Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Before we answer the only question anyone seems to be asking about this album — “Is it any good?” – let's just declare our hand: For many decades it's been our firmly held opinion Richards' ragged solo spots on Stones albums were often the highpoint beyond the hits.
Cracked classics like Coming Down Again and All About You for example captured a piece of Richards' heart in a way many of the Jagger-written songs would never do. Like Lennon to Jagger's McCartney, Richards often put himself on the page while his fellow traveller hid behind guises or offered, at best, coded messages.
It's a pity therefore that not more of this long overdue album is like that.
And at his age Richards could have grown into the skin of those bluesmen whom he admires – John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and so on — but instead too often he flops around in a little self-mythologizing (Amnesia, Nothing On Me which might have sounded much more relevant back in the Toronto Bust days when it may well have been written) and some trite stuff about women (Heartstopper).
Backed by the X-Pensive Winos again (as happened on his last solo outing a mere 23 years ago), Richards can call up a band capable of sliding across genres as he can, but too often it is his songwriting which comes up well short, and worse, many are forgettable. While the grooves are locked down they are there to support lyrics which often say little worth reporting.
Amnesia comes off more like a two-day drunk Mark Knopfler, although if Suspicious initially sounds like Knopfler/Waits/Dylan, he has (again) written a gorgeously simple melody — like those namechecks — and almost sings it in his distinctive style.
Of course he avers to reggae (Love Overdue) where the band if not Richards excel, and goes back to his teenage origins on a Leadbelly's Goodnight Irene (and sometimes sounds more like Dylan than Bob does these days).
His mainframe blues song Blues in the Morning might have come from a jam session with Clapton in about '72 when both of them were reasonably focused. It's kinda fun, but it's also that hoary.
It's when he drops down to that Coming Down Again mode (the acoustic-framed Robbed Blind, the wonderfully languid Just a Gift) or finds that gilt-edged riffery which is his trademark (Trouble, Substantial Damage) that this hits its stride.
There's an allusion to New Orleans on Something for Nothing, and he and Norah Jones come together on the terrific, smoke-filled duet Illusion.
So, Crosseyed Heart? Is it any good?
Yes, cautiously we could say it is. But with 15 songs — which includes the witty half-finished opener/title track — it does outstay its welcome.
Is it essential?
Regrettably, not at all.
As Richards' fans have done for decades with Stones albums, you'll trawl this and just add a couple of favourites to that extremely slowly expanding mixtape of Keith.
Downloading has made this one easy: four fine songs by my count, another three you are happy to have and then . . . the rest.