Empirically speaking, supergroups have never been particularly successful, either critically or commercially (The Travelling Wilburys and Velvet Revolver notwithstanding). So when Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart put together a band of successful and diverse musicians (Joss Stone, Damien Marley and our very own AR Rahman) and called the band SuperHeavy, one hoped that the band would not collapse under the weight of expectation.
This band does manage to do alright, putting together an eclectic bunch of tunes, which as a genre can only be termed as ‘indo-reggae-rock’. That said, their debut record never truly manages to soar, seemingly tied down by commercial interests, with the superstar band members getting too self-conscious about their respective musical heritages.
The band apparently recorded 29 hours of music and then whittled the album down to 12 songs. Not all of them are album worthy though, with ‘Energy’ sounding like something U2 got bored with and passed on to Jagger and Co to play around with (and Jagger makes it worse by rapping on it, believe it or not), and ‘Unbelievable’ being anything but. Jagger however redeems himself as he leads the vocal efforts with the rasping ‘I can’t take it anymore’ (a track the Stones would have been proud of) and ‘I don’t mind’, an atmospheric duet with Joss Stone. Reggae scion Damien Marley shows his pedigree, in most of the tracks he lends his voice to, with the languid ‘Rock me gently’ and pulsating album opener ‘Superheavy’, being standouts.
And how does us our Mozart of Madras do, you ask? He largely mumbles through his vocal duties on the album, and comes across as a bit awkward, but it’s his desi string arrangements which, when backed by Stewart’s synth sounds and Marley’s Jamaican beats and vocals, produce some of the album’s best moments. This is abundantly clear on the peppy ‘Satyameva Jayate’, if you can forgive Jagger’s singing in Sanskrit as an act of excessive cross-cultural exuberance.
The band should get ample radio time with the airwave friendly raggae-pop ‘Miracle Worker’, but otherwise they could have done better than to try too hard. At times the sound comes across as too orchestrated, with the producer going, “hmm, ok, we’ve had some rap, here’s some soul, and now we’ll have some of that Bollywood stuff”.
The lineup is as culturally varied as you can get, the talent is grade A, (barring Joss Stone’s sometimes one dimensional crooning), but the result in the end is at best middling. The record does hold some novelty value, but I fear that will quickly wear off on repeated hearing. And this is why this band should definitely come up with another album. To spend more time together, to get more comfortable with each other’s styles and to express themselves more freely. Now that would be super heavy.