Release Date: Sep 18, 2015
Record label: Universal
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Blues-Rock, Album Rock, Hard Rock, Rock & Roll
As rock’s enduring pirate, Keith Richards embodies swagger, sangfroid and a certain delicious naughtiness. More than the Stones themselves, the guitarist exudes a dirt ’n’ salt earthiness that’s equal parts Rastafarian, broke-down cowboy and seen-it-all gypsy globetrotter. On “Trouble,” the most post-modern Stones-evoking track on Crosseyed Heart, his voice is all worn rope and spark.
Following a gap of 23 years, Keith Richards has now released his third solo album Crosseyed Heart, decidedly his most accomplished to date. Of course Richards’s songwriting partnership with Mick Jagger has always been at the heart of The Rolling Stones’ success but, just as Jagger’s go-alone efforts to make himself a pop star ended in disappointment, Richards’s more rootsy, less commercial, solo work, while authentic, has also failed to give satisfaction in the past. It seemed that whatever their disagreements, the Glimmer Twins needed each other to bring out the best of themselves as musicians.
Keith Richards took his time to complete Crosseyed Heart. It arrives 23 years after Main Offender, his last solo studio album, but also 11 years after A Bigger Bang, the last official Rolling Stones record, but Richards hasn't exactly been quiet in all those years. He helped Mick Jagger flesh out the leftover demos for expanded editions of Exile on Main St.
The Rolling Stone’s first solo album in 23 years contains exactly what one might hope for. There are beautifully played old blues songs, storming Stonesy rockers (Heartstopper, the ferocious Blues in the Morning), a sublime Gregory Isaacs reggae cover (Love Overdue) and outlaw songs about evading the authorities (Trouble). There’s dry humour in a touching lament about, ahem, the theft of a “stash” (Robbed Blind, in which he cackles: “The cops, I can’t involve them”) and the jerkily funny Amnesia, about the 2006 incident in which he fell out of a tree (“Thought I met my mother / She said: ‘You don’t belong to me’”).
Get ready for Keith Richards uncut. On his first solo album in 23 years, the guitarist rolls away the flashy distractions of the Stones to reveal the grittiness below. Like its two predecessors (“Talk Is Cheap” in 1988 and “Main Offender” four years later), “Crosseyed Heart” challenges listeners to deal with the front-and-center wheeze of Richards’ voice, as well as the raw dynamic he has with drummer/co-writer Steve Jordan.
As the dad-snorting, drug-devouring, cop-dodging heart and soul of The Rolling Stones for 50-odd years, and the epitome of the hedonistic rock’n’roll survivor who’ll probably outlive Princess Charlotte, Keith Richards hardly has to prove his edginess credentials. You’d forgive him a studio-slick trad blues album, like virtually every other solo album from rockers of his vintage; he’s earned his ‘beige pass’.And for a few seconds, that’s what we get. The opening title track of his third solo album, the first in 23 years, opens with some standard platinum rocker Mississippi blues twangles, but swiftly goes awry.
Keef’s first solo album in 20 years, featuring a collaboration with Norah Jones. On listening to the blues picking of the cursory opening title track, Crosseyed Heart, in which Richards picks out a few raw, acoustic blues licks as if he’s plucking a chicken on a porch, it’s tempting to quip that when it comes to authenticity, he certainly knocks spots off Hugh Laurie. But then, you realise, there are actual grizzled old bluesmen out there who are less authentically blues than Keith Richards.
In the recent documentary Keith Richards: Under the Influence, the grizzled guitarist and best-selling memoirist recalls a long-ago party at Muddy Waters’ Chicago home. Standing in front of the house decades later, he says he “crashed out” and can’t remember leaving the “rocking” bash. But he does remember that he “woke up at Howlin’ Wolf’s house.” It’s a great story, both self-mocking and a bit self-aggrandizing (I got to hang with Muddy and Wolf).
