At least Driving Rain, Paul McCartney's first album of new songs in four years, has a reason for being. The ex-Beatle, 59, lost his wife, Linda, to cancer in 1998, and earlier this year he got engaged to former fashion model Heather Mills. Theoretically, at least, McCartney has something to sing about.
That is more than can be said for Mick Jagger. Goddess in the Doorway, the Rolling Stones mouthpiece's fourth solo album, released Tuesday, exists because - well, because the Stones aren't doing anything just now (though there's talk of a 40th-anniversary tour next year), and the 58-year-old satyr just can't sit still.
(For the record, neither of these Brit businessmen needs to work: According to the Times of London, back-catalog holdings brought in $30 million last year for McCartney, half that for Jagger.)
In Rock Til You Drop, John Strausbaugh argues that once they reach a certain age, classic rockers who've lost their usefulness should, in essence, be sent to the glue factory.
But what of Neil Young, not to mention Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, winners of this season's geezers-going-strong award? A first listen to Jagger's less-than-divine Goddess (Virgin) suggests Strausbaugh might have a point.
To his credit, Jagger knows that without Keith Richards, he needs help. What's depressing about Goddess is that it follows the Carlos Santana Supernatural strategy, down to collaborating with Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 (who sang the Santana hit "Smooth") on three songs, including the utter hackwork of the lead track, "Vision of Paradise."
Star collaborators abound. Bono sings along on the U2-ish gospel-rock exhortation "Joy." Wyclef Jean provides the global go-go on "Hideaway." And Lenny Kravitz serves up modern-rock crunch on "God Gave Me Everything I Want." (And still, Mick wants more.)
Jagger is a pro, and Goddess reveals itself as not nearly as awful as it at first seems. He put himself out to deliver this product. Each track feels carefully worked-over - note the studied growl in "Lucky Day" or the careful show of vulnerability in "Brand New Set of Rules."
The album has its moments: "Too Far Gone" would have been a highlight on any Stones album of the last 20 years. But Goddess never runs the risk of seeming the slightest bit human.
By contrast, Driving Rain (Capitol, released earlier this month) is rough and loose in all the right places. Me, I'm a Lennon guy, and I was reminded of the visionary Beatle's genius yet again as McCartney, left to his own devices, was unable to come up with a better lyric than "1-2-3-4-5, let's go for a drive/ 6-7-8-9-10, let's go there and back again." Is Bernie Taupin available? Elvis Costello? Somebody?
But never mind the scrambled eggs; it's not about the lyrics anyway. The important thing is that while Sir Paul careers from down-in-the-dumps to over-the-moon (sample titles: "Lonely Road," "Back in the Sunshine Again"), his gift for melody remains formidable. He's also a wonderful bassist, and producer David Kahne has wisely kept to the spirit of 1999's rockabilly cover album Run Devil Run by teaming him up with a small combo of little-knowns and just letting them play.
The results may fall short of the planet-aligning miracle described in the insipid "It Must Have Been Magic," but are not without their warmly inventive charms.
The newly energized McCartney bellows as if it were Abbey Road all over again, and even such minuscule trifles as "Tiny Bubble" are pleasantly diverting if you don't pay attention to the words.
Silly love songs, to be sure: But as Sir Paul himself once observed, the world apparently hasn't had enough of those.