In Ian McLagan’s autobiography All the Rage, he infamously admitted that during the ‘60s he’d “shag anything with a pulse”. So it’s no big surprise that the opening track “All I Want to Do” concerns doing the wild thing. After all, the British expatriate was inducted of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the term rock ‘n’ roll began as a euphemism for having sexual intercourse. The former member of such seminal bands as the Small Faces, the Faces, and the Rolling Stones, understands that sex and rock go together like bourbon and branch water, but alas, that seems true only intellectually now. “All I Want to Do” is the liveliest tune on his new album United States and even that one shambles more than shakes. This and the other tunes move to a middling beat. Make no mistake about it, this is geezer rock.
That doesn’t mean United States does not provide listening enjoyment. McLagan has a pleasantly conversational voice. He’s a tasteful keyboard player. While he may not rock out, there’s a nice sashaying quality to the music. It’s just that one expects more from the guy who helped make the Faces’ A Nod is as Good as a Wink…to a Blind Horse one of the wildest hard rock classics of the early ‘70s, a difficult feat considering the competition. But as the ex-Faces’ vocalist Rod Stewart has gone on to make the dullest records of his career mining the Great American Songbook, perhaps we should be grateful that United States has as many charms as it does.
The best songs, such as “Mean Old World”, seem to have a sneer behind the smiles. McLagan sings lines like “I don’t like you”, pauses, and then continues with “hanging around him”. The silence between the phrases implies the truth of the first statement and then clearly states the reason. His spiteful attitude works in contrast to the somewhat congenial mostly solo piano accompaniment playing behind the words. Turning the melody of what should be a likeable love song into a nasty amusement adds weight to the sentiment.
The happier tunes, such as “Shalalala” work in the opposite way. The gospel inflections suggest suffering, but the song concerns his spirit being lifted. It’s less effective because McLagan doesn’t really sound as celebratory as the words suggest he should be. It comes off as filler. He plays a little, lets the Bump Band members take some solos and sing a little back up, and ho hum. The laziness drags down the momentum. The songs title itself reveals he can’t even think up proper language for the feeling—a Freudian moment perhaps.
Not that McLagan saying something is always important. On the acerbic “Don’t Say Nothing”, he poignantly notes that those who have nothing good to say are better off not talking at all. Of course, sex doesn’t need words, but McLagan seems intent on spelling it out on tracks such as “Who Says it Ain’t Love”. The cut is kinda creepy as he gets the girl he wants liquored up and dancing for him so he can get it on. Hey Ian, it ain’t love.
By the way, the album’s title is not about America, McLagan’s homeland for many years now. He says the 10 songs have to do with relationships. Um, maybe we should have a drink first and see if it makes more sense inebriated because the title doesn’t seem relevant sober.