I remember not so long ago someone commented that they had the very same t-shirt I was wearing. It was a Stones Tee. Black with the logo … “the tongue”. They didn’t have the very shirt I was wearing, of course. Given that we’re in an age where bands like the Stones, Ramones and Led Zep are pretty much nothing more than a clothing brand to many, I pretty much concluded that they don’t listen to the Rolling Stones. My experience, y’see, is that most of the folks that wear these tees have no real liking for the band. For example, a friend and I attended a music quiz a few months back. There was a Ramones round. The chap in the Ramones Tee was in the team that scored a big zero in that round. How did that happen? Popular culture, my friends.
I remember getting hooked on the Stones during secondary school. They’d just released Voodoo Lounge. Interestingly, one of the enduring memories of that time was the ridicule and mockery that followed them. First album in 5 years – “pensioners” and the likes. Since Steel Wheels they had become caricatures. Me, I loved Voodoo Lounge. Loved it! I didn’t care how old these guys were – they had great tunes and Love Is Strong was the best song I’d heard in ages. I’m fairly certain my friends had thought I’d gone mad. But seriously, that album was on mega-heavy rotation and when the tape got all twisted and stuck in the Walkman I took great care of getting it unstuck and winding it up. Sure there was some warping, but it would have to do for now.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Keith Richard‘s Talk Is Cheap. An astonishing album. Seriously. I love this one. Keef’s response to Mick Jagger’s solo flight of fancy? Create an album more consistently inspired than anything the Stones had put together since Tattoo You (which itself is an album that, although great, was largely compiled of off-cuts and unfinished material and such). This one was recorded by the excellent band he’d earlier assembled for Chuck Berry’s birthday celebration (documented in the Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll). Way to go, Keef!
Listening to this one, it’s pretty clear the focus was in creating a record that was true to who he and the X-pensive Winos were. Who the Stones were before the metropolitan rock of Undercover and Dirty Work (two albums that, aside from the covers, aint worth any attention). It’s all rock n’ roll and blues based riffage and swagger. Take It So Hard, You Don’t Move Me, Whip It Up, and Struggle are all classic Keef Richards material. They’re Stones gritty! Complete with that voodoo groove and the Berryesque flourishes. Rockawhile has a nice loose groove and Make No Mistake even has some Memphis horns in there.
So yeah, Talk Is Cheap is a winner and worthy of attention. It’s more than just a Richards solo vehicle, too. It’s truly a band effort – trust me, the X-pensive Winos do way more than just turn up to play – they make a major contribution. Not just because of the writing partnership Keef formed with Steve Jordan, but because the band sound like they are really invested in the arrangements and to the feel of the record they were creating. Keef is away from the duelling and the needle. He’s focused only on his love of the guitar, blues and rock n’ roll. Don’t get me wrong, it stumbles lyrically at times (“you made the wrong motion, drank the wrong potion. You lost the feeling, not so appealing” or how about “well it’s a struggle, baby. It’s a struggle, yeah. If it’s a struggle between love and hate, baby’s gonna have to wait”), but you know what, that doesn’t even matter, baby! If you want style go for some o’ Mick’s solo stuff or those two dreadful Stones albums, cause this is just honest rock ‘n’ roll. That’s what we loved about the Stones … and it’s essentially what we love about Talk Is Cheap, right?