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Keith Richards

 Will Outlive Us All

 

Introduction

Talk Is Cheap

Live at the Hollywood Palladium

Main Offender

 


Much more than just 'The Human Riff' and 'The Most Elegantly Wasted Human Being On Earth', Keith Richards is a standard bearer of good ol' basic rock 'n' roll, always Chuck Berry-derived, always willing to integrate a new bit or piece from the black originators, beit reggae, funk, blues, or whatever, and more than that, nowadays Keith Richards is a consummate professional. His vision is strong, and his command of the Rolling Stones is unwavering. This filterless cigarette with arms has been making great music for so long, he's just physically and psychologically unable to make music that sucks, unlike maybe Mick Jagger. Keith being the human bedrock that he is, and Mick being the flighty little moth, always flittering around to the Next Big Thing, can correspond to either make the Rolling Stones a great synthesis of old-boy classicism with just enough new-school spice, or can crash into each other with such clashing force that the only things we have to show for it are a new tour t-shirt and the Steel Wheels CD forever gathering dust on our shelves. If its Mick that wants to get into the studio with the Dust Brothers, it's Keith who wants to tour forever and ever, Mick wants the stadiums and huge video-game screens, Keith wants the El Mocambo gigs. So when you take the two of them apart from one another, you'll see exactly how the two parts fit together...

And, unfortunately, in the mid- to late-80's, Keith and Mick were about as separated as two brothers can be. Mick wanted all the attention paid to his new solo career, even to the point of denying the Stones a tour behind Dirty Work in 1986 (most likely a good thing, considering how bad DW sucked yak balls) and going out on his own tour instead. Well, that incensed Keith to no end, and he decided to go against his long-stated position that the Stones were his band and no solo career would ever satisfy him, and go it alone for an album. Of course, this technically wasn't the first time Keith had been solo. There was the 'Run Run Rudolph' single in the mid-70's, and tours with Ron Wood as the New Barbarians in the late 70's. Those projects had just been very, you know, throwaway...he'd never actually taken the plunge into the studio without Mick before, with a set of songs he'd penned himself. It was just what he and the Stones needed, it turned out. It allowed Keith to realise that he didn't need to coat his albums with the 80's glop that had ruined Undercover and Dirty Work (unfortunately, Mick didn't feel the same way: witness the bores-ville sterility of 1989's reunion-album Steel Wheels), and reminded Mick that Keith wasn't worthy of the trash bin yet. Keith nowadays doesn't seem like he much needs his solo career...after 1992's Main Offender, he's spent most of his free time helping with up-and-coming bands in his adopted Jamaica and fishing and drinking vodka and orange juices. But, as far as I can tell, Keith's two solo albums are must for Stones fans...and everything a Keith fan could ever dream of.


Talk Is Cheap - Virgin 1987

Keith went about his solo career in exactly the right way...he didn't try to keep up with current trends (obviously not one of his great strengths in this world) but also didn't try to recreate his other band when arranging his sidemen. He went and got himself a bunch of black guys, for one thing, guys who were just as happy playing P-Funk-y Mothership transmissions like the opening 'Big Enough' as they were Keith's more familiar riff-based straight-ahead rock. Actually, Keith is pretty heavily into this funk thing and has been for some time...it's really all just an extension of the old R&B hits he used to cover all through the mid-60's. Just because the Stones were playing whitey disco funk like 'Hot Stuff' didn't mean that Keith's own personal contribution didn't sound a whole lot more like the Ohio Players. It's my opinion that Keith probably doesn't really listen to too much hard rock...that stuff just flows out of his tinderstick arms naturally. He's more obsessed with reggae and R&B for sure. Even his hard rockers are funkier here than any contemporary Stones album I'd care to name. Also a whole helluva lot more organic sounding. Unlike a lot of late-80's comeback albums by classic rock guys (Eric Clapton's Journeyman comes to mind) this isn't overly clear or draped in a lot of unnecessary fakey reverb meant to show how great CDs are...it simply sounds good. Flashy guitar solos and big, splashy chord changes are sacrificed at the altar of the groove...if any of these songs contains more than the minimal amount of chords, I'd be real surprised...the man plays guitar with three fingers, fer chrissakes. And he does more with space and scratch than most people can do with an entire chord book. Who needs twelve notes when you've got five? As long as they're the right five....and I think I trust Keith Richards to deliver those.

