Wandering Spirit is the name of Mick Jagger’s third venture as a solo artist, released in early 1993. You might why I chose this particular album to review. I mean, Mick Jagger’s pretty famous, sure, but he’s not really known for his solo stuff. Much less the third album – which got positive reviews, but paled in comparison to the success of his debut, She’s the Boss.
Well, I wanted to get back into doing album reviews, and I’ve been listening to this one on repeat for quite a while. It’s as good a starting point as any. And an album relatively unknown to most classic rock fans. I’m about to tell you why it shouldn’t be.
At this point in time, Jagger’s thing with the Stones was going pretty well. Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards had reunited after their tiff in the mid ‘80s (a tumultuous period that would result in ‘86’s Dirty Work, often cited as the band’s worst album) – releasing Steel Wheels in 1989. An album that, whilst not seen as legendary, was still hailed unanimously as a comeback for the veteran rockers. In 1994, the Rolling Stones would unveil Voodoo Lounge, with a more blues rock sound, and it’s fair to say that would also go on to do pretty well (reaching number one in five countries).
In other words, Jagger was going through yet another high point in life – creatively and commercially. And right in the middle of it all is an underrated offering of funk, blues, and a helping of good old-fashioned rock. Wandering Spirit opens with ‘Wired All Night’, and it’s a song that could have come out of any Stones album of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. It’s an energetic opener, and right away you remember why Mick Jagger is the mythical figure he is in the music world.
But what comes next is wholly unexpected. The album’s lead single, ‘Sweet Thing’, is something from Voodoo Lounge meets INXS. A funky, groove-ridden number which sees Jagger at his coolest. The verses are tantalizing offerings of a lascivious past, and the choruses are downright infectious. A worthy lead single, if ever there was one.
‘Out of Focus’, meanwhile, is my personal favourite – what opens as some country-gospel prayer from Jagger turns into a juddering, poetic rocker. Not much to say with this one, but by no means is that an insult. After all, the Stones have always struck gold with their simplistic take on rock. If it sounds good, it sounds good.
‘Don’t Tear Me Up’ is a decent ballad but little more – even if Jagger sounds like an imitation of himself on this one – with ‘Put Me In the Trash’ adding a little more piano and guitar to the mix, making for one mean album track. ‘Use Me’ – a cover of Bill Withers’ original from ‘72’s Still Bill – is one of the album’s funkiest, complete with guest vocals from Lenny Kravitz. It’s not bad, but hardly a highlight for the record.
‘Evening Gown’ is, in my opinion, one of the oddest two tracks on the album. It’s pure country, with Jagger impersonating, apparently, someone from the bayous of Looziana. It’s a well-rounded number, but sticks out as one of the more cryptic pieces in the Jagger canon. ‘Mother of a Man’ returns to form, however, as Jagger delivers one of the most powerful tracks on Spirit.
‘Think’ is decent, but about the kind of filler you’d expect on the album, before we barrel into the tambourine-studded blues of ‘Wandering Spirit’ itself. Jagger gives his best impression of a nomad on the roam, and you can really believe it. After all, how much of the world has the man seen and experienced at this point in his life? The title track is a delectable dish of what always made the Stones so great.
‘Hang On To Me Tonight’ is probably one of the album’s weakest points, but a listenable ballad, nonetheless. ‘I’ve Been Lonely For So Long’ packs the blues and backing choir of Steel Wheels – it’s a track I can really see coming out of those sessions, and catchy to the last drumbeat.
Wandering Spirit’s penultimate track packs all the baroque pop the album can muster, with dreamlike harpsichord conjuring images of beds in the forest and milky-eyed mountains. ‘Angel In My Heart’ is the zenith of ballads on the record, and genuinely one of Jagger’s best. He may not be the likeliest minstrel (in fact, the image of Mick Jagger with a lute is laughable at best), but its opulent charm of a time gone by can’t be dismissed so easily.
And at last, we close on ‘Handsome Molly’, the other of the album’s oddest two tracks. It’s a straight-forward sea shanty, with Jagger moving from the deep south to… Ireland, apparently? It’s a traditional folk ballad and, to be fair, executed pretty well. But it seems out of place here, seemingly tacked onto the end for no real reason. ‘Molly’ is a far cry from ‘Wired All Night’.
Wandering Spirit covers more genres than you’d expect, borrowing sounds across several continents and decades – but throughout there’s a thread of what Jagger’s always mastered. The eternally youthful swagger with which his moves are synonymous. There’s a smirk in every chord, a jeer in every drumbeat, a wry smile in every use of fiddle or clavinet. It’s Jagger letting loose and having fun, crafting some damn good stuff in the process. Wandering Spirit isn’t perfect. It’s not as good as Steel Wheels or what would come later for the Rolling Stones. But it’s close – and shouldn’t be disregarded as ‘just another lead singer’s solo album’. It’s far from that.