Eight years separate 2005’s A Bigger Bang, the Rolling Stones’ 24th album of original material, from its 1997 predecessor, Bridges to Babylon, the longest stretch of time between Stones albums in history, but unlike the three-year gap between 1986’s Dirty Work and 1989’s Steel Wheels, the band never really went away. They toured steadily, not just behind Bridges but behind the career-spanning 2002 compilation Forty Licks, and the steady activity paid off nicely, as the 2004 concert souvenir album Live Licks proved.
The tight, sleek, muscular band showcased there was a surprise — they played with a strength and swagger they hadn’t had in years — but a bigger surprise is that A Bigger Bang finds that reinvigorated band carrying its latter-day renaissance into the studio, turning in a sinewy, confident, satisfying album that’s the band’s best in years. Of course, every Stones album since their highly touted, self-conscious 1989 comeback, Steel Wheels, has been designed to get this kind of positive press, to get reviewers to haul out the cliché that this is their “best record since Exile on Main St.” (Mick Jagger is so conscious of this, he deliberately compared Bigger Bang to Exile in all pre-release publicity and press, even if the scope and feel of Bang is very different from that 1972 classic), so it’s hard not to take any praise with a grain of salt, but there is a big difference between this album and 1994’s Voodoo Lounge.
That album was deliberately classicist, touching on all of the signatures of classic mid-period, late-’60s/early-’70s Stones — reviving the folk, country, and straight blues that balanced their trademark rockers — and while it was often successful, it very much sounded like the Stones trying to be the Stones. What distinguishes A Bigger Bang is that it captures the Stones simply being the Stones, playing without guest stars, not trying to have a hit, not trying to adopt the production style of the day, not doing anything but lying back and playing.
Far from sounding like a lazy affair, the album rocks really hard, tearing out of the gate with “Rough Justice,” the toughest, sleaziest, and flat-out best song Jagger and Richards have come up with in years. It’s not a red herring, either — “She Saw Me Coming,” “Look What the Cat Dragged In,” and the terrific “Oh No Not You Again,” which finds Mick spitting out lyrics with venom and zeal, are equally as hard and exciting, but the album isn’t simply a collection of rockers. The band delves into straight blues with “Back of My Hand,” turns toward pop with “Let Me Down Slow,” rides a disco groove reminiscent of “Emotional Rescue” on “Rain Fall Down,” and has a number of ballads, highlighted by “Streets of Love” and Keith’s late-night barroom anthem “This Place Is Empty,” that benefit greatly from the stripped-down, uncluttered production by Don Was and the Glimmer Twins.
Throughout the album, the interplay of the band is at the forefront, which is one of the reasons the record is so consistent: even the songs that drift toward the generic are redeemed by the sound of the greatest rock & roll band ever playing at a latter-day peak. And, make no mistake about it, the Stones sound better as a band than they have in years: there’s an ease and assurance to their performances that are a joy to hear, whether they’re settling into a soulful groove or rocking harder than any group of 60-year-olds should.
But A Bigger Bang doesn’t succeed simply because the Stones are great musicians, it also works because this is a strong set of Jagger-Richards originals — naturally, the songs don’t rival their standards from the ’60s and ’70s, but the best songs here more than hold their own with the best of their post-Exile work, and there are more good songs here than on any Stones album since Some Girls.
This may not be a startling comeback along the lines of Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft, but that’s fine, because over the last three decades the Stones haven’t been about surprises: they’ve been about reliability. The problem is, they haven’t always lived up to their promises, or when they did deliver the goods, it was sporadic and unpredictable. And that’s what’s unexpected about A Bigger Bang: they finally hold up their end of the bargain, delivering a strong, engaging, cohesive Rolling Stones album that finds everybody in prime form. Keith is loose and limber, Charlie is tight and controlled, Ronnie lays down some thrilling, greasy slide guitar, and Mick is having a grand time, making dirty jokes, baiting neo-cons, and sounding more committed to the Stones than he has in years.
Best of all, this is a record where the band acknowledges its age and doesn’t make a big deal about it: they’re not in denial, trying to act like a younger band, they’ve simply accepted what they do best and go about doing it as if it’s no big deal. But that’s what makes A Bigger Bang a big deal: it’s the Stones back in fighting form for the first time in years, and they have both the strength and the stamina to make the excellent latter-day effort everybody’s been waiting for all these years.
