Old rock habits die hard
Wandering Spirit, Mick Jagger (WEA) Off The Ground, Paul McCartney (EMI) SOME things never change. Mick Jagger rocks out and Paul McCartney pops out on their first new studio releases in several years.
Thirty years after they both started their careers in the Rolling Stones and The Beatles respectively, both musicians are seeking sanctuary in their tried and true ways.
With Wandering Spirit, Jagger has made a Stones-like collage of beer-swilling party music. McCartney meanwhile, has crafted hook-filled pop tunes to bake cookies to.
As a solo artist, Jagger came up to the proverbial batter's box with two strikes against him due to 1985's She's The Boss and the 1987 release Primitive Cool.
In a possible last-ditch effort to prove his worth without Stones guitarist Keith Richards behind him, Jagger enlisted the help of hard rock producer Rick Rubin. Rubin, whose previous credits include The Cult, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Beastie Boys,worked to emphasise Jagger's swaggering, drawling, twangy tough guy stance. The result is the best Stones album without the Rolling Stones.
Whether wrapping his around a standard country tune on Evening Gown or performing an all-out foot-shredder on a rocker like Mother Of A Man, Jagger's new album is like a walking tour of styles from the Stones' best period, the 1970s.
All the classic Stones elements are there. There's a She's So Cold whip snap drum approach to Wired All Night and a Miss You'll affected falsetto on the club-flavoured Sweet Thing.
Jagger employs the standard gospelish swell of Out Of Focus and a psychedelic blaxploitation groove with guest Lenny Kravitz on the cloying Use Me. On the album's best moment, the chorus of ''Oooh-de-doo-de-oooh'' on Put Me In the Trash is worth the price of admission.
In some ways though, the slickness of the enforced toughness becomes more stance and image than heart after a while. Jagger's basic lyrics either emphasise the loner, the guy left out or the mad as hell psycho.
When they're not, he's singing about money troubles and high-class life with barely a revealing moment. Detractors can even point out that the vocals have such an exaggerated Jagger drawl that he's spent a lot of time in the mirror listening to his old records.
The rough edge of Wandering Spirit, no matter how contrived, shows that Jagger, at the age of 49, knows how he got to where he is - and that can only bode well for this year's Rolling Stones recording session.
McCartney follows 1989's harder edged Flowers In The Dirt and his rocking MTV Unplugged album with Off The Ground, a grab bag of ultra-catchy pop tunes and more introspective Beatlesque passages that don't exactly hold up to much scrutiny.
Like Jagger, McCartney finds solace in the past by retooling latter-day Beatles progressions and grandiose piano passages on more than half the album. The other half is spent updating a rocking Wings image and trying to keep up with today's technology -as evidenced on the barely recognisable title track. It's all treated vocals and pounding drum machines with a standard McCartney chorus mixed way down.
Otherwise, McCartney's pop sense crafts instant hooks like the insipid Hope Of Deliverance, an up-tempo Ebony And Ivory for the 90s. Perplexing, McCartney also goes for introspective acoustic numbers like I Owe It All To You, which suddenly and confusingly venture out-of-kilter.
Showing his social conscious, McCartney sings of animal torture, love and united people. When he's not, the lyrics veer towards amateurish non-stories such as on the throwaway Biker Like An Icon.
McCartney's past holds him up to higher scrutiny and while Off The Ground lifts off and travels some, it doesn't really end up anywhere.