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A Stone Alone

Mick Jagger's mixed bag of an album is his most forward-looking work in years; Paul McCartney sticks with what he knows -- and does -- best.

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Always a Goddess: On his new solo album, Jagger is in his element - and several others as well.  

I always hate nostalgia / living in the past, Mick Jagger moans at the beginning of "Too Far Gone," a sentimental ballad on his new solo album, Goddess in the Doorway. "No use getting misty-eyed / It all screamed by so fast." It might sound like a bit much coming from a 58-year-old who makes a living celebrating his youth in front of thousands, but as a solo artist Jagger has gone to great lengths to show time is on his side: He's recorded with Bill Laswell, collaborated with Dave Stewart, and even invited Flea to play on Wandering Spirit. Perhaps Jagger, without Keith Richards in the role of hellhound on his trail, is freed from his audience's expectation of how a Rolling Stones album should sound. Or maybe Richards just wouldn't put up with such nonsense.

Unlike Jagger's past solo efforts, however, Goddess works precisely because of the modern musical touches Keith might dismiss as bollocks, from the pulsing electronic rhythms of "Gun" to the Caribbean flair of the Wyclef Jean-produced "Hide Away." On "Joy" and the title track, Jagger and Matt Clifford (one of several producers) update the decadent dance rhythms the Stones experimented with in the late seventies and then abandoned to go back to blues rock. Even if it's not quite the departure it was rumored to be -- Jagger's planned collaboration with Missy Elliott didn't make the album -- Goddess is the only forward-looking project by a Rolling Stone since the band flirted with disco on "Miss You."

The tracks that remain rooted in rock also make a case for Jagger as a solo artist as opposed to merely a front man between megatours. "God Gave Me Everything," a duet with Lenny Kravitz, is about a horny old rocker who finally realizes that he really can always get what he wants but isn't afraid to share, and the country-flavored "Too Far Gone" reveals a glimpse of Jagger "lost in starry dreams / And now watch my children / Just downloading them to screens." He knows pop culture is passing him by. But for the first time in a while, he's not content to simply stand there and ogle.

While Jagger searched the globe for fresh sounds -- writing in the south of France, recording in the Caribbean, composing with Kravitz in Miami -- his peer Paul McCartney simply stepped into a studio with a band he had never met before. At the very least, Driving Rain proves that inspiration can be found closer to home. McCartney has never been the most ambitious Beatle -- no primal-scream therapy for him, thanks so much -- and recently, his simplest work has been his best. His classical "Liverpool Oratorio" project didn't exactly make Beethoven roll over, but on Run Devil Run, his 1999 album of stripped-down early-rock covers, he reconnected with the music he grew up on. And while "From a Lover to a Friend" is sappy even by the standards of some of his silly love songs, much of Driving Rain has that same loose-limbed energy.

Garth Brooks drove country music's pickup-truck populism off the back roads and into the suburbs, replacing the genre's traditional specificity of place with an information-age emotional sprawl. Now, four years after the Central Park appearance that put him in front of so many city folks and two years after the "Chris Gaines" rock project that confused every single last one of them, the Cat in the Hat is back with Scarecrow, which he says will be his final album. (Having broken just about every sales record, Brooks now seems bent on selling more albums than the Beatles and milking his announced retirement more than the Who.)

Scarecrow is restrained by Brooks's standards, which means it's closer to the seventies AM of James Taylor than Bob Seger. As always, Brooks crosses boundaries: "Mr. Midnight" is a power ballad for a lost highway, and the closest thing to a purist move is "Beer Run," a good-times anthem with a guest vocal from George Jones and an attitude that could have been borrowed from George Thorogood. The one song here that could sum up Brooks's entire career is "Squeeze Me In," on which he and Trisha Yearwood trade verses about not spending enough quality time together. "I've been faxing you love notes all day long," Yearwood pouts, a coal-miner's daughter lost in Larchmont, "but you don't ever fax me back." Couldn't she just page him?


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