Review Summary: Talk may be cheap, but Richards’ role within The Rolling Stones is not to be undervalued.
Not many bands are subjected to the level of ridicule and mockery that The Rolling Stones
have endured in recent years. Whether it be Mick Jagger’s lips in a caricature, or Keith’s continuing existence being likened to that of a cockroach, the general public seems to have retreated into a state of pity for these legendary rock and rollers. As we take note of the undermining status of these musicians as ‘pop icons’, it is hard to remember exactly why they were given their share of the spotlight in the first place. Talk Is Cheap
, but before popular culture latched itself onto the back of The Rolling Stones, they were the creators of some seriously good music.
In 1988, while the Stones had momentarily ceased rolling, and while Jagger was parading around the world with his solo tours and albums, Keith Richards hit back. Years earlier, Keef Riffhard, The Human Riff, whatever your name for him may be, assembled a band for Chuck Berry and his birthday celebration, (documented in the Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll
documentary). It is with this band that Keith Richards released an album which belongs in the same ballpark as classic Stones material.
Richards, and his song-writing partner (and drummer) Steve Jordan, crafted a list of no-nonsense, effective rock tracks for Talk Is Cheap
. Seamlessly moving between ballads and swaggering riff-orientated groove anthems, the album is briskly consistent. It appears Jordan and the rest of the band, (known as the X-pensive Winos), had been able to do just what “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world” had failed to achieve: keep their chief songwriter focused, and keep the world’s hardest partier on the straight and narrow.
The beauty of this album lies in its eyes, and where they seem to be looking; Stones albums such as Dirty Work
appeared to be sizing up the fame and excess, while Talk Is Cheap
, written just two years later, is staring down crotchets and chords – all things musical. The lyrics aren’t dispensable, but there is nothing standing in the way of Richards’ music, and the ears he wished for it to reach. There are no tabloid headlines or sobriety scandals to disrupt the groove of tracks like ‘Struggle’, or ‘You Don’t Move Me’. These are relentless, commanding archetypes of the riff-based rock ‘n’ roll song, and they make for a splendid repeat listen. The ballads keep things varied, and Richards’ (slightly) improved lyrical content and tasteful guitar licks pack the tunes, namely ‘Locked Away’ and ‘Make No Mistake’, with a substantial level of emotion. The vocals, as you can probably imagine, are as smooth as tree bark. In saying that, Keith never fails to hit the right note, or at least makes a sincere enough effort to render any of his deficiencies irrelevant.
The X-pensive Winos provide an exotic flavour to the rhythms of the album, keeping familiar Keef riffs fresh and invigorating. This record is much more than a mere solo album; it exists as a pure band effort, and the recorded harmony is a refreshment after years of mediocre Stones albums.
Talk Is Cheap
captures a rare moment, in that it gives us unadulterated Keith Richards. Away from his glimmer twin, away from the needle, and focusing squarely on his guitar and musical self, this album leaves no doubt: Richards was the most capable Rolling Stone, and could give any rock ‘n’ roll band a run for its money. On his own.