The Rolling Stones’ endurance is a gift and a curse. Some people hold up their dogged fidelity to their tried-and-tested routine as the perfect design for living to anybody who wants a career past the regulation four albums. And for others, the fact that The Rolling Stones are able to get away with their same tried-and-tested routine in the year 2005 is held up as evidence that human progress has somehow been stunted. These people reckon that if John Lennon had survived, he’d be making techno records by now, which is tosh.
The Stones have clearly faced a similar internal debate, with Keef having won the battle for the soul of the Stones against Jagger’s ill-advised experiments with new-fangled dance producers. ‘Bridges To Babylon’ studio bods The Dust Brothers and Danny Saber have thus been binned in favour of Grammy-endorsed bigwig Don Was. Face it, you don’t want progress from the Stones, and in the eight years since their last proper record, a new generation of rockers have reconnected with the moves they created. Why wouldn’t the Stones do the same?
This is an old-fashioned Rolling Stones rock’n’blues record which suggests their history without ever going to the dangerous extremes of old. Indeed, the most successful tune is ‘Biggest Mistake’, an AOR ballad so inoffensive it may as well be by Sheryl Crow. They’ve created a gleaming simulacrum of something that never existed: it pulls off the Jagger preen and the Richards guitar wail, but erases any real danger that might alienate a fanbase the same age as the band. A topical swipe at George Bush on ‘Sweet Neo Con’ and some cheeky slap and tickle (“bare your breasts and make me feel at home!”, slurs Keef on ‘This Place Is Empty’) are allowed, but for the most part it’s overwhelmingly tasteful. But gosh, it has its moments. Opener ‘Rough Justice’is a wipe-clean rewrite of, say, ‘Brown Sugar’. In a dark alley, smoky single ‘Streets Of Love’ could be mistaken for ‘Wild Horses’, and ‘Back Of My Hand’ reanimates the oldest blues chords on earth to staggering effect. Plus, Keef croaks on two tracks, ‘This Place Is Empty’ and ‘Infamy’, playing his grizzled ‘vocals’ for laughs.
So ‘A Bigger Bang’ is no masterpiece. As a loss leader to allow them to continue touring, it’s not even as good as‘Don’t Believe The Truth’. But it’s the best record they were going to make, and a world with the Stones is better than one without them.
But still, how do the Stones get away with acting so youthful? The nubile women; the black magic imagery; the Hell’s Angels at Altamont; the refusal to accept their advancing years… they may yet reveal themselves as vampires, struggling with the gift and the curse of immortality. Lying about your age is expected – what’s a few million years between friends?
Let’s just get this out of the way: A Bigger Bang isn’t a good Rolling Stones album considering their age. It isn’t a good Rolling Stones album compared to their recent work. No, A Bigger Bang is just a straight-up, damn fine Rolling Stones album, with no qualifiers or apologies necessary for the first time in a few decades.
The sixteen songs on this disc, their first studio album in eight years, mark the closest collaboration between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in ages — they wrote many of them nose to nose on acoustic guitars while waiting for Charlie Watts to recover from treatment for throat cancer. Whether fueled by their notorious competitive camaraderie or inspired by their oldest mate’s brush with mortality, the results sound like a genuine band effort — loose, scrappy and alive. A Bigger Bang recalls the best things about rough, underrated Stones albums like Dirty Work or Emotional Rescue, though it’s also impressively consistent.
The key here comes from surrendering to the groove. Most of the tracks are built around the incomparable spark that’s lit when Keith’s guitar and Charlie’s drums lock into a rhythm. There’s never been another team that can drive a band quite like these two, but on their post-Seventies work that magic has usually been buried in the mix. On hard-charging songs like “It Won’t Take Long” or the rave-up single “Rough Justice,” the Stones reassert themselves as the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band, and not just as the Greatest Show on Earth.
Mick and Keith have always said they want to grow old like the bluesmen they idolize, and on Bang they finally figure out how: The album revels in the Chuck Berry boogie and classic R&B pulse that’s always been their lifeblood. The latter-day Glimmer Twins have often felt the need to coat their songs with layers of winking irony or studio gloss. Here, the dance-floor strut “Rain Fall Down” and the soul ballad “Laugh, I Nearly Died” are powerful because they’re played straight, never turning cartoonish or mannered.
