Crosseyed Heart review by Keith Richards

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  • Released: Sep 18, 2015
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 6
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 7.3 Good
  • Users' score: 6.3 (29 votes)
Keith Richards: Crosseyed Heart
2

Sound — 8
There is not much that can be said about Keith Richards that has not already been said. As the rhythm guitarist for The Rolling Stones, Richards helped to pioneer rock guitar. Some would even argue he invented the riff-driven song with "Satisfaction," an idea that supposedly came to him in his sleep. Richards' infamous face, prominently displayed here as album art, has been used as a prime example of what a lifetime of drug abuse can do (in both sad and funny contexts). Recently, Richards has drawn fire for his heavy criticism of The Beatles, Metallica, rap music, and more. These comments have led some to wonder if Richards is now just an old, cantankerous curmudgeon ready to go into retirement. It is with such interest that the world has awaited "Crosseyed Heart," Richards' first solo album since "Main Offender" in 1992.

It would not be incorrect to describe this as grandpa rock. There isn't too much distortion. The rhythms don't get too fast. And there are numerous ancillary instruments (piano, horns, etc.) that get added to the mix at select points to lighten the tone. Yes, this may be soft grandpa rock, but it is really good soft grandpa rock.

I have often read that distortion hides a guitarist's mistakes, implying that a better guitarist plays with a cleaner tone. A corollary to that, I've thought, is that a good guitarist does not need pedals to get good tone, which implies that a good guitarist has a bare signal chain. While neither of these is necessarily true, Richards makes a good case for them with his experienced and tempered playing. He constantly "sings" with his playing, in which he makes each note sound incredibly meaningful. His tone doesn't really vary across the album, yet it always seems to fit the situation. Likewise, Richards' solos don't veer too far from the pentatonic scale, if at all, yet they always seem to fill their space perfectly. Richards' calculated, characteristic rhythm playing allows for this seemingly incompatible contrast of simple playing to perfect placement in his lead playing. As is often the case with bass, the best rhythm guitar is not that which is heard, but is that which pushes the lead guitar into something that it could not be otherwise and Richards certainly exemplifies this sentiment.

While pretty much every song on this album has a blues base, Keith Richards is still able to run the gamut with his technique. For example, the opener is a short blues entirely on acoustic guitar that Richards plays like the old Robert Johnson recordings from the late '20s. His fingerpick, slide technique feels like a lost art in the rock world so it is refreshing to hear Richards bring it back. Not only does he bring it back, he does a real good job at it and keeps his phrases completely coherent (try to count the time of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads"). "Heartstopper" and "Something for Nothing" are two examples of Richards' superb rhythm guitar bolstering some simple leads and giving them a more articulated voice. "Robbed Blind" is a similar example of how soft, yet thoughtful playing can create a large, full sound.

Lyrics — 6
One unfortunate thing about this album is that it makes clear why Mick Jagger is The Rolling Stones' lead vocalist. While Richards' deep, masculine voice does add some nice, surprising bottom end to the songs, the reality is that his voice appears so underdeveloped that it sounds like he is talking through his songs. Richards doesn't do much maneuvering with his vocal range either. Not everyone is gifted with a five-octave range, but a good vocalist knows how to use his/her range to create the effect he/she desires. Overall, Richards doesn't do a horrible job, but his subpar performance does a disservice to his masterful guitar work and one wonders how much better the album could be if a different vocalist had been brought aboard.

His lyrics are equally underwhelming. Richards deserves credit for varying his lyrical topics throughout the album, but the fact of the matter is that none of them are particularly compelling. He also does not match lyrical themes to the sonic qualities of songs. For example, "Robbed Blind" is one of the calmest songs on the album despite its subject matter.

Finally, exact verse repetition throughout a song is an understandable occurrence on this album given its blues underpinnings, but Richards takes it a little too far. He won't repeat verses over different chords like in a twelve bar blues, he just repeats entire sections of songs without variation. If closely listening, a song can easily sound boring after multiple repetitions, as is the case with "Suspicious." However, this impression definitely depends on the context in which one listens to the song and in some situations, these repetitions could come across positively.

Overall Impression — 8
Taken as a whole, "Crosseyed Heart" is truly a Keith Richards solo album. From its minimalist lead guitar and its vocal shortfalls to its brilliant control of atmosphere, this album is the epitome of the long and successful career of its composer. While more laid back than a typical Rolling Stones album, "Crosseyed Heart" is still a well-executed collection of music that could easily be played as background music at a light party or be used to calm someone down after a long day.

