Keith Richards: Talk Is Cheap (30th Anniversary) album review

Rolling Stone Keith Richards' 1988 solo debut gets major expansion job – in real Fender wood!

Keith Richards - Talk Is Cheap

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Like Paul Hogan goading wannabe muggers in Crocodile Dundee as he unsheathed a whopping blade (“That’s a knife? This is a knife”), there were no half-measures when Keith Richards retaliated to Jagger derailing the Rolling Stones in favour of his ill-advised solo career 30 years ago. Reluctantly at first, Richards formed a band that rocked and made what was hailed as the best Stones album in years. 

The civil war between the two Stones flared in 1983 after Jagger sneaked solo opportunities into the band's new CBS mega-deal and released MTV-geared She's The Boss. This soured recording of Dirty Work, but touring behind his album with another band (playing Stones classics) ignited Keith's own offensive.

He had always resisted solo albums, but, not for the first time, Chuck Berry (unwittingly) came to the rescue when Richards was commissioned to form a band for the film Hail! Hail! Rock And Roll. Confidence boosted, he got a deal with Virgin, called top session drummer comrade Steve Jordan and formed the Xpensive Winos. 

Like a polar opposite to Jagger’s synthesised clatter, Talk Is Cheap brimmed with humble soul and rolled like a train, with Keith in fine voice. Studded with loose, joyous rockers (Take It So Hard, How I Wish, the Jagger-directed You Don’t Move Me) and gorgeous ballads (Make No Mistake, Locked Away burnished in authentic Memphis soul), it sold a million and ignited Keith’s solo career, while precipitating the Stones’ return. 

The reissue gets the works. Seven hundred bucks snarfs the signed incarnation in a box crafted by Fender from the same wood as Keith’s trusty Telecaster (unsigned is less). The deluxe presents the album on vinyl and CD, same formats as previously unreleased extras, two 45s, 80-page hardback book, posters, laminate, lyric sheets and guitar pick. 

The bonus tracks make a worthy addendum to a scorching set: sprightly covers of Jimmy Reed’s My Babe and Eddie Taylor’s Big Town Playboy, a skeletal demo of Mark On Me and three instrumentals; Brute Force’s pressure-cooker hoodoo is joined by two scintillating blues jams with the late Johnnie Johnston, Chuck Berry’s pianist and previously uncredited collaborator who became Keith’s late-life rediscovery mission. 

Like the best Stones songs, there’s never any dating Keith’s immortal spirit, and Talk Is Cheap holds its head high as it relentlessly reaffirms that that was indeed some knife.

Buy it from Amazon.

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!