I will be the first to admit that I am a little weary of the concept of a supergroup. There’s something about them (all of them) that just seem like a bit of a cheat in the artistic process. It seems like you skip the stages of coming together, developing your sound and creating an identity as a band and instead just fit a few components together and try to milk some money out of your albums (thus how we get Chickenfoot and Velvet Revolver). Occasionally, however, I see a combination of artists and can’t help but wonder what they’re going to sound like (Flea and Thom Yorke in Atoms for Peace). Never has this been the case more then when I saw that the Mick Jagger was teaming up with with soul queen, Joss Stone, the second generation reggae rap artist, Damian Marley, Eurythmic guitarist, Dave Stewart, and two time Academy Award winning composer, A.R. Rahman, to form the band known as SuperHeavy. All of the pieces there seemed like they had to add up into something special; rock and roll, soul, blues, reggae, rap, film scores. The possibilities seem endless. So, for the first time ever probably, I was eager to listen to a supergroup’s album.
They certainly achieve an interesting sound. The opening of the album feels like the opening credits of a film that Rahman composed the score for (fittingly). It encompasses all of those epic postmodern features that have won him so much acclaim. The first loop that the album throws me for, however, is the way in which the vocals are distributed on their songs. I went in assuming that they would take turns on different tracks with Stone taking the soul ballads, Marley taking the more reggae sounding material, and Jagger taking the blatant rock songs. That’s definitely not what they do. It really sounds more like they are all standing around one microphone and spitting alternately (or even simultaneously) like a choir almost. I’m really torn because I’m just not sure how well it works. There is no doubt that Stone has one of the most beautiful singing voices I have ever heard and both Marley and Jagger fit so well in their own style, but all together just didn’t really mold like I thought they would. I know that I will get ridiculed HEAVILY for this (as I already have been by my fellow Generic Flow staffers), but I think the problem is Jagger.
Whether you consider Mick Jagger to be a “good” singer is really not the point of this. His nitty-gritty cocky style of singing absolutely killed when he was with the Stones. But when he gets inserted into an album as worldly and ethnic sounding as this, it just feels like a fish out of water. I know we are getting what’s left of Jagger as he pushes seventy, so this may be a little unfair to say, but it kept jarring me when I heard it. That’s not to say that he didn’t work on the songs where they let him be Mick Jagger and didn’t ask him to be a vocalist. “Never Gonna Change” could fit right in with the softer Stone ballads from the Let it Bleed days and “I Can’t Take it No More,” souping him up with back up soul singers and brass, is utter ecstasy. By far my favorite track on the album.
That’s Good Mick. You get some moments of Bad Mick too, though. You know? The Mick that shoes up for the live version of “Shattered?” Take the opening track, “SuperHeavy,” for instance; you have the building power jam set by Rahman and the authoritative and truly earthy sounds of Stone and Marley before Jagger comes in with his growling way off key and a little hard to understand. It’s not atrocious, it just doesn’t seem to fit. The same could easily be said for when he busts in on the metallic reggae hop, “Miracle Worker” or his over-the-top tortured performance on “One Day One Night.” (i.e. (Yahl see IIIII wahhhhz riiiiiiiiiiight.”)
As for Stone and Marley, I can’t really nitpick them. Marley fulfills his role in the moments where reggae and hip hop rear their head by delivering his unique pitch and sense of chill that only he can provide, mon. Joss Stone? Forget about it. I don’t think the kid has a bad musical bone in her body. She repeatedly gets paired up with guys like John Legend, Elton John, Santana, Jeff Beck, Nas (heard of them?!?!?) and delivers every fucking time. Why should a bit of a mismatch stop her here? Based on her alone, I found the album a success. Every time she was on, she nailed it.
They did their best to provide everyone’s niche, such as when they used reggae style beats for “Unbelievable” and “Miracle Worker” to give Marley a chance to perform in his realm, just as they gave Jagger the aforementioned “Never Gonna Change” sounding track. Stone was the only one who seemed to fit in everywhere to be completely honest. All of those moments worked fine, it was when they all clashed in for these “We Are the World” type moments that it felt like they weren’t synthesized and never good me. Those moments seemed to become more and more frequent as the album went on. It stops with its desire to groove and slowly makes its way to a desire to preach. You could probably shut it off as soon as you get to “World Keeps Turning” and get out unscathed. The songs are all just overdone with “what are we gonna do about it” themes dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. Think I’m being unfair? On “Warring People,” (or wah ring pee pahhhhhl as Jagger says), they dish out the lines “There are no answers / Only cancers.” That’s deep.
I don’t think you’d regret at least giving this a listen. I’ve done my best to break it down, but there’s no way that I am doing it all justice. It is, after all, over an hour worth of material. Their sound is very unique and every song is a little something different. You have rock songs rubbing shoulders with reggae and even the appearance of a new century Indian National Anthem in “Satyameva.” Some will find it contemporary and hybrid, while others will definitely find it to be overdone and in constant collision with itself. And for all those criticisms about Jagger and his singing, we’re just gonna have to shut up and listen to it… it is Mick Jagger after all.