Talk is Cheap – Keith Richards (1988)

Talk is Cheap album cover
Talk is Cheap album cover

I was a realitevly late convert to the Rolling Stones. Tattoo You became the first of their albums I actually laid down money for thanks to “Start Me Up”. After that release the band went through an unfortunate metamorphosis to hear it from hard core fans, experimenting with dance and other popular music styles. The common thinking was that these styles were unbecoming of the band’s heritage. I would not have really cared anyway because this was when new wave and funk was king for me and might never have paid any real attention to a Rolling Stones post disco pop song. Still, the Stones were always in the news for some reason or another, as if everyone missed those days of them being the best band in rock.

This change ignited tensions between band members, most notably between guitarist Keith Richards and lead vocalist Mick Jagger. I never know why I would mix them up, but Richards was the one who looked like a de-shuffled blues man always on the edge of a high.  Anyway, the two took out their aggression against each other in their solo projects primarily, with Jagger dropping duds while Richards would essentially put together a band that resembled the Stones in better times.

Richards stayed close to the roots of soul and blues that the Rolling Stones built their musical legend on, just like his vision for the band. Many critics even went so far as to jokingly call his first solo project Talk Is Cheap the best Rolling Stones album in years. For fans who missed the Stones classic blend of blues and rock with a bit of soul, Talk Is Cheap was a godsend.

Much of what made this album so great was the guest musicians who gave the rock it’s roll. Called the X-pensive Winos, the band consisted of Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, Maceo Parker, Sarah Dash and a spot from the Memphis Horns. The resulting sound produced by Richards and Steve Jordan (who also produced the last Stones album up to that point) had a no nonsense straight up rhythm and blues oriented style, the kind of music the Stones were no longer making.

From the album came two singles, the most successful, “Take It So Hard” featured the strong rhythm section and straightforward melody the album was known for. Sarah Dash’s vocals on “Make No Mistake” the other single nicely counter balance the drunken singing style of Richards, who to me always looked like he was stoned and mumbled his lyrics at times like James Brown or Bob Dylan. That must have been part of his charm and no doubt gave him his street cred with a group of musicians who are often romanticized for their hard work and harder play ethic.

Talk Is Cheap was more than a stab at Mick Jagger if only because it was so much better than Jagger’s solo work from around the same time. Richards also made the jump to a different record label (the Rollinfg Stones would follow later). In many ways Richards making the kind of album he wanted vindicated his vision for the Stones to stay the course of its original mandate: create the best roots rock and roll in the business.

That’s exactly what happened after the band kissed and made up with Steel Wheels. The X-pensive Winos stayed together long enough for Richards to record a follow up to Talk Is Cheap called Main Offender in 1992. So Richards won the battle as the Stones were back on track and remain so today. Trash talk never sounded so good.


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