Keith Richards / Main Offender boxset is a visceral shot of quality rock ‘n’ roll

Taking time off from his day job with the biggest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world, the ever-ready Mr Richards unleashed this, his second solo album in 1992 during downtime between Stones albums, joined again by his collection of musical friends, The X-Pensive Winos.

Keith Richards – Main Offender (BMG)

Release Date: Out Now

Words: Paul Monkhouse

Whilst the album didn’t do as well commercially as his first lone outing, Main Offender is more than its match and builds on the groundwork done before but adds even more layers. This 30th Anniversary edition will hopefully throw a spotlight onto one of the most satisfying pieces of work the guitarist has ever done.

Whilst the DNA of his guitar work with the mothership is understandably running through its veins, the material present seldom truly dips into that particular pool and has its own distinctive set of flavours. Given the free reign to do what he wants, Richards has curated an album that cherry-picks from his favourite things, all brought together in a delicious gumbo.

Keith Richards, Main Offender album cover
Keith Richards, Main Offender.

Opener 999 is a great slicing of driving bluesy rock ‘n’ roll with dirt under its fingernails, sweat in its collar and a soulful heart, the whole making it impossible to not crack a wide smile. Wicked As It Seems comes on full of shameless self-confidence, snake-hipped, whisky soaked and shimmying across a barroom floor with a Budweiser in hand. Sprightly rocker Eileen follows, its upbeat feel laced through with a hint of melancholy.

With the flick of a switch, any trace of a dark cloud is banished with the Summery sunshine of Words Of Wonder, its chilled reggae as welcome as an ice-cold Red Stripe and some shade on a hot day. The rhythm section of Steve Jordan on the drums and the bass of Charley Drayton give the perfect groove.

The equally laid back Yap Yap gently strolls into the same territory that Dire Straits made their own at their most relaxed, the country-tinged sounds and tasteful licks from Richards’s faithful guitar oozing quality.

The Stonesy rock of Bodytalks features some scintillating vocals by Sarah Dash. Hate It When You Leave has a definite ’50s feel in its swaying soul, Keef’s terrific vocals arguably the best they’ve ever been. From the cool and easy Runnin’ Too Deep to the barely controlled rock ‘n’ roll fire and swagger of Will But You Won’t, the band continue to lay down the perfect party soundtrack, the album exciting as much as it entertains.

Mention must be made too of guitarist Waddy Watchel and keys player Ivan Neville who, along with backing vocalists Babi Floyd and Bernard Fowler, add their own distinctive flavours to the mix.

Closing with the shimmering Delta heat of the upbeat Demon, this release stands as a testament to the power of songwriting and, thankfully, the production eschews some of the tropes prevalent at the time of its recording.

Like the man himself, the whole thing is seemingly timeless, and Main Offender is certainly something worth dipping into. Repeated listenings as a whole leave no hint of it quickly sounding jaded.

The extra draw with this anniversary edition is a live set, Winos Live In London ’92, showing the band at their fiery best. A visceral shot of quality rock ‘n’ roll, the set features material from this album and the previous solo release Talk Is Cheap. Also thrown in is a hat-trick of Stones songs in the form of Before They Make Me Run, Happy and a particularly volcanic Gimme Shelter.

With both a two-disc CD and LP versions and an expansive box set featuring an eighty-eight-page leather-bound book, this makes an essential set, not just for Stones completists.

It seems like Keef has always been with us, and with material this good, the eternal rocker always will be. Keith Richards IS Mr Rock ‘n’ Roll, and long may he reign.

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