How you feel about Mick Jagger’s new "band," SuperHeavy, will depend on how much natural fondness you have not just for Mick but for mutts.
Supergroups don't get any more mongrel-like. Ex-Eurythmic Dave Stewart assembled the team, which also includes soul belter Joss Stone, reggae toaster Damian Marley, and Indian film composer A.R. Rahman. “Pick one from categories A, B, C, D and E” was the operative motif; It’s more chemistry experiment than organic hybrid, to be sure.
Cynics will suppose that a combination platter like this has an obligation to be quintuply good to live up to the participants’ combined reps. That’s not going to happen, but if non-stop genre-crossing just for the sake of it sounds like your idea of a good time – and why shouldn’t it? -- “SuperHeavy” is a light feast of good fun.
Jagger and Stone have a strong musical rapport, the four-decade age difference notwithstanding. Jagger has a history of success interacting with female singers – think Merry Clayton on “Gimme Shelter,” on forward through live and recorded pairings with everyone from Tina Turner to Sheryl Crow to Christina Aguilera – and, as an album-length foil, Stone knows just when to support or overpower him.
You might think of “SuperHeavy” as a duets album that just happens to be interrupted on a regular basis by Marley's spoken-word interpolations. Of course, Jagger has a rich history with reggae, too, so there’s a certain nostalgic inevitability to hearing him interact with Bob Marley’s kid instead of Jimmy Cliff.
The clear standout is “Energy,” which lives up to its name with an insanely propulsive synth riff, motor-mouthed Marley rant, and instantly catchy Jagger/Stone chorus. (Presumably that’s Mick doing the terrific harmonica solo, too.) If “Energy” had been the advance single, instead of the laconic reggae exercise “Miracle Worker,” the album would almost certainly have more advance buzz.
Among the reggae numbers, “Beautiful People” is a bigger winner than “Miracle Worker,” with Stone cooing sweetly alongside Jagger, instead of trying to out-wail him, on the record’s most gorgeous hook.
Less successful: The opening number, with the ultra-eponymous title of “SuperHeavy,” has Marley giving a sort of mission statement for the group, as if he were introducing the Avengers or some other superhero collective. When Stone sings they’re going to “take no prisoners/You’ve got no choice/And it’s none of your business,” it comes off as a little too proud for an outfit that really doesn’t seem to have any designs on touring, much less world domination. And when the otherwise invisible Rahman enters the song's fray with some wordless murmuring, you sense the token effort to randomly squeeze him in.
These are the pluses and minuses of a democratic collaboration with multiple front-people: It’s like the weather, in that if you don’t like what any one participant is doing at any given time, wait a few seconds and it’ll change. The variety's nice, even if sometimes you wish a song would settle in longer with one singer or another. Jagger does get one song-length lead vocal, and a good one, on the ballad “Never Gonna Change,” which not coincidentally is the album’s only truly Stonesy and/or acoustically based track.
Given how rarely Rolling Stones albums come along – and how predictable they can be when they do – it’s a kick just to hear him engaged in playtime with someone besides his old mates after all these years. “SuperHeavy” is hardly an album for the ages, but in the moment, it beats being resigned to Maroon 5’s tribute track for our Mick-move needs.