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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Album review: Crosseyed Heart, by Keith Richards

A rough and tumble mix of rock n' roll, blues, folk and reggae, Crosseyed Heart is a pure distillation of everything the Richards legend rests on, musically and otherwise.
Crosseyed Heart is Keith Richards’s first album in 23 years. Photo by Barry Brecheisen / Invision / AP Photo
Crosseyed Heart is Keith Richards’s first album in 23 years. Photo by Barry Brecheisen / Invision / AP Photo

Crosseyed Heart

Keith Richards

(Virgin EMI)

Four stars

Much like Ozzy Osbourne, Keith Richards is a walking caricature – a man so hunched, wrinkled, arthritic and short of breath after five decades of playing guitar with The Rolling Stones, he appears barely able to stand. Or indeed talk.

So the fact that he can turn in an album at all is an incredible indication of hidden potency. His first solo work in 23 years, Crosseyed Heart is, frankly, more than any Stones fan had a right to hope for – a full hour of Keith being “Keef”: rock ‘n’ roll, blues, a dash of reggae, folk and some of his trademark latter-day Waits-ian ballads.

The throwaway title track, a solo acoustic country-blues tune, sets the tone of familiarity and intimacy that pervades. “That’s all I got,” announces Richards, cutting the track off abruptly after less than two minutes.

If it’s a coded confession, then Crosseyed Heart is more than enough. As with previous solo efforts, Richards called on American drummer Steve Jordan, who is listed as co-writer on everything but the ballads and covers. The message is clear – these bare grooves grew from the duo’s jams, primal guitar grooves fuelled by loose, swinging beats. The whole thing, of course, reeks of The Rolling Stones. Specifically, turn-of-the-1980s Stones, with the ragged but funky flavours of Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You – they are particularly evident in the swaggering Crosseyed Heart numbers Trouble and Heartstopper, while Something For Nothing swings like a rusty, childhood playground.

It may be only rock ’n’ roll but there’s more to this party, including a rambling cover of Lead Belly’s waltz-time folk standard Goodnight, Irene, and a take on reggae legend Gregory Issacs’ Love Is Overdue.

Norah Jones crops up on the smouldering after-hours vamp Illusion, while there are hints of Stax-style soul to twilight closer Lover’s Plea. In later Stones albums it has been obligatory to feature at least one “Keef ballad”, showcasing Richards the wizened troubadour (Slipping Away, Thief in the Night), and we get a fair smattering of that here – it’s ­impossible to imagine anyone but Keef pulling off Robbed Blind, a country tinged tale of interfering cops and a missing “stash”.

There’s nothing new here, perhaps, but Crosseyed Heart is a pure distillation of everything the Richards legend rests on, musically and otherwise.

The Rolling Stones haven’t released an album since 2005’s excellent A Bigger Bang, and it’s hard to imagine Mick Jagger – whose only solo work of the past decade was the ill-fated supergroup Superheavy – not being a little peeved to see so many decent songs passed over.

Hopefully it will be enough to kick-start The Stones into one more round of the block – ­although they’ll have to dig deep to top this.

rgarratt@thenational.ae