Mick Jagger's new album, Goddess in the Doorway, is his first solo record in eight years, since Wandering Spirit in 1993. What took him so long? "I've been doing the Rolling Stones – that's pretty much it," Jagger says in his Manhattan hotel suite the evening before his appearance with Keith Richards at Paul McCartney's Concert for New York City. "But after that very long tour for Bridges to Babylon, I thought, ‘This is the point where I should do another one.’ If the band had really wanted to work . . . " Jagger shrugs his shoulders. "Everybody was quite happy not to do anything."
On Goddess, Jagger surrounds himself with the best of friends – including Pete Townshend of the Who, Lenny Kravitz and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry – as well as new collaborators Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty and Wyclef Jean. But the album is a triumph of independence. Away from the automatic dynamics of the Stones, Jagger struts his matured strengths as a singer and writes about himself with unprecedented honesty. "I tried to let ideas flow," Jagger says of his lyrics, "so I wouldn't pull back from things l wouldn't say normally."
What do you get out of making solo records that you don't get out of the Stones?
People are always trying to get you to talk badly about the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones have a certain personality. It's a rock band. The Rolling Stones play Gershwin – it can be discussed, but it's very unlikely that it's donna happen. It's like being an actor. In the Rolling Stones, you're in the James Bond series. It's really cool and enormously successful. But you're expected to behave like James Bond all the time. If you want to do something else, you have to do it on your own.
How did you get started on the album?
I was writing songs at home, and I could record them with just a computer and a guitar. It felt free and easy. I'd have friends around. I could do it when the kids were there, although I'd kick them out of the room [grins].
But you have to be hard on yourself. Halfway through this, I thought I'd done all the writing. I'd play the songs to people, and they'd go, "Yeah, it's really good, but you've only got half a record." I'd go, "But what about all these other great things?" Well, they weren't that good. You can tell by people's reactions: "I gotta do more."
Do you feel that you've opened up as a writer? In "God Gave Me Everything," you're really telling us you haven't got it all – a notion many would find hard to believe.
No one has everything. Some people are luckier than others. That song is a bit ambivalent. Some of the songs were written quickly. You wonder, in the end, what they're really about.
The one that's really ambivalent is "Too Far Gone." I put a big disclaimer at the beginning about hating nostalgia ["I always hate nostalgia/Living in the past"], and all I'm doing is talking about the past.
Are you turning more reflective? Some of the album's best songs, like "Don't Call Me Up" and "Brand New Set of Rules," are ballads.
"As Tears Go By" is reflective. It's nothing new. I write so many ballads that I have to put them aside. More fast numbers – that's the dictum from Keith. The Stones record that has the most ballads is Tattoo You, which originally, in the pre-CD world, had an A side of rockers and a B side of ballads. Nice idea, but you can't do that anymore.
You co-wrote "Visions of Paradise" with Rob Thomas. What is it like writing with someone other than Keith?
You're in the room with the guy, and you don't really know him. But he's got something prepared. Maybe you like it, maybe you don't. Then something else comes up as you go along. Rob was very focused. His gig was to come up with a melody that's different from what I would have come up with.
I would never have written "Visions of Paradise" on my own. It's too pop for me. But I like it. It just worked out. I could have worked with Rob and three other people and not even mentioned it to you, because it wouldn't have gone anywhere. I tried to write a song with Lenny on my last solo album. All we did was get completely stoned and go out dancing. We didn't come up with a single idea. So we did "Use Me" [by Bill Withers] instead.
How did you pick your guest stars for the album? And how much of it was collaboration for art's sake vs. marketing value?
It's not like I'm in Los Angeles looking for the guitarist of the month. I had a list of people, and most of them I have a relationship with of some kind. Lenny I'd worked with before. I'd already met Rob. Pete's my neighbor in London. He kept saying, "I know what you're doing in the studio. I want to come down and play." Wyclef – I'd been to his concerts. I liked his breadth of musical knowledge, and he's got this Caribbean vibe that I can relate to. I wanted Missy Elliott to do a rap on "Hide Away," but she didn't turn up. We could never get a date together.
There is marketing value as well. But the thing about that Santana album [Supernatural] that people forget is that Carlos Santana is a guitar player, not a singer. What could be more natural than to have a ton of singers walking in and out of his record? For me, it's not the same, especially with singers. I have to make duets.
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