Review of Crosseyed Heart in VG, one of the biggest newspapers in Norway:
Translation:Can't sing, hardly a melody
The expectations were sky-high 28 years ago, when Keith Richards finally made his solo debut with «Talk Is Cheap».
Conservative, ortodox Stones fans – are there other kinds of Stones fans? – gloated: This will be real rock'n'roll! Keith, free of that bugger Jagger, the vain frontman who brought in modern abominations like reggae, funk and – worst of all – disco to the Stones, it was time for Mick to learn how it's supposed to be done.
The recipe would stem from a villa in the south of France in 1972, and «Talk Is Cheap» was supposed to make the cliche real: «The best since Exile On Main Street!».
What they got, however, was an album with rhythms, coloured by an idiosyncratic form of staccato, metallic New Orleans swamp rock, conceived in the intersection between Richards's half-finished riffs and Steve Jordan's funky drum playing. So full of holes and light on catchy choruses that the album could be taken as a kind of dub.
The album also had some reggae, the newest form of black music that Richards can accept.
However, it wasn't a blues album – neither a Stones album. It wasn't bad, but it surely wasn't what people had expected.
When he now releases his third solo album (Main Offender was released in 1992), the expectations are more realistic.
Nobody are fooled to believe that Richards still is sitting on hundreds of genius guitar riffs, riffs that dandy boy Mick refused him to use in the Stones. We also know that it is solely because of Jagger that the Stones are still on the road, as well as it is «the apprentice» Ronnie Wood who's doing all the heavy guitarwork when the Stones circus hits the stage nowadays.
«Crosseyed Heart» is profitting on the absence of expectations. The crew is the same as on the two previous albums: Drummer Steve Jordan has written the songs in partnership with «The Human Riff».
The old LA studio rat, Waddy Wachtel helps on electric guitar. Ivan Neville from the powerful New Orleans Clan who goes by the same last name (Richards was a big fan of The Meters in the 70s), is tickling the ivories. Keef himself handles the bass as well as some piano.
The sound is the same skeleton-ish sound as on his previous records. This is recorded on analog tape, for you who find that important anymore.
Keith's guitar playing is fine on this album, especially when we take into consideration that many fans have been worried about his abilities in recent years. The sound of that Telecaster is unique, but Jordan's name should also have been on the cover of this album, together with Richards's.
The material is more varied, with more emphasis on country-ringing tunes and melancholic «we're on the third bottle of wine – late night-soul ballads» a la All About You (Emotional Rescue 1980).
«Robbed Blind», «Just A Gift», «Suspicious», «Lover’s Plea» (great horns) and the tired shanty «Goodnight Irene». The best track is «Illusion» with Norah Jones, much due to her performance. She has grown to be a Emmylou Harris of her time – a guardian angel for off key-singing, rusty male vocalists.
The first cut, the title track, is an acoustic delta blues, abrubted halfway through. The not so charming first single «Trouble» and «Hearstopper» could easily have graced a latter-day Stones album. Jordan's drumming on these tracks is a downright parody on Charlie Watts's stiff, swinging style.
The roadhouse boogie «Blues In The Morning» features the late Bobby Keys on honky tonkin' barytone sax. Not quite Rip This Joint, but in that neighbourhood.
«Amnesia»: Rough, muddy bluesrock a la Tom Waits or latter day Bob Dylan. «Love Overdue»: Sweet reggae, with a twisted horn section, lovely drumsound and a remarkably steady vocal performance.
«Nothing On Me» is the best melody on the album, but that doesn't really say much. A Stones friendly tune, but more Stones a la «Steel Wheels» (1989) than «Sticky Fingers» (1971). Like we all know, there is a distinct difference.
«Something For Nothing» also strives after a kind of pop music formula, without succeeding. However, it improves with the choir and – hey – maracas!
The funniest, and most similar to the dark funk on the two previous albums, is «Substantial Damage», where Keith yells like Captain Beefheart, and Jordan's snare bangs salvation-like.
You have to enjoy the SOUND of this. The quality of songs is low, almost transparent, but it is fun to listen to – more fun than the latest Rolling Stones album «A Bigger Bang» from 2005. Yep, I really think so.
Take this, mean «Brenda»!
BEST SONG: «Substantial Damage»
MORTEN STÅLE NILSEN
* «Brenda» is, like all who have read Richards’s autobiography «Life» knows, Keiths mean nickname on Jagger.