“What the fuck is going on?” So hollers Joss Stone towards the end of SuperHeavy‘s debut album and well she might. Few would have ever predicted that Stone, Mick Jagger, Damian Marley and Dave Stewart would be in the same room at the same time, never mind forming a band. Yet here they are, talking up the project in a manner reminiscent of David ‘I’m just the singer in a band’ Bowie and the ill-fated Tin Machine but really, how can such a combination of egos, musical backgrounds, ages and rock standing work in practice? Besides, the public are hardly flocking to buy new Rolling Stones records so they’re hardly likely to get excited about a Jagger side project.
The two issues are connected but maybe not that important. It is unlikely that SuperHeavy is going to do brisk business (what is these days?), with the first single ‘Miracle Worker’ reaching the heady heights of number 196. Yet it’s doubtful that any of those involved did this for the money and what’s important is that this is a pretty good record, at times even a great one. Yes that’s right, you heard. The success stems from the hands that appear to be guiding the project, with Marley’s reggae and dancehall background leading the way. His is the dominant first voice you hear on the record, introducing the title track with a battle cry of “we are SuperHeavy” and leading from the front throughout. He’s in fine form, delivering a succession of bonkers one liners (“don’t be a silly milly” is a particular gem, as is “no taxi budget!) and generally running the show. He’s backed by the group’s unsung, and largely unmentioned, member A.R. Rahman, with the Indian composer and musician filling the sound, certainly more than the largely anonymous Stewart. Even Joss Stone comes out of it with some credit, a far cry from the fake soul diva of past times.
And then there’s Mick Jagger. His first appearance in the ‘Miracle Worker’ video sees him shimmy into focus, resplendent in a gaudy pink suit and generally giving it large as only Jagger can – a fairly ludicrous mix of pouting, preening and yelping vocals. It’s an approach that he maintains for the entire record and, bizarrely, it works. It’s been years since the Stones frontman has sounded so alive on record, so inspired and the shift in musical climate obviously agrees with him. The acoustic ‘Never Gonna Change’ is his high point, the one moment when the spectre of his day job looms into view but a reminder that few can deliver a ballad with such style and panache.
Edited down from 35 hours worth of material, it’s unsurprising that what lets SuperHeavy down is its sheer weight. Of the 12 tracks only a third come in at under four minutes and the whole thing starts to creak in the final third. ‘Rock Me Gently’ is the record’s nadir, a six minute number that suggests the time has come for the listener to say thank you very much and make their excuses, a shame because the track that follows (the perky ‘Can’t Take It’) is a gem. Perhaps we can forgive SuperHeavy their faults, though. After all, it would have been a brave record company executive that would have told them to stop, and there is enough here to make this apparent folly a very worthwhile enterprise.