One of the great love stories of the rock era came to a sad end in August 2006, when Kim McLagan – beloved wife, best friend and muse to ex-Small Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan – died in a car accident in Texas. That’s a blow you wouldn’t wish on anyone, but especially the impish McLagan, one of the most charming pub-rock raconteurs in the game. Never Say Never is his response, and it’s to McLagan’s credit that it plays more like a raucous wake than a mopey funeral.
It helps that at least some of the album is outer-directed. “A Little Black Number” might be the closest thing this good-times ambassador has ever written to a protest song, evoking the hardship of enforced wartime separations: “He’s in a picture on a table by the bed/Across the ocean, but he’s always in her head.” And “I’m Hot, You’re Cool” is some fun role-playing, tough-guy posturing set astride a pumping boogie-woogie piano riff and a killer bar-band groove. Here and elsewhere, McLagan’s Bump Band shines, especially guitarist Scrappy Jud Newcomb.
Still, the songs most directly about Kim make up the heart of the album. “Killing Me With Love”, a goofy devotional song McLagan wrote before her death, is almost painful to hear now – not unlike listening to those Double Fantasy love songs after John Lennon’s murder. Most affecting of all are the record’s bookends, starting with the title track. McLagan ruminates about unexpectedly seeing Kim (or her ghost), but she’s always just out of reach.
Nine songs later, “When The Crying Is Over” closes Never Say Never on a stately note, with gospel-styled piano. McLagan laments his love’s absence but vows, “We’ll be together again,” someday on that other shore. Then at the peak of the song, he puts aside the piano to stab in with a churchy keyboard solo that sounds like a dam bursting, and it’s waterworks time.
It is catharsis well-earned.
Ian McLagan interview on Nashville’s WRLT, 3-2-09