SuperHeavy needs an acronym. A complete secret until earlier this summer, the supergroup has the air of a mysterious international spy organization, like U.N.C.L.E. or C.O.N.T.R.O.L., with agents from around the world representing different musical styles and boasting different sets of skills. Joss Stone is the neo-soul singer, sort of like Agent 99; A.R. Rahman, the master of disguise; producer Dave Stewart is the brains; Damien “Gong” Marley the explosives expert; and Mick Jagger is, well, Mick Jagger.
All it takes, however, is one spin of the group’s debut to realize that SuperHeavy aren’t James Bond, suavely saving the world. Instead, they’re the bad guys, bent on world domination, and their self-titled debut sounds like a recruiting video for SPECTRE: it’s as hammy as Donald Pleasence and equally devoted to a goofily grandiose mission of sapping all the joy out of the world’s music.
Their strategy is to mash up Western rock, Jamaican reggae, and Eastern soundtracks into something new and modern. In theory, it’s an intriguing idea, in that popular music throughout the world has developed and evolved primarily through the exchange of ideas from one culture to another. In practice, however, the synthesis proves awkward and half-hearted to capture any moment of creative or collaborative zeal.
These are top-heavy songs on a crowded stage, as each member struggles to hold the spotlight. Stone wails anonymously, Stewart keeps to the shadows, and Rahman gets only one song, the generically uplifting “Satyameva Jayate,” which lacks the snap of his Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. Jagger bleats “One Day One Night” and “I Don’t Mind” almost like he’s willfully and eagerly embracing self-parody.
The only member who doesn’t faceplant is Marley, who delivers his toasts and raps with an elastic flow that sharpens the otherwise floppy “Beautiful People” and “Miracle Worker.” While his bandmates trip over reggae and world music rhythms, Marley rides them effortlessly. Still, he had more chemistry with Nas on last year’s Distant Relatives than he does with anyone here.
Ultimately, none of these agents truly accomplishes his stated mission. Rather than synthesizing these various styles, they sound like they’re working at cross-purposes, with every component so errantly fitted with the rest that SuperHeavy sounds schizophrenic. That may ultimately be the fault of producer Stewart, who makes every moment sound labored over instead of spontaneous, slick instead of soulful. If SuperHeavy does indeed have a mastermind, then he has double-crossed his own agents and turned them against each other.