Disc Review: An echo of their heyday

The songs on the newest 'Rolling Stones' album do not live up to the reviews.

October 11, 2005 18:08
3 minute read.
rolling stones 88

rolling stones 88. (photo credit: )


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It seems like every time The Rolling Stones release a new album which granted doesn't take place all that often the reviews all proclaim it's the best Stones efforts since… fill in the blank Tattoo You, Steel Wheels, Exile on Main Street. Such hyperbole has greeted A Bigger Bang, the Stones' first studio release since 1997's very ordinary Bridges to Babylon. Unfortunately, although there's much to like here, the hype doesn't quite match the reality What A Bigger Bang can rightfully claim to be is the best-sounding Stones record in a very long time. Gone for the most part are the attempts to dress up the aging rockers like young sonic turks with a polished sheen. Thanks to the sympathetic production of Don Was, the band sounds like the Stones ought to bare, pulsing, and unadorned. The guitars now a three pronged attack with Mick Jagger contributing on nearly every track alongside Keith Richards and Ron Wood sound vital and raw. Vocally, Jagger has never been in finer form, reaching the high sweet notes on the country-tinged songs with ease and never overreaching or straining on the rockers. So what's wrong? The songs. With a couple exceptions, they're just not cooked properly. The fast, uptempo numbers propelled by Charlie Watts' still steady beat sound rushed and forced, like empty attempts to relive past glories. The form is there on songs like the single “Rough Justice” and the manic “Driving Too Fast” but the content is lacking. According to interviews with the principals, the songs on Bigger Bang originated from a true collaboration between Jagger and Richards hearkening back to their days in the mid-60s of sitting in hotel rooms together composing off each other. However, that close contact produced hit or miss results ranging from the trite and undercooked garage rock of “She Saw Me Coming” and “Dangerous Beauty”, to the pleasant but sterile-sounding power ballad “Streets of Love”, a clich from the get go which sounds like an Aerosmith soundtrack weeper gone awry. The band sounds more comfortable - and age-appropriate - on the mid-tempo material like “Let Me Down Slow” and “Biggest Mistake”, and the gutbucket acoustic blues stomp of “Back of My Hand,” which really does recall the Delta grooves of Exile. Most of the media attention has gone to the sassy “Sweet Neo Con”, due to its perceived attack on President George W. Bush. But aside from proving that the Stones can still play the “bad boy” role well into their 60s, the song has very little to offer musically. And forget about Richards' obligatory lead vocal turns. With each Stones album, his offerings get more obtuse and self parodying, and in this case the jazzy ballad “This Place is Empty” and the pointless album closer “Infamy” prove he's as frazzled as his hairstyle. So what we're left with is another spotty Rolling Stones album a valiant attempt well played and well sung, but a faint echo of their heyday. On their current world tour (which may or may not land on these shores next year), the band has been wise enough to only play three or four songs from A Bigger Bang. They know the crowds want to hear the classics, and unfortunately there's not any to be found here.

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