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.


12 comments:

buzzbabyjesus said...

I watched the Keith doc on Netflix last night and it only made the album worse.

William Repsher said...

Pretty much on the same wavelength with Richards. Have been reading the various raves, in both publications and just fans on the web, and thinking, man, at this point of his life, to put out an album like this ... fantastic. But it's just sort of OK. It's a lot like his second solo album. I think the first one, he had a point to make with the Stones in disarray and also putting out bad albums at the time. The second one just sounded right. This just sounds right. Which isn't a bad thing. Keith Richards just sounding right is light years beyond what a lot of bands have to offer.

But you're seeing the same kind of hype for "indie band of the week" employed here with the Stones. You can see the people doing the hyping aren't bad people. They're fans. They know what they're talking about. But there's just a blind spot a mile wide regarding a recording artist they must be too close to in some respect to see the big picture. We know this is an OK Stones solo album -- good stuff. But to rave about it like he's picked up right where Some Girls left off and pushed things forward? No. I don't know what you're listening to that I'm missing. Again, I understand that when some kid with a relatively undeveloped listening history goes off like this. But you'd figure a lifetime spent listening to (hopefully) all kinds of music (which most likely isn't the case) would help you see just how sort of three-star an album like this is?

Re: the Netflix doc. I thought it was pretty bland, aside from great old film footage, not very enlightening, not a lot going on. It's hard for me to look at him anymore. When Mom passed on in her early 80's, she looked younger than he does now, and she looked her age. I know how he's looked all his adult life, so I have that frame of reference burned in my brain. Some kid watching this for this time with zero frame of reference? He must be thinking, you got to be kidding me. Generally, you'll hear me rail against ageism, but he looks like death warmed over.

Barry Eisenberg said...

Really diggin' "Among the Believers" on Love's album -- with its obviously Van Zandt-ian horn charts ala SJ & the Jukes.

jeff said...

I've been listening to these two plus the new Squeeze and had the same reaction you did to the Keith but a bit less enthusiastic to the Darlene Love. Bruce and Darlene doing "Fine Fine Boy" live a few years ago was one of the most thrilling musical performances I've ever seen, so I was really looking forward to this. But after listening to it I just had the feeling SVZ said, "Let's do the same thing with Darlene that we did with Gary U.S. Bonds," and while they did a nice job with the new one, in the end it mostly inspired me to pull out the Bonds record, and I just think that one is better in every way. I like the new one just don't love it and I've been listening to it a lot, hoping I'd react differently. I would never have imagined this beforehand, but of the three the one I really love is Squeeze.

Chris Collins said...

I kind of agree on the Keith album. I love Keith Richards with all my heart and "Talk Is Cheap" is about 6th or 7th on my list of great Stones albums (I know, but still. I count it). This album is...ok. It's fine. I don't care about it after 2 listens and will probably go back to listening to "Talk Is Cheap" without ever hearing this again.

About to dig into the Darlene Love album. I kinda can't wait.

Ruben Chandler said...

It's pretty bad when you begrudge the time it took to download an album, not like spending an hour or two of your working life for this largely dispensable dreck. I've loved the Stones and Keith since 1964 and don't exactly relish the run of disappointing bad records and solo efforts or the wearing so thin as to be worn out fiction of the infighting and what not with keef and mick. but i was hopeful while downloading. was happy the first couple of tunes were listenable.....most of this album is pure unadulterated shite. hate to say it but there you go.

Anonymous said...

Pretty much a "ditto" from me regarding Darlene, but one of the things that impresses me most is the mix. How refreshing, in this day and age, to hear a "record" where you can actually hear (and understand!) the vocals. It helps, of course, when you have a voice like Darlene's to work with, but most vocals today seem to be mixed way down and get lost in the all the instrumentation. Not so with this one. And what a voice it is! Hard to pick a favorite cut, but I may be most impressed with the Webb song, which sounds like it could be a long-lost outtake from his "Land's End" album. Kudos to all involved.

dogbreath said...

Driving home last night and the radio was playing "Trouble" from the Keith Richards' newie. I remember the beginning & end of the song - must've blanked out in the middle - and the DJ's guest pundit scored it a "nice four". As I don't know if that was a 4 out of 5 or 10 or 100 I can't comment on the ranking. I won't be rushing to hear the rest of the album but "Trouble" will always be a "nice four" for me.

wardo said...

It feels like sacrilege not to buy the Keith on release date. But I didn't. (Plus I'm broke, so...) Talk Is Cheap was indeed a wonderful album, so much so that I was fine with the Stones being over as long as he, Charlie and Bill toured as a three-piece. Whenever I listen to Main Offender I like it, but I never feel like hearing it again when it's over. I'll get this one eventually, because I have to, but now I don't feel so bad about it. Thanks Sal.

Michael Giltz said...

I like a handful of tracks on Darlene Love's album but mostly found it a disappointment. I'll give a few more listens and def pull out a few tunes, but I found Little Steven and MANY of the songs lacking in the extreme. Crushing for me since she deserves so much more, not one album a decade on which I have to demand greatness but would have settled for decent.

A walk in the woods said...

Oh, damn... I wanted to be able to offer a rejoinder here and say, "No way, the new Keef is great!" but... I can't. I've heard it now, and I agree - it really is a vacuum of actual songwriting. And I think Keef may even know it. The way he depends on just repeating the song title in so many songs like a mantra...

I mean, the best song might be "Substantial Damage," in that it's a great, lowdown riff. But... it's nothing more than that. Just a riff. Sing the title over and over, put some garbled singing in the background, put it out. Shame!

The problem is, we all WANT a great new Stones-related record. And that pic of Keith on the cover is great... you WANT the pirate to have another great one in him. But, this isn't it.

Jim G said...

Haven't heard the Keith yet but felt like I had to chime after I was underwhelmed by "Trouble" and thought, "uh oh. If this is the lead track, the rest probably won't be too good." Its possible I will disagree with you all when I finally hear it- but I doubt it. Too bad. Talk Is Cheap is a Stones high point for me.