By KURT FRITJOFSEN
There is something delightfully perverse about all this. The man should not be standing amongst us, let alone strapping on seven pounds of electrified wood and grooving like this. It’s a testament to the vivifying power of rock n’ roll; It may fill your youthful face with lines, but you’ll be dancing when your contemporaries are nodding off. Grim takes his time hunting the joyful — seems he’s got a heart after all.
Richards starts the record with the title track, sounding like he could be in Robert’s kitchen, just him and an L-1. “Heartstopper” kicks off with Dick Dale-style surf chords ringing over a punky pulse. Lovely, delicate piano from Ivan Neville here chimes during a soaring bridge. “She’s a vegetarian, but me, I like the meat,” Richards hisses. The famous Keith background vox of yore (think “Rocks Off” or “Connection”) have been mutated by decades of Marlboros and Jack, the Everly choirboy replaced by a gravel-throated ghost.
And here comes “Trouble.” Fuck. Fuckin’ hell. Fuckin’ hell yes. No goddamn Kanye West, no goddamn Justin Bieber, no #hashtagged Billboard contrivance. Just that holy backbeat — American as a ’57 Chevy with Marilyn on the hood, full of the sacred promise of libertinism. The chord progression is classic Richards, filled with the knowing smile of an elder statesman. Steve Jordan’s snare opens up the throttle at the end — the singers caress my ears over Richards’ patented anthemic structures — and I know God exists. “Trouble” is dirty as hell, charming as shit and familiar as an old lover — the way I like my rock and roll.
The engineering on this record is beautifully live — you can hear the room — and nowhere is this more apparent than on “Blues In The Morning.” Keith sounds more like Carl Perkins than Muddy on this one. Whoever engineered this record understands space in a way that is rarer than good intentions on prom night. “Got a hard-on, baby; but now it’s come and gone.” Ha ha ha. (I woke up my next door neighbor laughing at that line.) Getting old ain’t for sissies, my Grandpa says. The band cooks — someone oughta give the X-Pensive Winos (Richards’ band) a medal for valor.
The title to “Substantial Damage” sounds like it could be either a diagnosis or a headline; The song itself is funky as shit. God. Seventy-two in December? Ha. Damn straight. Piss off, Grim. That’s what I love about Baby Boomers — they refuse to get old. “What’s that thing attached to your ear?” Keith raps. “I’m talkin’ to you, but you don’t seem to hear! I’m payin’ for dinner, and I might as well not be here!” (Seems Keith prefers the 20th Century, too.) “I bring out the sadist in you,” he cries. Shades of Undercover; this song wouldn’t have been out of place next to “Pretty Beat Up.”
“Money, they don’t make any more — at least not around me,” Richards sings in “Something For Nothing.” (He should call up the Fed.) Both he and his Twin have this narrative running through their work; Lucky In Love and Put Me In The Trash also dealt with this existential fear of going broke. Mick might be keen on power distance and private jets, but Keith plays the populist, a folk hero: inviting us into his Connecticut home in “Just A Gift.” The lines are telling: “You should find me, ‘cause I’m hanging ‘round in bars with a lot of shooting stars … and they bore me.”
“Lover’s Plea” is his Otis Redding slow-burner, stops and all. “Nothin’ ever turns to silver, nothin’ ever turns to gold.” (Woody was wrong?) Memphis legend David Porter co-wrote this one with Steve Jordan and Richards; you can hear Stax in it. The Bluff City can be heard in “Nothing On Me,” too, which has Royal Studios written all over the beat. Richards knows where to get the good shit.
Leadbelly wrote “Goodnight Irene,” imbuing it with suicidal ideation. And Richards turns it into a lovely goodbye. But no, no Keith. We’re not letting you say goodnight with this one. Sure, tempus fugit — one look at your hands could tell anyone that. Those are a working man’s hands, and you’ve fought the good fight better than most. But you’re not built to slip off in your sleep somewhere. No. Do not go softly into that good night, as the man said. Rage against the dying of the light. Make Grim dread coming for you and the rest of the boys. Breathe fire down his neck, spit on his shoes, and grin in his face.
You’ve got it in you, kid. One more shot.
You just proved it.
Kurt Fritjofsen is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]