Mick Jagger showed with his "She's the Boss" album two years ago that he could make a record without the Rolling Stones. With his just-released second album, "Primitive Cool," Jagger has done something considerably more noteworthy: He's made a good album without the Rolling Stones.
The problems with "She's the Boss" were no surprise to anybody who has watched the Stones turn in the last 15 years from a vital rock 'n' roll band into a group of occasionally energized, but mostly tired veterans trotting out the same old mock-rebellious shtick.
At his worst, Jagger had become an increasingly silly bundle of mannerisms and bad-boy poses, prancing around as if his mere presence is enough to make us care about music in which he puts nothing on the line.
The last Stones collection, 1983's "Undercover," was better than that. Seemingly driven by their widely publicized distaste for working together, Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards infused the record with a genuinely angry, nasty edge that cut through the posturing.
While "Primitive Cool" doesn't have that kind of fire, it's clearly a record on which Jagger is trying hard rather than going through the motions.
That means there's genuine bite in songs like "Throwaway" and "Kow Tow," tunes layered with keyboards but driven by the guitars of Jeff Beck and G.E. Smith. If other up-tempo songs--the current single "Let's Work," the "Let's Dance"-styled "Radio Control"--seem overly calculated slices of commercially minded pop-funk, Jagger and his co-producers (Keith Diamond and Eurythmics' David A. Stewart) also display an intelligence and invention in their calculations that was missing from the last LP.
But the most intriguing songs on the album are the ones, mostly ballads, in which Jagger seems to toss out personal or autobiographical details in his lyrics. Clearly, this is a man too concerned with image, stance and distance to ever reveal too much in a song--but all the same, Jagger seems to savor teasing us with lines from the nostalgic title track ("Did you walk cool in the '60s, daddy?"), the bitter "Shoot Off Your Mouth" ("I was a rising star / You hitched your wagon next to mine") or the reflective "Party Doll."
The last song, in particular, seems to be a lovely benediction to Keith Richards, as the Stones go their separate ways: "You used to be my party doll / But now the party's over / You used to love to honky tonk / But now the honky tonking's over."
Jagger would undoubtedly deny that he meant the tune that literally, but it's a good sign that the album can get listeners to examine its songs rather than dismiss them. "I'm so greasy, I'm so slick," he sings at one point on the album--and if there's a lot more slickness than grease in today's Mick Jagger, "Primitive Cool" nonetheless contains a surprisingly, pleasantly large dose of grime.
LIVE ACTION: The latest lineup of Fleetwood Mac (i.e., without Lindsey Buckingham) will be at the Forum along with Cruzados on Dec. 6. Tickets go on sale Monday. . . . The Cars show at the Forum originally scheduled for Oct. 3 has been rescheduled for Jan. 27, while an Oct. 9 date at the Pacific Amphitheatre has been canceled. Refunds for the canceled show can be made at the point of purchase. . . . Tickets are on sale Sunday for R.E.M. and the dB's at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center on Nov. 14 and at the Universal Amphitheatre on Nov. 15, and for Los Lobos at the Hollywood Palladium on Dec. 11 and the Universal Amphitheatre on Dec. 13. . . British soul sensation Terence Trent D'Arby will make his North American debut at the Roxy on Sept. 30. Tickets go on sale Monday.