Jagger’s voice throughout is a knockout, deeper and more forceful than seems possible after forty-plus years of rocking the mike. The subject matter on A Bigger Bang, though, is thankfully a bit less mature. The album mostly sticks to familiar, nasty Stones territory: being heartbroken and breaking hearts, the evils that women (and, sometimes, men) do. Maybe his palimony suit and much-publicized tabloid romances have given Mick some new fire — the women on these songs have “burglarized my soul,” “wipe the floor with me” and are “fucking up my life.” Not that our boy is much better himself, confessing that “I took her for granted/I played with her mind” and — leaving us to guess at the details — “I was awful bad.”
On “Dangerous Beauty,” we return to the S&M underworld, as previously featured on “When the Whip Comes Down.” The CNN-ready chart-buster “Sweet Neo Con” savages an unnamed born-again, war-happy politician with ties to Halliburton — a surprisingly direct attack from a band whose best-known political statements expressed the ambivalence of “Street Fighting Man” or “Salt of the Earth.” But Jagger works up more passion concentrating on what happens when “I see love/And I see misery/Jammin’ side by side.” The only unseemly moments come from these sexagenarians’ frequent usage of words like “cock,” “tits” and “booty.” (As for the line “Come on in/Bare your breasts” on the otherwise enchanting “This Place Is Empty” — um, Keith, ick.)
Of course a disc that clocks in at sixty-four minutes (just two minutes less than Exile on Main Street) is too long. In their defense, there isn’t a single track that’s a real lemon, though little would be lost if the perfunctory rocker “Look What the Cat Dragged In” was left for an iTunes exclusive. A Bigger Bang may not be a perception-shattering comeback like Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind/Love and Theft combo, but by returning to their roots and embracing their age, the Rolling Stones have come up with an album that’s a worthy successor to their masterworks. Jagger and Richards are still standing — grumpy old men, full of piss and vinegar, spite and blues chords, and they wear it well.
A Bigger Bang. Such a presumptuous title, but a little bit prophetic, because by now we have been told by critics a-plenty that this is easily their best since [insert anything beginning with 1972 and ending with 1981 here]. Well, perhaps they’re right and maybe they’re wrong, but to me it seems that I have long since lost the ability to arrange Stones’ albums, bar the three or four most obviously outstanding ones, on a well-gradated personal preference scale. Do I really care whether A Bigger Bang is an improvement over Bridges To Babylon or not? With twenty-five studio albums behind their backs and more than fourty years of playing experience, the Stones have effectively deprived me of those considerations.
That said, A Bigger Bang is definitely a major improvement over the last studio album to come out of the Stones camp, Mick Jagger’s Goddess In The Doorway. In fact, it’s so definitely and, I’d say, intentionally everything that album was not that I can’t get rid of weird mental images (such as Mick kowtowing before Keith, begging and imploring to be pardoned for a temporary descent into the Dark Side, and Keith doing a “may the Force be with you, son” kind of ritual). In any case, if you agree with a superficial understanding of Mr Jagger, Bang is a Keith Richards album all the way through. But on a deeper level, samsara and nirvana are in the end one and the same, and so are Mick and Keith. So it’s just a Stones album.
Hey, that phrase actually meant more than I intended. It is, indeed, JUST a Stones album. The kind of album that people who only know about the Stones based on a couple radio hits and maybe an occasional best-of collection would think the Stones have been releasing all their life. Big, brawny, rhythmic, aggressive barroom rock’n’roll. Experimentation is out the window, face down in the garbage bin. Even the instrumentation reaches some kind of ultimate minimalistic record; about half the songs do list “piano” or “keyboards” in the credits, but dammit, I can’t remember a single key-stroke – only the guitars. And Charlie’s drums, which seem to progressively get louder and louder as Charlie himself gets older and older.
Not only that, but the songs are also impossibly “generic” in mood, melody, and attitude. Misogyny, sarcasm, character assassination, sleazy soul, and a disarming tear-jerker from Keith; not a single off-putting psychedelic surprise or, perchance, a stab at an amusing bossa nova. You have heard all of this before – many times. So many times, in fact, that not one of these songs is a song you haven’t heard before. If you haven’t heard one of these songs before, it probably means that you haven’t heard a lot of Rolling Stones songs before, because the more Rolling Stones songs you’ve heard before, the more you realise there isn’t one song on here that you haven’t heard before. Of course, I’m not being literal when I say that you’ve heard all these songs before; I’m just saying that you’ve probably heard so many Rolling Stones songs before that not a single song on here can get you to state that you haven’t heard it before. And vice versa, of course.
