Mick Jagger: “Get A Grip/England Lost,” The New Politically Charged Singles

A16OMAV14AL._SY450_

I was beginning to wonder what I was going to do this weekend… the Rock Chick decamped last night for points West to visit our daughter. Our daughter recently changed apartments and it appears this cross-town move has precipitated the need for my wife to fly out to help “decorate the new, bigger place.” I have an image of the two of them racing down a desert highway, lifting off the ground, Thelma And Louise style. Oh well, anything for my daughter. In the words of Severus Snape, “…Always.”

Anyway, I was wondering what I would do with myself this weekend. In the old days, the moment my wife announced she was leaving me to my own devices, I would have been icing down beer and loading up on bottles of whiskey. My friends, or as I refer to them, the Troops, would be assembled. E-mails and texts would have been exchanged. Liquor, taxi cabs, grapefruits and lots of ice would be procured. In the really old days, perhaps a pack of Marlboro Lights too, but those days are long, long gone. I was never a real smoker. My wife normally would have returned to find me slathered in bourbon and take-out food… She returned home one time to find me holed up in the basement watching an old video of the E Street Band weeping over the fact that Clarence Clemons, “The Big Man” had passed. I kept saying, through my tears, “The Big Man, honey, The Big Man is gone…” In my defense, I was never really allowed to mourn properly and it had been a helluva weekend.

This weekend, I merely drew the blinds and pulled up the drawbridge. Last night I read Jo Nesbo’s excellent The Leopard in it’s entirety…while listening to Hendrix’s entire catalog… It appears I’m in a Greta Garbo stage. The Rock Chick has been gone for almost 24 hours and I haven’t spoken to anyone outside of work. Well, I did speak to the barista at my local coffee shop. Despite leaving strict instructions about watering plants and feeding her cat, the Rock Chick left literally nothing for me to eat here. So, in truth, I did speak to the folks at the coffee shop to order a scone. Dinner tonight will be a Rubik’s Cube for me to figure out… but who cares.

As I sat pondering my starvation, I saw on social media that Mick Jagger had released not one but two surprise singles. “Gotta Get A Grip” backed with, or as they used to say in the old days “b/w,” “England Lost.” As everyone knows, for us here at B&V, the Stones are our Alpha and Omega, so I was intrigued that Jagger had surprisingly “dropped” these two new songs. Suddenly, my weekend had purpose. Naturally, I purchased the tunes immediately.

Now, I realize that many people have been critical of Mick’s solo work. No one more than say, Keith Richards. Frankly, I love Keith, but he needs to shut his pie-hole on Mick’s solo work. ‘Wandering Spirit,’ produced by Rick Rubin and ‘Goddess In The Doorway’ were both superlative albums. Mick played to his strengths on those records and they’re must-haves, in the opinion of B&V. I’m probably in the minority here, but I also dug his side-project, Superheavy with Dave Stewart of Eurythmic’s fame and Joss Stone and a few others including a son of Bob Marley. I like when Mick explores his experimental side outside of the Stones. Nothing will match the push-pull of Mick and Keith and the Stones, but hey, Mick makes great music.

Artists are an interesting bunch. I’ve always aspired to that title, “artist,” but I have no musical talent (or frankly talent, period). I certainly can’t paint. The one novel I wrote was in a word, horrible. But I have always respected and admired true artists. They’re almost like human antennae in that they seem to sense and feel the zeitgeist of any particular moment and are able to translate that into music, like Dylan doing “A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall,” seemingly prescient that the Cuban Missile Crisis was near at hand, or in paintings, like Picasso during WWII with Guernica. Reportedly, when asked by the Gestapo, about the painting, “Did you paint this?” Picasso replied, “No, you did.” As they say, “no one called Pablo Picasso an asshole, not in New York…” but I digress.

I’ve never thought of the Stones as overtly political. The Beatles had Lennon, who in their later years was increasingly outspoken politically and anti-Vietnam War. The Stones’ greatest political stance was an antipathy toward authority… which I’ve always shared. Question authority, at all times, people. However, on their last album of original songs, I noticed they slipped a political broadside, “Sweet Neo Con” onto the album. “How could you be so wrong, sweet Neo Con?” was the chorus. Keith, interviewed at the time, was nervous about Mick’s political statement… Perhaps Mick was going to be more vocal about his beliefs, musically….

