When Keith Richards graduated from the University of Drugs and Debauchery he did so with flying colours. The fact that he’s still alive and making music should qualify him for his very own listing in Reader’s Digest’s Mysteries of the Unexplained. A cross between Don Juan and Count Dracula, the man’s colourful life and famous exploits will no doubt keep many a biographer busy for decades to come. His first solo LP, 1988’s Talk Is Cheap, proved to be a big hit with Stones fans, who rejoiced at that album’s primal, funky rhythms and back to the stone age production. But for anyone expecting an immediate follow up would have to wait another four years until Main Offender was finally issued.
As soon as the listener presses play what is immediately clear is that Main Offender is very much a musician’s record, made by musicians for musicians, deliberately putting melody to one side in favour of groove, which is not to say that Keith wasn’t doing it for the fans also (the man obviously knows who pays his bills, and it aint Mick Jagger). Take opener “999” as a case in point; all dirty riffs and primitive beats. Nothing complex going on here, that’s for sure. Nothing special song-wise either for that matter, but the whole thing just pumps along like a juggernaut determined to prove that entropy is merely a state of mind.
“Wicked as it Seems” is an enjoyable if relatively predictable Keef number, while on the upbeat and plaintive “Eileen” Richards pleads for his other half’s affection and understanding. The heavily reggae-flavoured “Words of Wonder” has Keith sounding like a Welsh Bob Marley. And unless you’re into white reggae it fails to keep this listener’s attention, no matter how Rastafarian he gets. “Yap Yap” is another easy listening number, where nothing in particular stands out, although it’s sure nice to hear while it’s going. Pleasant harmonies and soft rhythms abound, the song itself has an agreeable flow to it which could probably go on forever and one wouldn’t even notice. “Bodytalks” has Keith trading vocals with Sarah Dash, who offers a smooth and soulful contrast to Richards own world weary delivery.
“Hate It When You Leave” is an old fashioned ‘60s rocker, where in place of Otis Redding, you get some white ex-junky alcoholic singing instead. The horns and strings add an authentic touch, but I think my favourite moments are toward the end where Keith cries out in the background the song’s title, in a way quite heartfelt and honest. “Runnin’ Too Deep” I’m sure has meanings that signify a lot to Keith, but not really me, because at this point I’m beginning to become a little bored with all these tunes which are full of riffs but no substance. If I saw this song being performed live in some local pub or venue, I reckon I’d walk away feeling satisfied. On record however, it doesn’t quite connect. The same goes with “Will But You Won’t”. Plenty of driving riffs but there’s nothing about the tune itself which really sticks in your mind once it’s over. Still one hasn’t felt any the poorer for hearing it.
The album concludes with “Demon”, a ballad where Richards confesses that he isn’t exactly perfect but wants his woman to know about “this Demon in Me”. Well no shit Sherlock. Everyone knows that Keith’s hardly a saint when it comes to clean living, much less lead a regular lifestyle. One thing’s for sure, I seriously doubt that he’s been an annual subscriber to Mens Fitness Magazine these past twenty years. Can you? Still, it’s good to know that the man really cares about his misses, and wants her to know that sometimes there are things which happen in his head which might cause her a little grief every now and then.
At the end of the day, Keith is just Keith, warts and all. And for all Jagger’s faux-negro disco-swagger and narcissistic posturing, Richards has always been the consummate riff-machine as well as heart and soul of everything the Stones have ever done. Main Offender is a testament to the man’s commitment to what he does. Keep it simple, keep it truthful, but above all, never let the flame go out.
What do you get when you blend Chuck Berry with Robert Johnson? The one and only Keith Richards.