Rejiggering Mick Jagger
BY WAYNE ROBINS
From the introspective acoustic piano chords that open Mick Jagger’s new solo album, it’s obvious that this is not the strutting Stone of "Under My Thumb" or "Brown Sugar" or even "Miss You." The armor of arrogance has yielded to vulnerability, jealousy, and heartache. It’s Jagger without the swagger.
But restrain the instinct to ask "Why bother?" and you’ll find that Goddess in the Doorway (Virgin) offers some appealing answers. Although a plaintive, self-examining, lovelorn Jagger may stretch your ability to suspend disbelief, the old pro makes a convincing case that the hunter has been captured by the game.
A little backstory first. Back on November 6, the Wall Street Journal ran an illuminating and amusing article about the marketing of Goddess in the Doorway and the challenge of selling the consumer product known as Mick Jagger, 58, to a generation young enough to be his grandchildren, kids who think rock is Kid Rock. To that end, there is a snazzy Web site (www.mickjagger.com) with cool graphics, song snatches, scrolling lyrics, and enough bells and whistles to suggest that Mick is the Peter Pan of the digital age.
It’s not that Jagger the geezer has joined up with Weezer. But Goddess in the Doorway does come up with the kind of cameos we’ve come to expect since Clive Davis turned the cosmic hippie guitarist Carlos Santana into a commodity strangely ’N Sync with the times just a few years ago. No coincidence then, that the first tune, "Visions of Paradise," is a collaboration with Rob Thomas, the dude from Matchbox 20 who helped Santana back to the top of the charts. Yet the song succeeds as more than brand repositioning ("New improved Mick! Add Rob Thomas for that fresh, young flavor!"). Yes, the arrangement is slick: first time around, it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Journey greatest-hits disc. But the longings feel real.
And the appearances by Wyclef Jean ("Hideaway"), Bono ("Joy"), and even new labelmate Lenny Kravitz ("God Gave Me Everything") don’t seem like shotgun weddings: they open Jagger up, broaden his stylistic palette. "Joy" finds the singer driving a four-wheel drive in the desert, experiencing melodramatic visions of Jesus. The big choral voices are set off by what sound like windmill-powered guitar riffs and "Baba O’Riley" keyboards. Pete Townsend, Jagger’s London neighbor, is on the album too.
The unlikely seeker is also evident on "Dancing in the Starlight," another mid-tempo pop-rock tune where the rugged underpinning provided by Jagger’s singing suggests someone crawling through a labyrinth, looking for the way out. And whereas in the past a title tune like "Goddess in the Doorway" would evoke a good-looking hooker on Hamburg’s notorious Reeperbahn, this one also has a spiritual aura, with Aerosmith-via-Led-Zeppelin riffs and Middle Eastern modalities that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Houses of the Holy or one of Robert Plant’s solo discs. Aerosmith’s Joe Perry even plucks his magic twanger on various tracks. Some tunes (the Wyclef Jean–joined "Hideaway") offer little more than satisfying grooves. But even a title as casually playful as "Lucky Day" has an edge of audio noir, a darkness at the edge of town.
Does Mick ever just let go and kick out the jams? He gets his rocks off on "Everybody Getting High," a party anthem that seems made for multiple remixes played at rave volume. And "God Gave Me Everything" rocks hard and well, even if it’s surprising to hear him sing with as much gratitude as attitude.
Jagger has avoided two pitfalls of solo projects by rock icons. On Goddess in the Doorway, he neither condescends to current trends nor repeats his old act. "I always hated nostalgia, living in the past," he sings in "Too Far Gone." And he sounds believable.
Sure, it was nice to see Mick with Keith Richards doing "Salt of the Earth" on the televised Concert for New York City. And it might be interesting to hear him with the Fat Possum studio all-stars and R.L. Burnside’s posse playing a pure blues session. But steeped in show business as he’s been for close to 40 years, Jagger deserves more than the benefit of the doubt. The Wall Street Journal was dead wrong when it suggested that the jiggering of Jagger’s image was meant to appeal to the Britney Spears crowd. For all the young dudes who accompany Mick, the music and message are much more mature than all that. The priority here isn’t preening, it’s professionalism. And by that measure, Goddess in the Doorway provides more than a little bit of satisfaction.
Issue Date: November 29 - December 6, 2001