Monday, September 21, 2015
You Win Some, You Lose Some
This might upset some of you, especially those who find the new Keith Richards record "brilliant," but after a weekend spent with just me and it, spinning around the house a number of times without distraction, I have to say, it's all kind of nothing.
There are no bad songs on "Crosseyed Heart." The problem though, is that there are no great songs either. It is more like a compilation of 15 bonus tracks from 15 future Rolling Stones greatest hits packages.
Where "Talk Is Cheap" felt like a fully realized collection of everything Keith does best, from riffing to reggae, and "Main Offender," its well-meaning but admittedly inferior follow-up at least offering some memorable melodies in "Eileen" and "Hate It When You Leave," 20-plus years up the road---which is more like 60 in Keef years---"Crosseyed Heart" has little about it to remember. It plays like a parody of Keith's work.
The opener and title track, as one friend put it, "is a trojan horse of rootsy intimate blues, only to be followed by Heartstopper, which has headscratchingly ugly chord changes." I don't disagree. And it doesn't get much better than that. The Norah Jones duet sounds as if the two of them are on an Ambien trip. The shrill background vocals on the refrain of "Something For Nothing" are relentlessly annoying and mixed far too loud for a melody already used on the Stones' "Mixed Emotions."
Keith was never a "singer" but I do love his voice. It's heartbreaking when it needs to be and incredibly effective on the rockers, full of grit and snarl when the music calls for it. At a hard 71 years old, I am not about to lay it on too thick. Keith is Keith, and I love him. But this record does not work.
"Crosseyed Heart" might be one of those instances where someone...producer Steve Jordan, or dare I say Mick...needed to say, "Keith, there's no song here," because aside from the sweet take on "Goodnight Irene," the rest of "Crosseyed Heart" is begging for something other than "Keith-ness." Sometimes less is really just less. I wouldn't trade this record in for a glossed-up Jagger solo record with some pointless pop star cameos. But I would trade it in for something I'd play again. This is a major disappointment for me and I don't think I will ever give it another spin. Two and a half times was plenty.
What isn't a disappointment is the new one from Darlene Love. As a matter of fact, I couldn't be happier. Steven Van Zandt lovingly handled this project, and it shows. "Introducing Darlene Love" is by no means a perfect record. But it comes pretty damn close. And where the less is more approach on "Crosseyed Heart" didn't work for my ears, the "wall of sound" attack on Love's record is both expected and welcome.
With songs written by Elvis Costello, Jimmy Webb, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Linda Perry, Michael Des Barres, Joan Jett and Bruce Springsteen, for starters, "IDL" is not in need of material. Some were written specifically for the project, like the glorious first single "Forbidden Nights" from Costello, which I will say, is indeed perfect. I can't help but think, in the hands of someone other than Little Steven, this could have been a disaster.
A lot of the record sounds like Love fronting the Asbury Jukes, with huge choruses, strings and horns all feeling like big time rock and soul. The gospel tunes work too, because, like most of the record, the schmaltz is kept to a minimum. One of the only missteps is the duet with Bill Medley on another Costello tune, "Still Too Soon To Know," a personal fave originally found on E.C.'s "Brutal Youth" record. I was expecting more of the same, something triumphant like a Righteous Brothers tune or even, at the very least, the type of chemistry between Medley and Jennifer Warnes found on "The Time Of My Life" from "Dirty Dancing." But instead, both vocalists sound like they're having some difficulty with Costello's lyrics and phrasing. It's not bad, but I wanted this to work, like most of "Introducing Darlene Love" works, and it didn't.
Darlene Love is a powerhouse and is certainly no stranger to bombast, having been employed by that cuckoo Phil Spector. She has the pipes to carry the explosive sounds behind her and again, props to Steven Van Zandt for not getting cocky. No need to reinvent someone. Darlene Love ain't broke and thankfully SVZ didn't try to fix her.