THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2015|
Posted by: Max Stalker-Wilde
Today, the solo careers of people who were in bands that were huge 50 years ago are the butt of a lot of jokes. But the most you can do as a critic is to try to examine each stand alone piece of music you find as a singular piece without holding it up to anything you wouldn't hold up all works to. Keith Richards recently released a record, Crosseyed Heart with his band The X-Pensive Winos. It gives off an early Tom Waits vibe at some points and a later Tom Waits vibe at others. There's a certain vocal style among older rockers that's difficult to hear. It's just fragile at times and not in the sense that the singer seems vulnerable but in the sense that he seems weak. The album opens with the title track, a delta blues styled song. It's played clumsily but passionately and gorgeous. It brings home the point that this is blues. Blues is made out of its flaws, spirit and humanity. Three things this record is loaded with.
The band has a unique tone throughout the entire record. They hold down a rock and roller with an impressively exciting sound all the while just sounding sort of ghostly (which isn't a joke about them being old). However, the subject matter of these songs an element of the record that make the album seem unintentionally comical. When Keith sings "my baby," I know he's probably talking about some 2nd or 3rd wife, and when he proceeds to sing some juvenile thing about her -- like his adolescent jealousy over a grown woman -- the only feeling I'm left with is sadness. It's like he's expecting us to be on his side when we're not even close to being in the fight. Maybe that's just a byproduct of an old guy singing a rock song, but the voice doesn't have the conviction that makes a song convincing. There are points where Keith sounds more like Bernie Sanders than a Rolling Stone.
That being said, this album's strength is that there's a kick ass band playing rock and roll songs which is something that never gets old. When Richards riffs on "Trouble," it's worth listening to. Keith Richard is still a great guitar player. The vocals overall are irritating, but they're kind of supposed to be. Norah Jones sings with Keith on one song, "Illusion" and it was a very nice break from listening to the frog man sing.
This album is not without its faults...uninspired and negative lyrics, an unenthusiastic and charmless vocal performance and the hollow sounding attempts to be as cool as Leadbelly. There's at least one thing this record excels at: riffs. It may not be the most innovative record of Richards' career, but there are some riffs like I have never heard on these tracks. Perhaps shockingly, in the sense of lead guitar playing, Keith Richards seems to have lost nothing. "Blues In The Morning" contains some mind bending guitarring. If you listen all the way through this record you've probably forgiven the artist for it by the last track. "Substantial Damage" is one of the nicest and most expressive rock and roll songs I've heard all year.