Mick has dropped two songs this week that almost perfectly capture the mood of everyone I know. I realize that anything political from an artist will automatically divide the crowd. Half will love it, half will be offended. Well, when I think about rock music fans, that percentage may be a bit lower on the offended end… In a statement about the tunes, Mick said he didn’t want to wait for a year or so when the songs might not be as relevant. He felt the immediacy of these songs and having heard them, I completely agree.

These songs are a reaction to the bat-shit crazy way the world has turned upside down. I hear these songs as Mick’s reactions to Brexit. However, they could easily be the reactions of people I know here in the States to the current “Administration.” Mick has said he wanted to capture the anxiety of not knowing where things are going. If that was his goal, he has certainly hit the nail on the head.

I played both tunes for the Rock Chick and she immediately liked “Gotta Get A Grip.” “The world is upside down, run by lunatics and clowns…” what a great lyric to start with… Mick keeps singing, “Beat it with a stick…” There’s a great drum beat and a muted groovy guitar riff that turns ferocious as the song moves toward the chorus. It’s the funkier of the two songs. Mick’s vocals are slightly distorted as though they’re someone shouting through a bullhorn to a crowd of protestors. “Intellectuals shut your mouth, beat ’em with a stick, gotta get a grip…” This is priceless stuff, man. If you’re on this side of the equation, this is extremely stirring.

The other tune, “England Lost” is the one I liked best. Using the metaphor of fans at an English football (soccer for us Americans) game, it’s the perfect anthem for Brexit. “I went to see England but England lost, everyone said we were all ripped off…” Mick even breaks out the slightly Cockney accent at one point (like I’m an expert on English accents…yes, I’m guessing). The song is more mid tempo. It’s no sad ballad about England losing. It’s someone who is angry but not “burn a car” angry. “I’m tired of talking about immigration.” If you listen to these lyrics, punctuated by (as usual from Mick) fantastic harmonica, they are as charged as an electrical storm. The metaphor of sports fans, frustrated by the results/outcome of a contest is brilliant. It’s one of Jagger’s finest moments as a lyricist.

I love these songs. However, like Roger Waters’ new LP, ‘Is This The Life We Really Want?’ your political persuasions may color your opinion. I think this is a great couple of tunes by a man, nay, an artist, expressing his opinion. And no matter what your  political stripe, expressing your opinion is an important, vital and wonderful thing. There are the dreaded remastered versions of these songs out there, but I prefer Mick’s rockier, original versions… Turn it up loud and head to the barricades, people! And oh yes, there will be dancing at the revolution if these songs have anything to do with it…

Take care of each other out there…

 

 

LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle

mi0004160504

In the beginning, for me, it was The Rolling Stones. As a kid, I only turned on the radio to listen to sports, most likely the Royals game while I was trying to go to sleep. It was my brother who had the stereo and all those odd albums with the strange, colorful covers. Then I heard the song, “Miss You,” and shortly after that “Beast of Burden.” That music hit me in the lower brain stem. I immediately went out and bought the LP “Some Girls,” the first album I ever bought with my own money. In many ways that album changed my life forever… I’ve been looking for that same “Some Girls” high every time I drop the needle on the vinyl. I then made a cassette recording of my brother’s double album, “Hot Rocks,” the Stones iconic greatest hits album. I wore that damn thing out. Suddenly I was saving up money for one of those cheap, turntable/receiver/cassette players all in one stereo unit.

In the beginning, for the Stones, it was the blues. Thank God, it was the blues. Everything I’ve ever liked is based on the blues and I think that’s probably because the Stones were my “first.” Their early albums were essentially blues cover albums. “England’s Newest Hitmakers” and especially “12×5” are two of the greatest blues/blues rock albums ever recorded. They were full of young man bluster back in those days. Now, with the release of the amazing new “Blue And Lonesome” it seems that the Stones have come full circle. They’ve returned home, they’ve returned to their roots, the blues. In many ways it was the Stones who turned America back onto the blues. They shined a light on this “black” music and suddenly white audiences rediscovered the blues. Keith says shining the light back on the blues may be the only thing that gets him into heaven… good luck with that Keith.

Much has been written about the creative conflict between Keith, the blues/rock traditionalist and Jagger, who has always had an eye on what’s current. That push and pull, with Keith looking backward and Mick looking forward is what a lot of the experts think has fueled the Stones creative process over the years. In light of that, it’s easy to think of this as a “Keith album.” And, it was Keith who suggested they try the Little Walter tune, “Blue And Lonesome” in order to get comfortable in the new studio they were recording a new album in last December.