In closing, the warm production with consequential tape hiss is a welcome reminder of the sound that defined the music of yesteryear. Maybe Keith Richards is right in some ways. Or maybe I'm just getting too old too quickly.

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

    rock-n-roll101
    Grandpa rock - you mean rock n' roll? Keith was never a rocker, he is a roller. He recorded this album doing single takes - singing while simultaneously picking on the guitar. And with regards to the "singing" - people like Dylan and Tom Waits "spoke" on some of their tracks. It's called art. Don't dig his voice, fine, fair enough, but the criticism is uncalled for. It's merely an approach. Few people in history are actual artists - Da Vinci, Wright Brothers, Shakespeare, N. Tesla, etc - Keith Richards is one of those. He singlehandedly embodied the "rock star" thus inventing a cliche. His life and work was and is art. Generations from now people are going to speak of the Beatles and the Stones with the same emphasis as we speak of Bach, Vivaldi & Brahms. Guess it's difficult for people to hear melody past their Motorhead induced, blown-out ear drums. You'd think a website about guitars would expose their audience to a multitude of genres. Where are the articles on the Motown cats, Funk, Reggae, Rhythm n' Blues, Folk, Jazz, how 'bout some info classical indian ragas - Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi and Anoushka Shankar? Guess pre-buscent music news must pay the UG's rent.
    chrus
    you need to write for a music site
    rock-n-roll101
    Been working in music out of Nashville and London for the past four years while attending a university. The scene in Nashville has more plastic in it than a Barbie doll and the London biz makes Donald Trump seem unpretentious (don't get me started on the folks down at the BBC). There is hope, but it sure as hell ain't being broadcasted. The media is like the snake that is eating its own tail. It spoon-fed monotonous pop news in the 80's and 90's. This made its viewers reliant on that nonsense. Now it's so far gone that even if an enterprise did start releasing quality news and entertainment, the audience would have none of it. Orwell was not far off in Animal Farm and Huxley was right in a Brave New World. Give it ten years and we'll see a massive cultural phenomenon happen. When scenes become stagnant, that's when the cream rises to the top, or so that's how it's been throughout the entire saga of the human story.
    NickStrick
    You're an excellent writer with a refreshing hit of clarity. Subjective, which I often hate in an information source but enjoy in a comrade. Do you compose? I feel like you'd have incredible taste.
    rock-n-roll101
    Thank you for the words, that means a lot to me. Yes, objectivity is key when writing something for a public context, but I figure that the theme of UG's comment section holds a prerequisite for slagging everyone/everything off. What do they say about the glove fitting? I don't typically log onto this account, but felt the need to post on this review. If you're interested, send me a message and we can exchange e-mail addresses since that will be the best way of communicating. Would be just tickled pink to share some ideas, "compositions" and such.
    jasperado
    i watched his new documentary, "under the influence" yesterday and then i listened to his new record and watching that first really helped with making the album more insightful and meaningful while just being a pretty good album, it's definitely mellow and his blues stuff is the best on there, while he does some reggaeish song and some country songs, i think his blues ideas are really on point, the guy loved chicago blues, he got soul
    igorimsa
    Come on the man is 75, his face is not so bad for someone who has smoked since he is 15 or so, and did heroin and cocaine for sometime...he just looks as 82. Fair enough...
    SexyHotDogs
    I thought it was a really solid album. Keef covers a range of genres, from blues to country, and even dabbles a bit in reggae. It gives me hopes for the next Stones album he says they'll start working on next year. Though on a side not, I have no idea what in the world "grandpa rock" is supposed to mean.
    logicbdj
    When Jagger is stated as being the much better singer, you know you can't sing.
    logicbdj
    Watched his documentary... very much enjoyed! I know we make fun of the Stones for different reasons, but the guy can play... he's got soul and enjoys music, and has done a lot to shape rock 'n roll!
    mabbamam
    This album drop is the reason for all the stuff he's been noted in the news saying. For publicity for this album.
    MrFixIt
    After reading this review I can't help but ask, there were drums, other players involved, artwork etc?
    cle4r
    "Robbed Blind" sounds like a sequel to Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight." It's what happened the next weekend.
    deloff
    Keith is the coolest dude on the planet bar none!I have heard only one song from this album and I liked it.His backing vocals on such songs as lets spend the night together blended perfectly with Micks vocals of course that was 50 years ago and was on par with John Paul and Georges harmonies.His lead vocals on Happy and Before they make me run as well as You got the silver and even Slipping away are fantastic. I could go on and on how about all about you.All great Keith vocals
    browndaisy128
    [deleted]
    browndaisy128 · Sep 22, 2015 07:41 PM