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Music review: SuperHeavy, 'SuperHeavy'

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superheavycd.jpgIt's the summer of supergroups. In rock, we got Wild Flag (hot). In hip-hop, we got Kanye & Jay-Z (tepid). For every other genre, apparently, we're now offered SuperHeavy (warm), an unexpected conglomerate of the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger, 68; Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart, 59; British soul singer Joss Stone, 24; Damian Marley, 33, son of the late reggae icon Bob; and Indian film composer A.R. Rahman, 45 ("Slumdog Millionaire"). If that combination of talents seems confounding, the band itself is just as bewildered. Late in the record, Stone can be heard crying, "What the f--- is going on?!"

The amalgamation was Stewart's idea. Inspired by the sound bleed of different stereo systems while visiting Jamaica, Stewart began working his contact list in order re-create that mix of rock and soul and reggae and world music. The five musicians who answered his call wound up recording in Jim Henson Studios, which is hilariously appropriate once you see the video for the first single, "Miracle Worker" -- full of hundreds of extras and looking exactly like a production number from "The Muppets Take Manhattan," complete with Jagger as a pink-clad puppet:

The quintet's self-titled debut, available Tuesday in the United States, is edited down from 35 hours of resulting material, and the editors certainly could've kept going. But even though "SuperHeavy" (Universal Republic) [2<br />
and a half stars] wears pretty thin by the second half, it boasts a few fiery moments. Marley's feisty toasting and the rocking reggae rhythms of his band take the lead on most tracks; Rahman's Bollywood strings, meanwhile, enhance more than they intrude. But it's Jagger that's the pleasant surprise. The Glimmer Twin doesn't butt in, he plays his part as one of five players, but when he steps to the mike he chews through the material with a bite indicative of his blazing Grammys performance earlier this year. He whispers and purrs under the refrain of "Unbelievable"; in the acoustic ballad "Never Gonna Change" he sounds as if he's about to namecheck Angie; in the bluesy "One Day One Night" he's really unleashed, spewing Tom Waitsisms ("a rotten cheap motel with a stale old smell," something he probably hasn't encountered in 40 years) with such fervor he becomes wonderfully unintelligible.

"One Day One Night" is one of a handful of songs that strikes the right musical balance -- Jagger being Jagger, Marley being franker than his father ("one spliff ... one light"), Rahman's gaily skipping string section -- but they don't all succeed. Most songs nudge or surpass the five-minute mark, often laboring to include everyone's input. "I Can't Take It No More" reaches for Stones riff-rock and comes out with limp social commentary ("All you scurvy politicians ... you all sound like magicians / I can't take it"). The album's greatest failing is that, while the sonic blend that inspired Stewart's experiment works more often than expected, these five figures simply never came up with anything to say. "I said, 'Hey!'" is about as deep as it gets ("Energy"), and when Jagger is prancing around singing misguided Dr. Feelgood metaphors about readying for lovin' by snapping on surgical gloves, well, his clownishness quickly crosses into creepydom. Maybe not super, but it bests most of Jagger's solo records.

Also recently released from the same crew ...

Dave Stewart, "The Blackbird Diaries" (Surfdog/Razor & Tie) [2<br />
and a half stars] -- SuperHeavy could have been pretty spacey without Stewart's firm production hand keeping the various planets within the same gravitational field. On his own, he dabbles in even more genres than his supergroup does. But "The Blackbird Diaries" was recorded in a week in Nashville and thus appropriately roots the British pop star in an overall Americana setting. "Worth the Waiting For" is co-written with Bob Dylan, and several female guests, including Stevie Nicks (Stewart produced her new album, too), add to the husk of the material.

Joss Stone, "LP1" (Surfdog) [2<br />
stars] -- Stone also employed Stewart to produce her first album as an independent artist. With SuperHeavy, her role is mostly token, popping in every now and then to color the proceedings with a soulful woman's touch. On her own, though, she still lacks the breakout factor, which is especially difficult to find amid the many styles Stewart casts her in here.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on September 19, 2011 3:00 PM.

Peter Hook looks back on legacy of Joy Division -- without New Order -- and sees the Light was the previous entry in this blog.

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