Crosseyed Heart is distinctly unremarkable, except for the fact that it continues to prove the improbable: Keith Richards is still alive, and can still perform music. Making jokes about the Rolling Stones’ age and their relentless “farewell” touring schedule is a popular rigmarole, but Keith has always proved himself to be the most articulate and accessible of all the Stones, despite his extensive history of being totally and completely strung out. Here are fifteen tracks of conservative length, showing that Keith can still write and record some pleasing melodies away from the entirely corporate exercise that the Stones have become.
A few of these tracks, most notably the opener, take on a sparse and gritty character that is clearly a direct homage to the Delta blues legends who formed such an important textbook for Richards, Page, Beck, Hendrix and so on, but these are the least interesting tracks. While the performances are competent, these renditions remind me of Hugh Laurie’s musical (mis)adventures: made with genuine admiration of the musical DNA, but without any emotional or contextual authority over the material. The most memorable moments on Crosseyed Heart are when the rich arrangements and instrumental interplay of Richards’ best Rolling Stones material come to the fore, on tracks like “Trouble” and “Love Overdue”. Keith has ever been the master of weaving guitar lines together and playing them off against one another as well as against auxiliary instrumentation like horns and strings. It is when you notice this quiet, understated artistry that sits behind all of his better compositions that you realise that you are still, after all this time, listening to a master at work.
Unfortunately that masterful arrangement has never operated on all of Richards’ compositions, and that rule applies here. With Crosseyed Heart, Keith has only narrowly beaten the Rolling Stones’ average of having roughly 75% of every album consist of totally unmemorable filler. Songs like “Goodnight Irene” and “Suspicious” really just kill time, which is unnecessary for an album that already contains too many songs. It’s fair to say that nobody expects a retirement album like this to be show-stopping or “important”, but Crosseyed Heart plays out like an ensemble cast romantic comedy: everyone obviously had great fun making it, but as a result the product itself isn’t worth much more than a passing chuckle to the audience. It’s pleasant for a Stones fan to continue a dialogue with Keith through this album, and good to see that he still has musical legs, but I’m not holding my breath for another one: I’d rather watch his next inevitable appearance on a rockumentary.