What I do miss is the conversational give-and-take telepathic connection that Ron Wood and Keith Richards have shared since the time of Some Girls. Keith does his best to deliver the most bobbing and feinting guitar riffs he can muster (listen to the agility of the riff to 'Struggle'...it's mesmerizing to listen to how many times the beat turns around over the course of even 10 seconds. Can you think this guy probably operates in day-to-day-life to this sort of time signature?), but I just miss little Ronnie there sparring gamely with his brother.

For some, Keith's voice could be a concern over the course of an album...he's fine coming up to croak 'Happy' once a concert, but is he much of a frontman? Ah well, he's more a bandleader than a lead singer, more James Brown than Otis Redding, but his voice was probably at it's antique-wooden best around this time...it'd developed from the warty croak of his first attempts at singing in the early Seventies, and had aged and matured to the very pleasant croon you hear on 'Make No Mistake' and whooping it up on the swingin' 'I Could've Stood You Up (But I Did Did Didn't!!!)'. Kind of half British-Invasion, half reggae master...When the focus shifts to the voice, like on the Mick-swiping 'You Don't Move Me', and away from the music, he's in a bit of trouble, however (though not always...'Locked Away' is a masterful performance that focuses just on the man's voice). Of course, back in '87, all the fuss was about this track. It's Keef Jabbing At Mick Right There In His Solo Record! Shades of 'How Can You Sleep?'!! Let's write a paragraph about how the Stones are breaking up! Let's just jizz all over ourselves about it! Ahh, the truth is that the song just isn't that impressive...musically it's just kind of flat, and the lyrics are just these soft little pats about how Mick's solo albums sucked and how Jagger was doing it all for money. Well, DUH!

I much prefer the magic inherent in tracks like 'How I Wish' and the very soulful 'Locked Away'. Need I say that Keith Richards invented these kinds of song? Maybe some people might not recognize that this is something special, but the chorus is immediately recognizable and the entire sound fits just like your favorite leather jacket. I think that's what I'd say most about this album. It's very strong, good, solid, if unspectacular songs, good performances, and sounds just like you might think a solo album by the greatest rhythm guitarist in the history of the planet might sound like. It's not excellent, life-changing stuff, but just very good rock 'n' roll...do you need too much more than that?

Capn's Final Word: An album that takes all of Keith's strengths...possibly lacks a bit of vision, but hits every target squarely, and I can't even find a bad song on here. If only the 80's Stones albums had been this good.

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Henrik Lidbjцrk    Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: Man, what a suprise this album was! I just picked it up on unused vinyl for nothing, after reading your review, and yer spot on! Two of my favourite bands ever are the Rolling Stones and Funkadelic, and this is so cool that Keef hire people like Bernie Worrell and Bootsy Collins, even Mick Taylor, to make such a funky sucker in the amazingly bad rock 'n' roll year 1988 (seriously which year was worse? 1888 perhaps).

 


Live at the Hollywood Palladium - Virgin 1991

Strong, drunken, delightfully ragged live set from Keith and his band the X-Pensive Winos released about four years after the fact, oh, but who's counting? Does this stuff ever get particularly old? Sure sounds more alive than the Stones' Flashpoint album, probably because Keith was up in front in a small venue rather than just another ant 200 yards away scurrying about a stage dwarfed by a 5-story lighting structure. And I'm not saying his new band is better than the Stones, that's about impossible, but it sure sounds like they're more giddy about playing. The Stones I often feel are overly professional, especially back when Bill the Thrill was still playing bass (new Stones bassist Denny Jones injects a nice bit of X-Pensive Wino enthusiasm into the band dynamic), the Winos are chomping at the bit, and Keith is obviously excited to show off his great band to the world.

