Mick Jagger is a lot of things: sex symbol, surprisingly good film actor, onetime beard owner, the greatest rock’n’roll frontman who ever lived. What he is not is a convincing political troubadour. In their heyday, the Rolling Stones wrote a few immortal songs that obliquely addressed current events and the tides of history–think about “Gimme Shelter,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Street Fightin’ Man,”–but they wisely avoided the explicitly topical fare that was in vogue at the time. Any attempts to write straightforward protest songs in the intervening years, like the Bush-skewering 2005 single “Sweet Neo Con,” have been awkward and embarrassing.
So it’s possible that you felt some trepidation when you read that “Get a Grip” and “England Lost,” Jagger’s newly released pair of solo songs, were written in response to the “anxiety [and] unknowability of the changing political situation.” It was entirely warranted. After the back-to-basics turn of his band’s most recent album, this material is ostensibly forward-looking, with crisp modern production and breakbeat drums that vaguely scan as hip-hop. There’s a clear ambition toward contemporary relevance, but the songs paradoxically end up sounding more dated than the straightforward Delta homages of Blue & Lonesome, coming off more like the kind of thing David Bowie could write in his sleep 20 years ago than the Skepta and Kendrick Lamar records Jagger says he’s listening to lately.
Skepta himself shows up on an alternate version of “England Lost,” a song that halfheartedly attempts to connect a losing football match with the overall state of things in the UK post-Brexit. (“I went to see England but England lost,” “I went to find England, it wasn’t there,” and so on.) The grime star sounds a little unsure of what he’s doing there when his verse abruptly begins halfway through the song, but to be fair, so does Jagger himself. “I’m tired of talking about immigration,” he sings at one point, and you believe him.
The other unexpected guest is Tame Impala mastermind Kevin Parker, who always seemed like more of a Beatles guy. He provides one of several remixes to “Gotta Get a Grip,” sanding down the overly busy original to an appealing minimalist sheen. Like everything Parker touches, the remix sounds great, but his signature filtered guitar tones can’t save Jagger’s uninspired observations, which touch on ISIS, acupuncture, “metadata scams,” and the notion that “the news is all fake.” It’s hard to argue with any of it, but that’s only because the “everything is fucked” point he’s trying to drive home is so obvious. It’s a lot better than “England Lost,” but that isn’t saying much.