She's the Boss ( Atlantic, 1985)
Primitive Cool ( Atlantic, 1987)
Wandering Spirit (Atlantic, 1993)
Goddess in the Doorway (Virgin, 2001)
Alfie: Music from the Motion Picture (with Dave Stewart) (EMI, 2004)
The Very Best of Mick Jagger (Atlantic/Rhino, 2007)
Away from the Stones, Mick Jagger has an eye for fashion, which can be good and bad. On She's the Boss, he puts himself in the hands of ultraproducer Bill Laswell, and comes up with glossy rock, heavy with all kinds of percolating percussion and studio texturalism. "Just Another Night" is a fine single, enlivened by a catchy acoustic guitar motif. The rest of the record is crunchy funk, intriguing chiefly for the title track and "Hard Woman." Defenses of strong women, both songs are perhaps intended as late-in-the-day correctives to the Stones' exaggerated reputation as misogynists. Big names and studio aces — jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Nile Rodgers, Robbie Shakespeare, and Sly Dunbar — help craft the record, and the sound Jagger gets is nothing if not accomplished.
With Primitive Cool, this time with Eurythmic Dave Stewart as collaborator, Jagger takes more risks in style and lyrics. It's a commendable effort, but the results are haphazard. The title song finds Jagger in the role of "daddy" and doing nostalgia — a sentiment that does not suit him. "Let's Work" is a paean to the Protestant ethic, but its championing of honest toil comes off as yuppie gospel. The rocker "Shoot Off Your Mouth" is fine, vintage bad boy–ism; "Say You Will" is a lovely ballad; "Peace for the Wicked" is neat, Prince-ish R&B; and "War Baby," for all its clunkiness, is a heartfelt political meditation.
It's with Wandering Spirit that he finally comes into his own. Producer Rick Rubin lends him a clean, pared-down sound, nice guest vocals from Lenny Kravitz and the dependable playing of keyboardist Billy Preston and drummer Jim Keltner help as well. The real surprise is Jagger himself. The voice sounds simply terrific, and as he ranges from R&B (a great cover of Bill Withers' "Use Me") to country and even to Celtic ("Handsome Molly") he's actually emoting, not just role-playing.
Goddess in the Doorway is almost as good. Pete Townshend and Joe Perry turn in strong guitar work and Jagger is once again commanding. There's a little too much gloss on the record (how much empathy can you really have with an artist who announces that "god gave me everything"?) but it's commendable stuff, kind of like one of those "What If?" comic books, if the Stones took a different path.
Alfie was a solid soundtrack for a Jude Law film, recorded with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. Best of cherry-picks from Jagger's solo career, making a compelling argument that he's done some of his best work outside the Stones.
Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).
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