x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Mick Jagger's latest bid to break orbit from Keith Richards

Will SuperHeavy, the Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger's new all-star band, finally give the ageing rocker an opportunity to escape from his love-hate relationship with his longtime collaborator?

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National
Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National

Mick Jagger, the frontman of the Rolling Stones, has, according to Keith Richards, been unbearable for 30 years. Richards made this not altogether shocking revelation last year in Life, his appropriately named autobiography. He would also describe his love-hate relationship with Jagger as being "like a marriage with no divorce".

Looking at the band's output over that same period, it's hard to disagree. The creative spark that once propelled the Stones to the top of the world was extinguished years ago, replaced by an efficient, profitable but largely cheerless union of two of rock and roll's greatest figures.

Indeed, Tattoo You, released in 1981, marked the band's last truly great album. There have been high points since - notably, patches of 1983's Undercover and fragments of 1994's Voodoo Lounge - but the modern era has been largely fallow, a time when Jagger and Richards may have stopped fighting, but they also stopped loving each other, too.

Periodically, Jagger has tried to break free from the ties that bind, only to find out that Richards was right all along: theirs is a marriage from which there is no escape. Or is there?

Last week Jagger announced his latest bid for liberation, this time as one-fifth of a fledgling supergroup called SuperHeavy.

Despite the band's big name, Jagger is the outright star of an otherwise middleweight combination, in which the other members are Dave Stewart, most famous for being one-half of the Eighties duo Eurythmics; AR Rahman, the composer of the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack; Damian Marley, known in these parts for cancelling his appearance at the Womad music festival last year, and Joss Stone, once a platinum-selling teenage prodigy, but most recently in the news for being the subject of a thankfully foiled murder plot.

Miracle Worker, SuperHeavy's first single, broke cover late last week (an album will follow in September) and while the reactions of Jagger's most ardent fans have generally been warm, the song has yet to seriously trouble the download charts in either the US or the UK. Which is a shame. The track, an odd and not particularly innovative mishmash of styles, features vocals by Marley, Stone and Jagger (whose opening salvo is to declare that "there's nothing wrong with you that I can't fix" - a message for Richards, perhaps?) is, nevertheless, hookey enough to warrant a place on a longish list of tracks to wile away the summer to.

According to a video posted on the SuperHeavy website, the idea for the band came to Stewart when he was in the Caribbean where, he explains in the slightly absurd manner of a mystic rock star: "I went to the top of a hill and when I got [there] a light was kind of coming through the leaves on the trees and I had this flash of how there could be a fusion of music from different parts of the world ... I never actually thought it would happen."

But happen it has, and SuperHeavy could well be Jagger's smartest move for a generation. Of all his work outside the Stones, his one-hit 1985 collaboration with David Bowie is most fondly remembered.

Now with SuperHeavy, Jagger might once again have the creative forces surrounding him to ease the burden of expectation we continue to place on the greats of a bygone era, although only time will tell whether the unusual mix of a performer-producer (Stewart), composer (Rahman), dancehall-reggae star (Marley) and soul singer (Stone) will end up delivering that elusive success or even the fusion to which Stewart alluded to.

One thing we do know: Jagger won't be distracted by his supergroup for long, especially when his best buddy-worst enemy is waiting patiently for him to roll home to the Stones. Even if we hurt the ones we love the most, we can't help returning to them either.