This is fantastic background music...but I wouldn't go and listen closely, trying to find a lot of hidden truths in these grooves. Keith is all about being upfront, what-you-smell-is-what-you-get...if most of these songs have more than five words, I'm Madonna's tiny little right nipple. 'Take It So Hard' goes 'Doncha Take It So Harrrrrrd!!!', 'I Could've Stood You Up' goes 'I Could've Stood You Up!!!' and 'Locked Away' goes 'WE ARE THE PRIESTS...OF THE TEMPLE....OF SPHYRINX!!!! ALL THE GIFTS OF LIFE!!!! ARE HELD WITHIN OUR ARMS!!!!'. I can't really imagine needing Keith's first solo album after buying this one...all the tracks are broken in and all the parts are loosened up and wiggling all around within the beat like the transmission on an old AMC Javelin. The old Stones songs are done more justice than they've been paid in years...the Winos sound like Booker T and the MG's on 'Time Is On Our Side', perfectly backing up the lead vocals by Keith's backup singer. Yeah, Keith knows when to step back into being a sideman again...but he's the best sideman a band could have. The Winos sound nothing if not authentic....you really can't get this stuff outta white people anymore, it's all just gotten too slick, too restricted, too sober. Nahh....Keith does it right, with lots of gusto and licks that probably date back to the ol' race records they used to sell.

The band blows in the same way through most of the tracks on Talk, and Keith's guitar slowly gets louder and louder over the course of the record, until finally on 'Happy' he's firing six of the eight cylinders all by himself. I always thought this version of 'Happy' was a bit slow, a bit flat-footed, and was absolutely upstaged by 'Connection', reminding us that while 'Happy' is his signature song, he's not above disinterring the lost Stones punk classic hidden on ol' forgotten Between The Buttons from way back in '67, and then proceeding to blow the doors off it in two and a half minutes. After all that it's just natural that 'Rockawhile' sounds pretty anticlimactic following all that, but hey...it's been a great night with a great band. 

Capn's Final Word:  Out Stonesing the Stones? One night with Keith probably equals the amount of voodoo inherent in the entire Steel Wheels Urban Jungle tour...just don't blame me if you can't remember anything tomorrow morning.

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Main Offender - Virgin 1992


Harder rocking than Talk Is Cheap, and very impressively high-octane in places, but I miss a bit of the living, breathing groove that Talk was built upon. Considering what his mental state was back in '87, this album at least starts off sounding more fittingly pissed off with the savagely rocking '999', the most fearsomely fanged beast to come from a Rolling Stone in the last 20 years. This is Keith at his most venomous, his guitar here is a straight razor...and he's much more willing to use it in anger this time around. If Talk was about Keith the Bandleader, this album is about Keith the Guitarist...his backing is spare and extremely capable, but the star is a beat-up, five-string TeleBastard plugged via railroad tie into an old tweed-clad refugee from 1958. And while this stuff is lethally irresistable on '999' and the other hard rocking stuff, it gets a bit shopworn on tracks like 'Eileen', a great song that begs for a big band. Not that I'm saying that the small band thing doesn't get the job done...it does, but this album can be so stark, so stripped down, as to be lacking.

Keith does keep the interesting twists on RichardRock flowing from the Fountain, though...never have I heard Keith-ian dub quite as haunting as 'Words Of Wonder' or a soul ballad as Motown '65-ready as 'Hate It When You Leave', my favorite song on here. The rest of the songs are just more of that riff rock, tight as a sixteen-year-old gymnasts' inner thighs and more familiar than the first episode of South Park. There's just simply a missing piece of the puzzle here, some fat on these lean bones, to make this as enjoyable as the last album. I mean, if stripped waifs of Keith Richards-riff tunes are what flies your aeroplane, then by all means, this album is the one for you. I'm able to really appreciate his command, but I kinda wish for a little more variety in these tunes.

Capn's Final Word: Keith's no-bullshit album leaves him looking a little too one-dimensional, when we know he isn't quite like that. Mr. Riff-Hard, as it says on the CD spine, at his most barren.

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