What I was really trying to say before I got into this whirlpool of conscience was that A Bigger Bang offers no ready-made “classics”. It’s pretty hard for me to find anything that would fit well on a “career retrospective” collection. Unless, of course, Jagger eventually makes something on here take on an entirely different life onstage (like he did with ‘Out Of Control’), although recent reviews from the band’s live shows do not hint at anything like that. In this respect, A Bigger Bang is a hell of a bigger disappointment; not since Dirty Work have we seen an album so devoid of, er, let’s call it “major forms of expression”. Time may prove me wrong, of course, but for now, fuck time.
Or maybe don’t fuck time. You see, all of these guys are now in their sixties. Not even in their fifties. A decade and a half ago, the Stones gave the world a nice example of how to continue practicing rock’n’roll while acting their age; all the while, however, they were also spending loads of efforts in order to keep hip and cool, hooking up with newer generation producers and technologies, diversifying their creative approach and partying with Sheryl Crow. Now, when every Rolling Stones record really threatens to be their last, due to certain bureaucratic restrictions imposed on us by whatever supernatural powers there are, they probably think that as long as they keep on rocking – and that’s that – they have their point stated out loud, proud, and definite. They don’t need to take creative chances anymore. Being over 60 delivers them from that responsibility.
And I’ll say that they have every right to display that attitude. No instantly memorable hits? Well, as long as the songs aren’t awful, ain’t no big deal; they already got more hits tucked away in their pockets than any major respectable rock band could carry. No diversity in the arrangements? Well, as long as the playing is solid, who gives a damn; go look for diversity in their 60s albums instead. Can’t call the album a masterpiece? Well, is it even supposed to be one? (So apparently Jagger did compare it with Exile On Main St. in his interviews, but what he probably meant was a certain similarity in approach during the writing and recording process, not the standard “this one is just as good as that one” routine).
I don’t think my money’s on the songs anyway. This time, my money’s primarily on the sound. The record is awesomely produced. The guitars are crunchy and mean in an early Seventies kind of way, maybe even meaner than the Stones themselves in that period – more like early Alice Cooper, perhaps. (Okay, so maybe they are keeping it cool, after all, and all of this attitude is simply Jagger sniffing the right way again, what with all the neo-garage revivalism of the Strokes and the Stripes and all the other plural forms going round). Charlie’s drums, like I already mentioned, sound as if, after all these years, he’s finally shaken the last grains of sand out of their bottom. And Mick is Mick’s usual self, except that he is also seriously involved in the playing, contributing lots of guitar parts – and occasionally, even bass parts, if the record notes are to be believed.
There’s a very spontaneous atmosphere throughout; the emphasis is clearly on getting together and having a good time rather than contributing something self-consciously “important”. And I think you have to focus on that. If you go like, “man, ‘Rough Justice’ is a terrible song! Did it take them thirty or fourty seconds to pull these two chords out of their asses?”, then, yeah, I guess you won’t be able to get a nice positive vibe flowing. But if you go like, “wow, Keith and Ronnie are really getting it on with that interplay, who else can get so sincerely ecstatic within such a generic context?”, you’re onto something. For some magic reason, no matter how generic brawny rockers like ‘Rough Justice’, ‘Oh No Not You Again’, or ‘Driving Too Fast’ are, I have managed to easily memorise all of them; but that’s not the point. The point is Keith and Ronnie are still kicking booty like only Keith and Ronnie can.
From that viewpoint, you’ll probably understand it when I say that ‘Look What The Cat Dragged In’ is my favourite tune on here. Oddly, I’ve seen it compared with some ancient INXS hit that I haven’t heard yet, but whatever the resemblance might be – and I do think rather positively of INXS and their legacy – with all due respect, INXS could only wish they had anything like the kind of Richards/Wood guitar battles as captured on tape during the instrumental parts of this song. Not to mention the oddly shaped Eastern melody that runs through the song and the marvelous descending riff that Ronnie gets going in the chorus. That’s some kind of interplay out there.
The rockers thus constitute the high points, but nothing really constitutes low ones. Well, speaking of the ballads, I’d say ‘Streets Of Love’ is a potentially good song, but is severely marred by cheap lyrics (‘I walk the streets of love and they’re full of tears’ – what are we, playing some kind of Shakira?) and ugly power-balladeerish heavy guitar arrangements; the tune really calls for some sort of epic Paul Buckmaster-worthy orchestral arrangement instead. As it is, it’s way too similar to ‘Out Of Tears’ in attitude and atmosphere, and I’ve never liked that one too much either. On the other hand, ‘Laugh, I Nearly Died’, I think, is a success. It’s dark and kinda creepy, and although it takes not knowing anything about Mick to actually suppose it really reflects some of his personal thoughts and feelings, I still find myself willing to be deceived. Occasionally.