However, I would beg to differ with the idea that this is a more Keith-centric record. People forget that while Mick likes to stay current, he’s always kept an eye on the blues. As late as 1993 he holed up in L.A. with a local blues band, The Red Devils, and recorded an album of blues songs, which sadly remains unreleased to this day, except for 1 track on Mick’s solo “Charmed Life” collection. I found a great live set of Mick doing blues tunes at the Mustique Blues Festival with his back up band. Yes, he’s always looked forward, but Mick is still firmly rooted in the blues. At the Stones 50th Anniversary show I saw in New Jersey, Mick brought the Black Keys and Gary Clark on stage to do Freddy King’s “Goin’ Down.” Mick’s blues cred is pretty solid with me. I would argue, with all their personal issues (the biggest being Keith’s stupid comments about Mick in his autobiography) the one thing that holds these guys together is the blues. It’s their common vernacular.

The Stones never completely abandoned the blues. I can remember the first time I heard “Down In A Hole” from the “Emotional Rescue” album. That’s a great blues song. “Black Limousine” from Tattoo You and “Back of My Hand” from their last studio album, “A Bigger Bang” are great, later period blues tunes from the Stones. Every Stones album has a great blues tune hidden in their somewhere. Each live album they did seemed to have a blistering blues cover on it. They never really left the blues, however far they roamed musically.

“Blue And Lonesome” does bring the Stones full circle but these aren’t the same young men who recorded the blues over fifty years ago. These guys now sound like Muddy when he did “Hard Again,” elder statesmen who have grown into these songs. While I can certainly picture Keith sitting with his guitar on a chair near Charlie’s drum kit with a shit-eating grin on his face while they recorded this album, this is the Mick Jagger show. His vocals are so committed, he’s feeling these tunes. There’s zero affect in his voice. His enthusiasm was clearly infectious within the band. Mick Jagger is the greatest harmonica player in rock and roll and he proves it on this album. It had to be a very conscious decision of Keith’s to lead Mick to the songs of Little Walter (three of which are recorded here), the blues’ greatest harmonica player, to get this thing jump started. It was an inspired choice. The harmonica drives a lot of these tunes. I was frankly blown away by Mick’s playing, it’s simply put, out of this world. Even the Rock Chick came in and said, “This sounds great, Mick is an amazing harp player…” which was a surprise as I’ve never heard the Rock Chick use the term “harp” to describe a harmonica. That woman is like an onion… so many layers.

The sound of this album grabbed me right away. These are loud, dirty blues. The music explodes out of the speaker with a strength and force that surprised me. The album has the sound of a late night blues club, in a shack on the outskirts of town, near the crossroads. I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly pay the cover charge to get in. It sounds like a party and the Stones are having a blast. Mick’s vocals and harmonica are right out front in the mix. The rest of the band just sort of rides behind him in the pocket. The playing is right in the groove. There is some great guitar playing, but again it takes a back seat, it’s more of a compliment to the songs. Eric Clapton plays on two tracks, and his best solo is probably on “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing.” I would say that Ronnie Wood matches the heights of Clapton’s solo on the title track, his playing is just great. The vocal from Jagger on “All Of Your Love” starts off as a visceral howl. It’s his most impassioned vocal here. I can never say enough about the fabulous drumming of Charlie Watts, he’s definitely the engine. I love the fact that they didn’t select well known tunes, they went deep into the blues catalog. Only a band like the Stones, with their knowledge of the form, could put together a song list like this. I love the version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Commit a Crime.” Many folks think the blues are all slow tunes, but a lot of these tunes are upbeat “jump blues” kind of tracks like “Ride Em On Down.”

This is a great, great album. It seems the Stones now only put out one album per decade so this is a big fucking deal. I’m hopeful they continue working on that new album they were recording when this creative blues super nova burst. Now that they’ve gone back to their early days, playing the blues, maybe they’ll revisit their dirty rock 70’s period. “A Bigger Bang” was such a great late-period album from the Stones I was hopeful we’d see a return of them releasing albums more frequently. Of course that was 11 years ago. Even if they don’t finish the new batch of tracks for an all-new album, I’m pretty happy to have “Blue And Lonesome.”

Put this one on loud, pour a Blanton’s bourbon over some ice cubes and dance around… I guarantee clothes will start coming off. “Blue And Lonesome” gets BourbonAndVinyl’s strongest recommendation! Enjoy!

Cheers!