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As well as being the lead vocalist with a band who have been established some fifty years, before receiving a knighthood, Mick Jagger released four solo albums between 1985 and 2001 (a compilation in 2007 made it five). Despite what grouchy ol' Keith Richards might say about them, all have their merits. 'Wandering Spirit', issued in 1993, peaked at No. 12 UK, No. 11 US, yielded his only solo UK Top 30 single to date in 'Sweet Thing', and is generally regarded by critics as the best of them.
Ten out of the fourteen tracks are written by him, two with guitarist Jimmy Rip, an American guitarist who plays with the band Television and has also worked with veteran rock'n'roller Jerry Lee Lewis. In addition to lead and backing vocals, Mick also plays guitar, harmonica, clavinet and percussion. The other musicians include Billy Preston (keyboards), Jim Keltner (drums) and Courtney Pine (sax). None of the other Rolling Stones are featured.
If you want something that sounds quite Stonesy, and ample proof that Mick can do it without Keith looking over his shoulder, 'Wired All Night' kicks proceedings off pretty smartly. The guitar hits the spot exactly, the drummer gives those skins and cymbals hell, and it's one of those tracks that almost defies you to sit still.
The single, 'Sweet Thing', takes us into the falsetto soul-funk territory that he explored increasingly from the late 70s onwards. The song is nothing special, but the groove makes up for it, underpinned by sturdy guitar throughout and a neat sax break later on. A kind of second cousin of 'Miss You' and 'Emotional Rescue', it's no disgrace. I can almost hear bits of 'Stayin' Alive' in there as well. Really, he should have gone the whole hog and invited the Brothers Gibb in to do backing vocals.
Yet another change in musical direction follows on 'Out Of Focus'. Starting off with classy piano chords, rather like an early Elton John, it gathers pace and then becomes what could almost be a mid-tempo early Motown song. The slower pace is maintained in the next song, 'Don't Tear Me Up', which begins with a slow organ intro before the other instruments come in and build it up while keeping the moody pace, rather reminiscent of 'Wild Horses'.
If I had to choose a favourite track, I'd probably choose 'Put Me In The Trash'. Insistent 'ooo-ee-ooo-ee-ooo-ee-ooo-ee' backing vocals, it's another kinda Stonesy rocker - in fact, apart from the snarling vocal, it could almost be Status Quo. The angry lyrics, delivered at a lover who put him down, may not mean much, but hell - when the sound is this good, who cares?
A cover version of Bill Withers' 'Use Me' comes next. The jazz-funk groove is there, with a good sax break, and Lenny Kravitz duetting on vocals. Although I tend to prefer Mick sounding like Mick (as he did on the previous song) and although this doesn't do so much for me, all credit to him for pushing the boat out. It works, anyway.
Then it's let's go down to Nashville, and Mick almost turns into Kenny Rogers for the wistful 'Evening Gown'. Gentle piano intro is joined by steel country guitar, and while it's recognisably Mr J singing, this is marvellously done country. Honestly, he's such a chameleon on this album, but he dabbles in so many styles and the remarkable thing is that it never sounds like self-parody - he and the musicians pull it off every time.
Next he goes back to the music with which he made himself famous. 'Mother Of A Man' sounds in style as though it could be a cousin of 'Honky Tonk Women', with a touch of Status Quo on the rhythm guitar. Then it's all change again for another cover version, this time 'Think', a 1957 US hit for the 5 Royales, and later covered by James Brown in his early days. Back to early soul-funk and some gritty sax here.
That's followed by the title track. Rockabilly guitar intro takes us into the territory inhabited by the Stray Cats, who were briefly all the rage in the early 1980s, and also a touch of Gene Vincent. It's probably one of the most instantly commercial numbers on offer here.
Those are really the last of the up-tempo tracks, and for the remaining four get a little more laid-back. 'Hang On To Me Tonight' is a slower, folk-rock tune, driven largely by acoustic guitar with some harmonica adding colour when the break comes along. Yet another soul cover comes next - the 1972 Frederick Knight hit 'I've Been Lonely For So Long'. Mick does his falsetto vocal bit on this one, and doesn't really add anything to the original. I never cared that much for the song, so for me this is not one of the album's high points.
What hasn't he tried on this record yet? Want a hint of gospel? 'Angel In My Heart' will do nicely, with its ethereal keyboard, strings and harpsichord. Finally he takes us to the folk club - or the pub - and offers an old Irish traditional folk ballad, 'Handsome Molly', unaccompanied except by some tasteful fiddle. It's good music for drinking Guinness to, folks, although I've never been a fan of this rather sparse mournful Irish folkie stuff. On one track of his previous solo outing he enlisted Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, which was rather better than this. Just a thought, Mick - some years ago the Pogues did a rather half-hearted version of 'Honky Tonk Women' (and it was even a minor hit). Go the whole way next time, find something suitably folk-tinged and rousing, and get the Pogues plus their fiddles, accordions, pennywhistles et al in the studio with you.
A pretty boring front cover, to be honest. Two images of a blue-tinted pic of bare-chested Mick in his trousers, looking like he had been in the shower only a few minutes earlier. The insert folds out to 12 pages, including lyrics for each song and full personnel credits.
It's really quite an eclectic batch of styles, and Mick sounds like he enjoys having the freedom to step outside his comfort zone to tackle music that wouldn't normally be found on a Stones album - which is surely one of the main reasons for him going solo every now and again. You can hardly blame him for wanting to step outside the box and do his own thing every now and again. Listen, Keith, you are a curmudgeonly old git to slag off our man's outings for the hell of it. Frankly they're rather more interesting than your solo sets ever were. And Mick is a better singer than you, so there. It must be said that Stones albums from the last few years have been rather patchy, even to a fan like me, and this is probably as good as any of them - if anything, it's slightly better.
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Wired All Night
2 Sweet Thing
3 Out Of Focus
4 Don't Tear Me Up
5 Put Me In The Trash
6 Use Me
7 Evening Gown
8 Mother Of A Man
10 Wandering Spirit
11 Hang On To Me Tonight
12 I've Been Lonely For So Long
13 Angel In My Heart
14 Handsome Molly