Up to this point, Mick Jagger‘s solo career has been an incidental affair, something that has surfaced in the interludes between Rolling Stones albums and tours. His previous releases — 1985’s She’s the Boss, 1987’s Primitive Cool and 1993’s Wandering Spirit — were earnest, respectable efforts that offered their fair share of pleasures but did not establish a distinct or significant new musical identity for Jagger apart from the Stones. Goddess in the Doorway finds Jagger taking a giant step — not away from the shadow of the Stones but beyond what that understandably history-bound band has been able to achieve on record in recent times.
In terms of consistency, craftsmanship and musical experimentation, Goddess in the Doorway surpasses all his solo work and any Rolling Stones album since Some Girls. It does so by returning to the dance beats, big grooves and modern edge that have characterized the Stones’ best work. The key to all the Stones’ classics — from “Satisfaction” and “Brown Sugar” to “Miss You” and “Start Me Up” — is that they are built from the rhythm up: Goddess in the Doorway, which was almost entirely constructed around Jagger’s rhythm guitar, is a return to that modus operandi.
Jagger has poured his heart into this album. The strongest songs — “Don’t Call Me Up,” “Brand New Set of Rules,” “Hide Away” and “Everybody Getting High” — are also the most candidly personal. In the past, he has slipped into personae — the Street Fighting Man, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, the Man of Wealth and Taste — but he lets his guard down to an unprecedented degree on Goddess; the beautiful ballads draw on feelings of loneliness, vulnerability, spiritual yearning and, as always, life with the ladies.
These gains in maturity have taken no toll on Jagger’s inner rock & roller. The Street Fighting Man can still swagger at the top of his — or anybody else’s — game. Goddess in the Doorway resembles the Stones’ best albums in that it’s a varied yet cohesive collection of ballads, hard rockers and one country song. But on his own, he is free to cast off the blues-rock anchor that both defines and (at times) confines the Stones. Jagger heads into edgy, danceable modern-rock territory with the throbbing electronic groove of “Gun” and the snarling, whip-crack assault of “Everybody Getting High.”
Making the most of this opportunity to stretch himself, Jagger has recruited some outstanding guests, many of them younger artists whom he directly influenced. Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty collaborates on the pop-y, melodic opening track, “Visions of Paradise,” which boasts a soaring chorus. Lenny Kravitz produces and co-writes “God Gave Me Everything,” a driving, riff-propelled rocker that evokes the punkish stomp of the early Stones.
On “Hide Away,” one of my favorite tracks, Wyclef Jean helps burnish a subtle reggae- and hip-hop-inflected groove. Employing some of his most moving and nuanced vocal phrasing, he confides, “I’m gonna fly away/And no one’s gonna find me.” The lyrics portray a guy who’s got it all — fame, fortune and the means to indulge any materialistic and hedonistic impulse he might divine — but is wise enough in his late middle age to know there’s something more out there.
“Joy,” a rocking, gospel-tinged collaboration with Bono of U2 — and featuring an indelible guitar hook from Pete Townshend — offers a revealing glimpse of what Jagger is seeking: “I looked up to the heavens/And a light is on my face/I never never never/Thought I’d find a state of grace.” The mark of U2 is overt on “Joy,” but the band’s influence subtly courses through the rest of the album; like Bono and company in the last decade, Jagger (along with producers Marti Frederiksen and Matt Clifford) has adapted modern rhythms and contemporary production techniques to his own naturalistic rock & roll ends.
“Everybody Getting High,” featuring Aerosmith‘s Joe Perry, and “Lucky Day” are fierce, biting rockers. No one struts or wags a tongue as sharply as Jagger, and “Everybody Getting High,” in particular, stands out as a blistering, arena-ready, hard-rock singalong. The absurdist lyrics find Jagger poking fun at scenes from his celebrity life: “My dress designers, they wanna doll me up in blue/Mmm-hmm pretty/Next fall collection, they’re gonna show it in the zoo.” The tight blues shuffle “Lucky Day” is highlighted by some brief but fiery harmonica playing from Jagger. Like a good blues workout, it leaves you hungry for more, and this masterful use of tension and restraint is part of what makes Goddess in the Doorway so beguiling.
It may seem a truism, but it’s worth noting that he is — along with John Lennon, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and Bono — one of the great male rock voices of this age. And he is in exceptional form on Goddess in the Doorway. If anything, Jagger’s voice is rounder and warmer than ever, and he brings a new richness of phrasing to the heartbroken, confessional “Don’t Call Me Up” and the extraordinary closing tracks, “Too Far Gone” and “Brand New Set of Rules.”
After all of the excursions undertaken on Goddess in the Doorway, Jagger brings it all back home with these last two numbers, which are musically rich and lyrically reflective ballads in the grand tradition of such Stones pillars as “Wild Horses” and “Moonlight Mile.” Jagger offers unabashedly human, vulnerable sentiments on “Brand New Set of Rules” (which features daughters Elizabeth and Georgia May on background vocals): “I will be kind, won’t be so cruel/I will be sweet, I will be true/. . . I got a brand-new set of rules I got to learn.”
It is a clear-eyed and inspired Mick Jagger who crafted Goddess in the Doorway, an insuperably strong record that in time may well reveal itself to be a classic. World, meet Mick Jagger, solo artist.