A Stone alone, and a Beatle, too
November 13, 2001
POP MUSIC REVIEW BY JIM DEROGATIS
It can't be easy being Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger. Sure, there's the fame, the adulation, the riches. But imagine having to measure up to having been a Beatle or a Rolling Stone.
While each has displayed undeniable flashes of brilliance, the weight of history has ultimately crushed most of Macca and Mick's solo efforts. The former has always done his best work as part of a band (which is why Wings was better than all but Paul's first two solo albums), while the latter has never quite found his footing apart from Keith Richards ("Should I go full-fledged funky," Mick always seems to be asking, "or hedge my bets with Stones sound-alikes?").
But given enough time, expectations can turn around again. One reason that McCartney and Jagger's new solo efforts seem so strong is that everyone predicted they'd be "just OK," following the model of their predecessors. Instead, the ol' boys have pulled off something much, much better.
McCartney's "Driving Rain'" (which arrives in stores today) was recorded with the same sort of fast-and-furious, no-frills approach that served the former Beatle so well on 1999's "Run Devil Run," his all-star collection of rip-roaring '50s covers. Here, Macca recruited a group of young, no-name Americans to back him up, and David Kahne to run the tape machines (he's lately been lauded for producing Sugar Ray, but the obvious precedent for these jangling guitars is his work with the Bangles).
Musically, there are no surprises--there's nothing as radical as McCartney's forays into techno, as he did as the Fireman. The melodies are exceedingly Beatlesesque, though the Beatle that seems to be on Paul's mind these days is George Harrison (the hook from "Piggies" is lifted for "Tiny Bubble," while "Riding to Jaipur" is a loving homage to Harrison's Indian drones). But the hooks sound much fresher and more inspired than they did on his last effort in this vein, 1997's "Flaming Pie."
Even better, for the first time in ages, McCartney actually has something to say. Clearly, he's still feeling the loss of Linda, even as he basks in the glow of new love with his fiancee, Heather Mills. The best tunes here reflect that mix of joy and melancholy: the touching "From a Lover to a Friend," the soulful "Back in the Sunshine Again," the absolutely gorgeous "Heather" and the jammed-out rocker "Rinse the Raindrops."
Of course, McCartney being McCartney, he descends to moments of extreme romantic cheesiness ("Loving Flame," "There Must Have Been Magic"). But even those are forgivable--at least they're spartanly produced, and based in an understandable nostalgia (the latter tune recounts the night Paul met Linda at a club appearance by the Animals in 1967).
If McCartney succeeds by harnessing his emotions, Jagger thrives by letting it all fly on "Goddess in the Doorway" (which had been scheduled for release today, but was pushed back a week so as not to compete with his fellow Baby Boom icon).
The album isn't quite the masterpiece that some think it is; infamous Jagger groupie and Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner gave it five stars in his magazine and declared that it "surpasses all his solo work and any Rolling Stones album since 'Some Girls.' " But really, considering how low the bar has been set, what is that saying?
It's more accurate to note that after three very mixed solo efforts, Mick has finally made an album as good as Keith's "Talk Is Cheap"--which is pretty good, but still not "Some Girls."
Indulging in his love of dance grooves but still keeping the growl and grit that Stones fans love (especially on the Lenny Kravitz-driven rocker "God Gave Me Everything," the Al Green-inspired "Hideaway" and the slinky, sultry "Lucky Day"), Jagger has at long last achieved the right musical mix to showcase his still-fabulous vocal snarl (which remains the focus of attention, celebrity cameos by the likes of Bono and Rob Thomas be damned).
Meanwhile, lyrically, Mick is at his nasty, sarcastic, and boastful best. He out-machos gangsta rappers on "Lucky Day" and "Everybody Getting High," and cleanses himself of all that divorce angst in "Gun," which he's right in claiming as an even meaner modern-day rewrite of "Under My Thumb."
It can't be easy being Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger. But this time out, both venerated rock icons recapture some of the spark that made us care in the first place.