October 12, 2007

Lucky On The Side: The Very Best of Mick Jagger

For a few years in the mid-eighties, it almost seemed like Mick Jagger’s primary objective in releasing solo albums was to tick Keith Richards off.

Once the Glimmer Twins reconciled and the Stones got rolling again with Steel Wheels in 1989, though, Jagger’s subsequent solo ventures assumed their own distinctiveness and purpose. What’s more, they ceased to threaten a permanent derailment of the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band.

Newly released by Rhino Records, seventeen tracks, three of which had remained in the vaults until now, comprise The Very Best of Mick Jagger.

Skeptics will instinctively dismiss or diminish much of the music on this retrospective by drawing lopsided comparisons to the Rolling Stones’ superlative catalog. Yet, if listeners will consider this compilation for what it represents (rather than what it doesn’t), they’ll encounter, for the most part, some fine songs.

Out of Jagger’s four proper solo albums, 1992’s Wandering Spirit stands as the definitive high point, appropriately yielding the most tracks on this collection. Cuts like the radio singles, “Don’t Tear Me Up” and “Sweet Thing,” radiate with insatiable swagger and irreverence. As well, the understated country lament, “Evening Gown,” illustrates Jagger’s versatility in delivering a stirring vocal performance.

Some of the tracks stemming from Jagger’s other solo efforts offer sufficient, albeit sporadic, moments worth praising. A rousing duet with Bono, “Joy,” soars with a gospel optimism and energy that the U2 frontman imparts as if it’s second nature. “God Gave Me Everything,” co-written with Lenny Kravitz, forges through a guitar bombardment while Jagger growls each lyric like a man possessed. And dated though it sounds with its drum machines, “Just Another Night” brandishes a boyish spunk that remains hard to resist.

Alas, certain songs have not held up as well over time (if they ever did to begin with). For instance, “Lucky In Love” drowns in a flood of ‘80s music clichés, with far too many synthesized instruments and not nearly enough authenticity. And, worst of all, “Let’s Work,” sounds like a caffeinated Jagger instructing an (all-female) aerobics class.

Sounding anomalous yet utterly striking among this collection’s more lustrous material are two tracks dating back to 1968 and 1973, respectively. Jagger’s very first solo recording, “Memo From Turner,” originally tapped for the film, Performance, finds the rocker in his inimitable salacious form. Likewise, on the previously unreleased nugget, “Too Many Cooks (Spoil The Soup)”, which John Lennon produced, Jagger sounds downright raw and malicious.

Ironically (and perhaps much to Keith Richards’ chagrin), Jagger’s most successful solo efforts, to be precise, have consisted of collaborations. “Old Habits Die Hard,” the theme from the 2004 remake of the film, Alfie, saw Jagger writing with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. Their composition ultimately won a Golden Globe award. Contrasting with such critical acclaim, “Dancing In The Streets,” the 1985 duet with David Bowie, ranks as the most successful song of Jagger's solo career.

The Very Best of Mick Jagger certainly isn’t the best music Mick Jagger has ever made. However, some of the better music Mick Jagger has made without the Rolling Stones, much of it included here, still makes for a great listen. So, have a bit of sympathy for the old devil and give this album a chance.