Wicked As It Seems: Keith Richards’ Main Offender at 30

Looking back at the Rolling Stones guitarist’s second solo album

Keith Richards Main Offender Tour 92 (Image: Pinterest)

The love-hate relationship between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards is, of course, an essential part of Rolling Stones lore.

Having known each other since their teen years, the two led the Stones through triumph, tragedy, venom and victory, and yet still mangled to come together to make music as the Rolling Stones.

Richards’ loyalty to his band rarely tempted him to step outside their realms, even when Jagger pursued his own side career as an actor and jet-setting solo superstar. He finally — if somewhat reluctantly — struck out on his own in 1988, releasing his debut solo album Talk Is Cheap when it seemed like his riff with Jagger was in fact put the Stones’ future in jeopardy. The album was well-received and seemed to suggest a follow-up would been the offing.

Keith Richards Main Offender, Virgin Records 1992

Nevertheless, he held off, and when the Stones got rolling once again, Richards gave into temptation and opted to release a sophomore set four years later, the tellingly-titled Main Offender. It wasn’t that he was bored — the Stones were responsible for two critically acclaimed albums around the same time, Steel Wheels and Voodoo Lounge, but he was clearly anxious to work with other musicians outside the Stones’ sphere.

Consequently, he gathered a group of like-minded players later dubbed The X-Pensive Winos —  drummer, producer, and continuing collaborator Steve Jordan, guitarist and co-producer Waddy Wachtel, bassist and occasional keyboardist Charley Drayton, piano, organ, clavinet and harpsichord player Ivan Neville, and backing vocalists Bernard Fowler and Sarah Dash, both of whom served similar roles with the Stones — and they, in turn, served the riff-ready songs ably, maintaining the generally off-the-cuff attitude that was ultimately Richards’ stock in trade.

While the album garnered generally favorable reviews when it was released on October 19, 1992, its songs were nothing out of the ordinary. Richards’ prowess as a lead singer was certainly passable by this time, a decided improvement over the plaintive wail that characterized his singing with the Stones. Yet songs such as “999,” “Wicked As It Seems,” “Runnin’ Too Deep,” “Will But You Won’t,”“Eileen,” and “Bodytalks” amounted to little more than a steady strut and an opportunity for Richards to let his attitude temper his approach. All reliable rockers, few stood up to the standards set by the Stones themselves. 

 

VIDEO: Keith Richards “Eileen”

Then again, Richards’ nickname “The Human Riff” didn’t come about by accident. Consequently, his straight ahead approach served its purpose, even if it was little more than an excuse for Richards to simply to strut his stuff. “Words of Wonder” indulged his love of reggae, while “Yap Yap,” “Demon” and “Hate It When You Leave” slowed the pace for the songs that could be considered ballads, at least by Keef’s standards. Overall however, the ten songs showed little change of tone from one song to another, thanks to the plodding pacing and generally unassuming production approach. One might imagine that most originated as jams and then progressed from there. 

Richards wouldn’t release another solo studio album until Crosseyed Heart in 2015, but by then it was clear that for all his notoriety, Richards’ role in the Stones would always be the thing he’d hang his heart on. With the passing of Charlie Watts, and only Richards, Jagger and “new guy” Ronnie Wood carrying the band’s banner, there’s really no reason for him to do anything otherwise. 

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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