In 1969, Mick Jagger called Jann Wenner, editor-in-chief of Rolling Stone magazine, with a business proposition: Jagger would put up the money for a British version of the magazine, if Wenner would oversee its operations. Wenner took him up on the offer, but after a few months, it proved to be such a financial and journalistic disaster that he had to pull the plug on it. At that point, he wrote a long letter to Jagger, explaining the move, and nervously expressing the hope that their relationship would not suffer in the future.
Wenner needn't have worried. In the 32 years since their magazine venture folded, Wenner has gone out of his way to make amends by repeatedly kissing Jagger's ass in the pages of Rolling Stone. Despite some serious artistic troughs for both Mick and the Rolling Stones, every new release is greeted in Wenner's magazine with the same hosannas: "Best since Exile on Main Street," "Best since Some Girls," "Best since Mozart's 40th" (okay, so I made that one up). It's been a running industry puzzle: How can every new Stones/Jagger record be a shocking comeback, if the one before it was also supposed to be a masterpiece?
When the cover of Rolling Stone recently teased a five-star review inside the magazine for Jagger's fourth, and latest, solo album, there could be no doubt that the record review was written by Wenner himself. Wenner doesn't write many reviews these days, and thank God for that. By all accounts, he stopped listening to any new music more than 25 years ago (except for new albums by the Stones and Bob Dylan). The one time he did connect with a '90s band, Hootie and the Blowfish, he embarrassed the magazine by killing a negative review of their sophomore album and firing his music editor.
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So Wenner is an out-of-touch, shameless starfucker, with some conflict-of-interest issues -- but, hey, that qualifies as a sparkling résumé in the rock biz. The big problem is that he's taken Jagger's mediocre, journeyman new effort and made it look like the album of the decade (aside from Jagger, when does Rolling Stone ever give an album five stars these days?). He lauds the record for its exciting "modern-rock" grooves, as if he even knows what a modern-rock groove is. If it means collaborating with a hack like Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas (as Jagger does on the cheeseball weeper "Visions of Paradise"), then Wenner's right on the money.
Of course, it's not Jagger's fault that Rolling Stone's turned the hype machine on full blast, but the wild exaggerations of Wenner's gush-fest only make the album look more flimsy. For all the talk that this is Jagger's big confessional record, it feels more like professional product, like a continuation of the rote, middle-age rock that the Stones cranked out on Voodoo Lounge and Bridges to Babylon. Although he's had some inspired sans-Keith moments over the years ("Moonlight Mile," "Brown Sugar"), Jagger is just not musically creative enough to sustain a record on his own. His melodies tend to be dull, and his song structures and chord sequences are painfully predictable. Keith Richards may have grown overly reliant on riffs in lieu of real songs, but on this album you find yourself longing for a big riff to relieve some of the boredom.
Though he sings here as well as he ever has, Jagger's voice has never really conveyed sincerity or vulnerability all that well (now, contempt and sardonicism, he's got down cold). And his lyrics are so by-the-numbers these days that this album's breakup lament "Don't Call Me Up" practically steals the title of the one on the last album (1993's Wandering Spirit): "Don't Tear Me Up." I'm sure Mick feels really bad about being a philandering creep and all, but when he sings stuff like "I will be kind/Won't be so cruel/I will be sweet" ("Brand New Set of Rules"), you figure it's just a new line to separate Brazilian supermodels from their lingerie.
As with his previous solo discs, Goddess in the Doorway is too carefully crafted and well-played to be a complete bomb. The first single, "God Gave Me Everything," is a sizzling rocker, even if it shows more of co-writer Lenny Kravitz's fingerprints than Jagger's. The reggae-inflected funk of "Hideaway" (co-produced by Wyclef Jean) is beautiful and convincing, and "Lucky Day" is a light but bouncy R&B tune that shows some hint of melodic spark. But these are the exceptions on a record crammed with tired ideas. Jann Wenner may be an enthusiastic PR man for Mick, but, unfortunately, he can't write good songs for him.