It has been a whopping 23 years since Keith Richards’ last solo album. As 50% of The Rolling Stones songwriting duo, Richards has always brought the grit and blues to the Stones to compliment Mick Jagger’s more commercially appeasing dynamic. Keith has once again unearthed these elements to build the foundations of new album Crosseyed Heart.
Crosseyed Heart is a reflection of Keith’s dearest influences. The album’s opening track and title track, “Crosseyed Heart” is a throwback to his delta blues heroes – the track could easily have been a Robert Johnson cover. Keith can be heard saying, “that’s all I’ve got” at the end of the track, suggesting that the track was improvised on the spot. There is a stark difference between ‘careless’ and ‘carefree’, and Keith is far from the former and king of the latter. There’s an elegance to his laid-back and relaxed approach to his work. Listening to “Crosseyed Heart”, you can visualize him with a guitar on his lap, with his feet up on the table and you probably wouldn’t be wrong.
This carefree attitude is ubiquitous throughout the album, but that’s not to say that the album lack energy. “Trouble” is filled with Exile-esque Keith riffs and could easily be a Stones track. The guitar on “Something For Nothing” sounds suspiciously like “Satisfaction” a times, but is still a great rock and roll number. “Blues In The Morning” is the closet thing to a jam track and sounds like it was recorded in a smoky blues bar; at heart, Keith always was and always will be a blues guitarist.
For this very reason, “Love Overdue’s” attempt at reggae make it the weakest track on the album. Keith is a talented guitarist with a powerful but limited vocal range – neither of which are showcased through this Gregory Isaacs cover. Keith’s attempt at higher pitched vocals over an almost karaoke-sounding Jamaican rhythm section results in a gimmicky sound at best. Nevertheless, the majority of the album is killer, including some great ballads too. “Robbed Blind” is a heartfelt throwback to the likes of Keith’s Stones track, “The Worst”. “Illusion” is a beautiful song too, complimented by the therapeutic vocals of Norah Jones.
Keith’s voice has tendered with his age. His cigarette-fumed lungs have often restricted his vocal range, but on this album, his croaky undertones are used emotively, almost reminiscent of Tom Waits. Whilst Mick Jagger might have suited the vocals on “Something For Nothing” to accompany his on-stage struts, Keith’s deep and moving vocals on “Robbed Blind” are perfect. Whilst Keith’s unique singing style wouldn’t earn him four yeses on the X-Factor, it is certainly powerful here.
The roles of writing The Stones’ lyrics were unanimously split between Mick and Keith and whilst it is unclear who was more responsible for certain lyrics in certain songs, lyric writing was always a forte for the duo. This is equally apparent in Keith’s solo work. “I’m talking to you but you don’t seem to hear/I’m paying for dinner, and I might as well mop in here” from “Substantial Damage” is heartbreaking, whilst, “They laid it too thick, they couldn’t make it stick/They ain’t got nothing on me” from “Nothing On Me” sharply reflects Keith’s cocky side.
Fans of Keith and The Stones won’t need any encouragement to give this album a listen and it certainly won’t disappoint them. For those unfamiliar with The Stones and/or Keith, I personally judge you and you probably won’t appreciate this album or understand why a 70-year-old pirate is attempting to sing. For everyone else, Crosseyed Heart – out now on Mindless Records – is a refreshing reminder of just how legendarily prolific this rocker still is, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Cohan Chew