilities of the settling child.

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