Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mick Jagger 2: Primitive Cool

While there are those who defend Dirty Work, the last Stones album before their lengthiest hiatus to date, Mick Jagger’s own opinion spoke volumes when he passed on touring to promote it to work on his next, contract-stipulated solo album instead. Primitive Cool appeared in that strange, Stones-less era, and made little commercial or artistic impact.
This time one of the name producers was David A. Stewart of Eurythmics, who was always better in small doses than taking over an entire album (witness Tom Petty’s Southern Accents, Daryl Hall’s 1986 solo album, and the resounding thud of Bob Geldof’s first album after Live Aid). A laundry list of session people fills the credits, including two future members of Living Colour. In a smart move, Jeff Beck handled a lot of the lead guitar, which helps with overall unity. (Mick toured the album down under and in Japan, with up-and-coming guitarist Joe Satriani on board.)
Musically, it’s a step up from She’s The Boss, with more emphasis on guitars and lyrics than funk and grooves. Despite a few slick touches, “Throwaway” is a catchy single, much more than the ill-advised “Let’s Work”. Maybe we can blame Dave Stewart for this one, but Mick should have known better, at a time when the yuppie-greed-is-good ethic was starting to fade. Likewise, he should have recognized that the main riff of “Radio Control” is very similar to Free’s “All Right Now”. “Say You Will” isn’t that complicated (Dave Stewart again) but is still very catchy. The title track comes off much more dramatic than it needs to be, partially due to the arrangement, but it does approach the concept of an aging Mick explaining himself to his much-younger children, some of whom today are old enough to be the parents of his most recent offspring.
Side two is dominated by three songs. Considering how the album was ignored at the time, it’s striking to listen now and discover that he may well have thrown the musical first punches at Keith, with songs like “Kow Tow”, “Shoot Off Your Mouth”, and “Party Doll” painting respectively hurt, nasty, and resigned portraits of a paramour who let him down (Paddy Moloney’s pipes and whistle providing a lovely counterpoint on the latter). In the middle is “Peace For The Wicked”, a baffling dance song with a rock mix that can’t decide what it’s about. The most ambitious track on the album—and again, while Mick’s financial acumen can be described as ambitious, we wouldn’t necessarily say that about his musical contributions—would be the lengthy last track. Beginning with now-dated synths and continuing with those pipes and whistle, “War Baby” would appear to be some kind of cry for world peace. The melody’s okay, but the sound effects kill any good it could do.
Despite its worst efforts, it’s a very listenable album. Yet while it wasn’t obvious that the Stones were virtually done, Primitive Cool didn’t do much to suggest Mick would be just fine on his own. He needed Keith to spur him on, much like Paul McCartney needed someone like John Lennon to keep him in check (and vice versa). And the fans wanted to hear the Stones.
And the cover art? Good Lord, but that’s just awful.

Mick Jagger Primitive Cool (1987)—3

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