Back in 2011, finding himself at a loose end having finished writing and promoting his epic poem of an autobiography, Life, Keith Richards found himself at a loose end. His response was to float the idea in the press that he might be thinking of retiring. He wasn’t, of course, but given what an outrageous suggestion it seemed - after all, 67 is hardly long in the tooth for somebody who long ago seems to have struck upon the secret to immortality - he was hoping to jolt the rest of The Rolling Stones into action; at this point in time, they hadn’t played together for four years or recorded anything in six.
Crosseyed Heart isn't quite a continuation of the ragged, groove-heavy rapport Keith Richards established with his other band, the X-Pensive Winos, on his first two solo albums, 1988's Talk Is Cheap and 1992's Main Offender. Winos drummer Steve Jordan co-writes and plays on nearly every track here, and guitarist Waddy Wachtel and keyboardist Ivan Neville make appearances as well, but Richards plays the majority of the guitar, bass, and piano parts himself. While the rheumatoid arthritis that has swollen his knuckles to the size of mangos has significantly diminished his guitar chops over the last decade or so, he's still a master of varying guitar tones and piecing together overdubbed riffs in the studio.
The rollout for Crosseyed Heart has played like several episodes of Keith Says the Darndest Things. For those who haven’t been tuning in at home, here are the highlights from the last few weeks: Sgt. Pepper’s is a “mishmash of rubbish,” Metallica and Black Sabbath are jokes, the Grateful Dead are boring, rap is music for the tone-deaf, Donald Trump is “refreshing,” and T-Swift, well, Richards managed to speak volumes about her by declining to comment at all (“Oh, I don’t want to sound like an old man”).
Keith RichardsCrosseyed Heart(Republic)Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars Any self-respecting Rolling Stones fan can tell you that some of the best deep album cuts the band has ever released are ones penned and sung by Keith Richards. His two solo albums have aged pretty well also, which makes Crosseyed Heart, his first solo turn in 23 years, a pretty welcome arrival for those starved for fresh Stones content. Richards’ new set covers the ground you’d pretty much expect, but never goes through the motions in doing so.
Keith Richards' first solo album since 1992 opens like a fever dream, with the 71-year-old rock god croaking acoustic blues like Robert Johnson after burning down a half-ounce spliff. But it's a feint. "All right, that's all I got," he snaps just under two minutes in, before upshifting into his most eccentric and best-ever solo set. Crosseyed Heart is the sound of Richards following his pleasure wherever it leads, with a lean, simpatico team including longtime session pals Steve Jordan, Ivan Neville and Waddy Wachtel backing him up all the way.
Given that his most noteworthy recent exploits – publicly ridiculing Mick Jagger’s genitalia and making cameos in blockbuster films – have had little to do with music, Keith Richards’s first solo album in 23 years is surprisingly compelling. Backed, as he was in 1992, by the X-Pensive Winos, Richards mixes uptempo blues (Blues in the Morning) with more introspective fare where his gravelly delivery has much in common with Mark Lanegan (as well as one misguided venture into lukewarm reggae). Pleasingly, Heartstopper and the standout Trouble suggest he hasn’t forgotten how to write killer riffs when the mood takes him.
Rolling Stones solo albums seldom trouble the scorers, though Keith Richards’ tend to be less irksome than those by his Glimmer Twin. Keef’s limitations as a vocalist are offset by his rampant good nature on tracks such as Amnesia, mainly because he’s forgotten to take himself too seriously. On Suspicious, the best track, Bobby Keys saxes up a lightly amused version of Richards’ persona, while on Robbed Blind he’s still hankering after his “stash” (Viagra? Parsley seeds?).
Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards is photographed performing at the United Center in June 2013. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards is photographed performing at the United Center in June 2013. On Keith Richards’ first solo album in over 20 years, “Crosseyed Heart,” the Rolling Stones co-founder crafts songs using the same tools and templates he’s employed throughout his creative life: blues, early rock 'n' roll, classic country & western and a pinch of reggae.
Keith Richards attends the press conference for the movie "Keith Richards - Under The Influence" during the 40th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), in Toronto, Canada on Sept. 17, 2015. Keith Richards attends the press conference for the movie "Keith Richards - Under The Influence" during the 40th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), in Toronto, Canada on Sept.