Never met a tribute album worthy of its appellation. They're doomed, if not outright damned, endeavors that make you wonder whether the artists involved ever listened to, learned from and/or felt the musicians to whom they're paying homage. The Clash has already been subjected to such an insult--Burning London, it was called, with the band placed atop its smoldering embers like witches at Salem. The editors of British rock mag Uncut, however, wouldn't spread 31 tracks across two discs to sully their rep--not with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon inside the publication's pages weighing in on a readers-poll Top 10 (No. 1 is, surprisingly but not shockingly, "[White Man] in Hammersmith Palais"). What right-thinking, left-leaning Britrocker would dance atop Joe Strummer's freshly dug grave carrying a withered wreath?
Offering brand-new renditions of the familiar anthems and occasional B-side, the contributors split between two camps, or thereabouts: Amerindies from the country side of rock (Matthew Ryan, Josh Rouse, Cracker, Jesse Malin, Jeff Klein) and Britons with critical cred and sales to match (Billy Bragg, the rather brilliant if occasionally Bono-y Hawksley Workman, Thea Gilmore, Asian Dub Foundation, Waco Brothers, et al.). The rest are the 'tweeners who seem to exist for specialty comps: Ah, lookie here, Tommy Stinson isn't waiting 'round for Axl anymore, bless him, but instead working with The Figgs on "Hateful." Revelation: Billy Bragg, some 16 years ago, sounded more Strummer than strum on "Garageland," recorded before he found Woody Guthrie and, apparently, girls. Disappointment: Edwyn Collins' "1977," because he recontextualizes it to sound like Paul Weller...or Steve Winwood.
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Cracker's pan-fried "White Riot" appeared on Burning London, no matter what the magazine says; it pairs well with the Wacos' "I Fought the Law," returned to Bobby Fuller country. The best contributions are the unlikeliest, probably because they're not the rough-n-tumblers that send you back to the originals they mimic: Nouvelle Vague's breathy lush-life redo of "The Guns of Brixton," Malin's Neil Youngian "Death of Glory," Rouse's stripped-down trip straight through "Straight to Hell," Klein's spooky Central Texas amble 'round "The Guns of Brixton" (a fave, apparently) and Asian Dub's beery-sneery "Police on My Back," the latter performed like a copper's standing on their fookin' necks.