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 or felt the musicians to whom they're paying homage. The Clash has already suffered 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 of the Clash canon. What right-thinking, left-leaning Brit-rocker 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 mostly between two camps: U.S. indies from the country side of rock (Matthew Ryan, Josh Rouse, Cracker) and Britons with critical cred and sales to match (Billy Bragg, Thea Gilmore). 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. 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 Waco Brothers' "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: Jesse Malin's Neil Youngian "Death of Glory," Rouse's stripped-down trip straight through "Straight to Hell," and Asian Dub Foundation's beery-sneery "Police on My Back," the latter performed like a copper's standing on their fookin' necks.