It was 20-odd years ago, the equivalent of a couple of
Ice Ages in rocker chronology, when yours truly had the pleasure of attending
one of the concerts presenting Main Offender, featuring Keith Richards and his X-Pensive Winos on the stage of a
small, long-gone Madrid venue. The most influential rhythm guitarist in history
hadn't yet fallen out of a coconut tree and continued to play in acceptably
fine form. Now, with 71 years under the belt of probably the most intoxicated
body on the planet, he returns to the fray with the same friends and a new
album to boot. Time has passed in the blink of an eye, except in his music,
aged in oak like his beloved Jack Daniel’s
to preserve its unmistakable flavour blending blues, rock and reggae.
Generally, you can identify modern guitar heroes more for their technical command of the instrument than for their song writing ability. They shine during the climactic moments of a song that was probably written by that character who quite frequently can be found semi-hidden behind them, focused on keeping the band's performance tight. Although Richards is a special case, thinking of the role Malcom Young played in AC/DC and the consequences of his forced retirement should be enough of an example. Both are famous for their riffs, not for taking high-flying solos.
In both cases, the important thing here is that the true "heroin" is a guitar. Richards is the creator and Ron Wood his prophet, but in the end both are dependent on what they are capable of pulling out of the six strings on their instrument.
On Crosseyed..., Richards is back to being a self-prophesising prophet. Finally, almost on the verge of retirement, he allows himself to display a few brief flashes of his skills as a soloist, as if to remind people that he knows what he's holding in his hands, too. Back again are his favourite MCs, Waddy Wachtel and Steve Jordan, products of one of the best harvests rock ever reaped and one that, at this point, has earned the designation of origin of Gran Reserva.
The result is another Rolling Stones album in its purest form. Or what Richards considers that to be: back when Mick Jagger still didn't think of anything but the music. Two decades of technology also enables it to sound surprisingly fresh, full of energy, and able to camouflage the weak spots, in particular his ravaged voice. He even dares to accompany special guest Norah Jones on Illusion.
Blues to start up with the brief title track; rock 'n' roll to keep things going and not stop dancing while he ironically comments on his famous tree accident in Amnesia. On Robbed Blind, the magic of the acoustic guitar, steel guitar in the background and piano build to one of the finest moments on the album, where the most deeply personal reflections come out in stories of broken lives and ripped apart hearts.
The reggae of Love Overdue, a cover of the Gregory Isaacs tune, masterfully covers an obligatory chapter for Richards on an album with no filler among its 15 songs. Maybe Jagger would have liked the album to leave something for him...not to worry, the word is his nemesis is already getting a new Rolling Stones album ready for release.