Thursday, April 12, 2012

SuperHeavy - SuperHeavy [album review]

Released in September 2011 (part of an ongoing series of reviews covering older releases from the past year that "fell through the cracks")
Mick Jagger, former Eurythmic Dave Stewart, soul singer Joss Stone, Damian Marley (son of Bob), and Indian film composer A.R. Rahman make up SuperHeavy, who released their self-titled debut album last year to what seemed like little fanfare. The supergroup project was conceived as an experiment to see what the results would be if musicians from different genres came together to write and record. As a Rolling Stones fan, my only interest in this venture was because of Jagger's participation; even still, my expectations were considerably low, based on the fact that Jagger hasn't been part of a truly good filler-free album (Stones or otherwise) since his 1993 solo effort, Wandering Spirit. Unfortunately, SuperHeavy extends that drought and adds credence to Keith Richards' dismissals of Jagger's non-Stones musical output in Life, his 2010 autobiography.
Predictably, the album's biggest issue is that it shoots far too wide for its own good, mixing pop, rock, blues, electronic beats, Indian music, and Carribean rhythms into one very sloppy musical stew (and that's sometimes all within just one song). Opening tracks "SuperHeavy" and "Unbelievable" are most emblematic of this and set up the listener for the next hour or so of scattershot musical ideas and undercooked songwriting. The former drives a one-dimensional dancehall reggae progression into the ground, while the latter features four lead vocalists and sounds like second-rate solo Jagger or Stones material. Jagger, who's dabbled in reggae sounds since the 70s, doesn't embarrass himself with his vocal contributions on the songs that most root themselves in island rhythms: "Beautiful People" gets along fine for a little while with a solid chorus before Marley knocks it off the rails, the middling "Rock Me Gently" runs for far too long at six minutes (which feels like an eternity when it comes to reggae music, considering how repetitive it can be), and "Miracle Worker" gets bogged down with poor lyrics that actually include the line "You're a miracle worker, a surgeon of love". Rahman's musical influence is the least dominant on the album, save for "Satyameva Jayathe", which is sung almost entirely (oh, joy) in Sanskrit. "I Can't Take It No More" is the most straight-up rock song, mixing heavy guitars with a horn section, but it's completely generic and done no favours by Stone's ridiculously out of place f-bomb drop in the intro.
SuperHeavy features precious little in the way of songs that invite repeat listens - I counted just two tracks as candidates. "Never Gonna Change", by far the most Stones-like track with its slow, country-blues swagger comes close, but ultimately feels like a bit of a pale "Wild Horses" imitation. Perhaps it registered as more listenable because the sound was more familiar than the rest of the material and that it's also the only song on the album with a singular, uncluttered vocal presentation - Jagger sings 100% of the lead lines. The appropriately titled "Energy" is probably the best song, injecting a shot of life to the album with an energetic tempo, lively guitars, and some nasty harmonica riffs from Jagger. That said, it does tread dangerously close to sounding like a Black Eyed Peas song.
How much you enjoy SuperHeavy will be directly tied to how much you enjoy (or can at least tolerate) the singing of Jagger, Stone, and Marley. I've been obviously clear on my level of Jagger fandom in this review; Stone has a powerful voice that is no doubt soulful - the over-the-top vocal flourishes she regularly resorts to are not my thing, though; and my enjoyment of reggae music admittedly begins and ends with Bob Marley, so the in-your-face Jamaican patois from his son tends to grate quickly (and I'm half Jamaican). The group wrote and recorded 29 songs in 10 days and considering the poor showing here, it begs the question: just how bad is that unreleased material? Apparently, the running times on some of those tracks clock in individually at over an hour...now there's a shudder-worthy prospect. SuperHeavy is an interesting experiment, but their debut's ambition outstrips its execution.
Rating: E

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