In other news, there’s a – by now obligatory among the liberal crowds – anti-Bush diatribe on ‘Sweet Neocon’, a funny catchy ditty with lyrics even more inane than on ‘Streets Of Love’ (but then maybe it was Mick’s aim to provide the liberal masses with nursery rhyme slogans like ‘Where’s the money gone/In the Pentagon’ and nothing else). The band briefly taps into its funk/disco legacy with ‘Rain Fall Down’, which is kinda like ‘Dance Pt. 3’ but with better guitars and a better pronounced faux-decadent mood; throws in a few lazy pop hooks on songs like ‘Let Me Down Slow’ and ‘The Biggest Mistake’; and gets all threatening and ominous on the grungey ‘It Won’t Take Long’.
As a final bonus, Keith contributes two songs that are anything but his usual soulful slop – well, they are soulful, but they’re pretty well structured and “sing-along-able” compared to his usual self. And he still got that magic touch – ‘Infamy’ has, like, one chord to go along with, but it still manages to provide a respectable coda to the album. Maybe it’s because that one chord is sort of oddly processed (easily the only case of such processing on the record), but more likely it’s just ragged charisma time again.
The bottomline is – it all depends on the standards you’re judging this against. Against the Strokes this holds up pretty well. Against Exile On Main St., its scope, broadness, depth, actuality and freshness – it doesn’t. If we really want to hold on to the comparison, this is very much a poor man’s Exile, a perfect gift for Stones-haters who finally have some real proof that the Stones are just generic geriatric ga-ga. Deep down inside, I feel myself somewhat duped and frustrated: this is the kind of music I think the band should be making, instead of going for the ‘Anybody Seen My Baby’ trends, and this also isn’t the kind of music they should be associated with. A case study could be made of ‘Back Of My Hand’, an “original” blues tune in the vein of ‘You Gotta Move’, which is at the same time near-flawlessly performed and completely and utterly useless from a general view of the band’s legacy. Curiously, Mick Jagger has only barely reached the necessary age to emulate an old, weathered bluesman, and yet he was so much more convincing and effective at it thirty or even fourty years ago.
But in the final end, I enjoyed the music, and never really found all that much to complain about while staying away from comparisons. Who are these guys? I don’t know them. Sounds like a pretty tight, sharp-toothed rock’n’roll band to me. Nothing jaw-dropping, but they sure love their guitars and crap. Say, could we maybe get them to appear on Ed Sullivan?
History’s a bitch. Since 1974’s It’s Only Rock & Roll and probably earlier, Ye Olde Rolling Stones have existed in moral twilight. Too rich, complacent, and cynical to escape a historical nightmare from which they have never fully awakened, leaders Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have shown occasional glimmers that they’re aware of the bad faith in which they’ve trafficked for 30 years, and still they discover that their awareness isn’t enough for world-historic-moment fanboys like Greil Marcus. No, if you dance with Mr D., you best make damn sure you can pirouette with more finesse than Jagger at Madison Square Garden, and rock’s most evergreen narcissist knows no one will try. So let Keith crank out his 1679th variation of the Chuck Berry riff, let Ronnie Wood (the band’s Ringo) stay on for the ride, and let Charlie Watts—good old Charlie—glower from his drum kit, as bored by the shenanigans as the rest of us.
Only now, on the new A Bigger Bang, has Peter Pan Jagger begun to savor the paradox of one of his best lyrics, found on 1986’s Dirty Work, the last time their bad faith produced compelling music: “I look towards the future, keep on glancing back.” Lester Bangs, speaking with the trenchant irony of a spurned lover, got it right in 1976 regarding Black & Blue: “This is the first meaningless Stones album, and thank god.” A Bigger Bang is their fourth or fifth meaningless album, and their best yet. In its no-frills pleasures, A Bigger Bang recalls Some Girls and Emotional Rescue, two great meaningless albums. Imagine a record filled with the likes of “Summer Romance,” “Respectable,” and “Hand of Fate” and you get an idea of the Stones’ accomplishment: an album of choice throwaways. As an exercise in formalist pleasure, only the New Pornographers have topped the Stones’ achievement this year.
Most of A Bigger Bang was recorded by Jagger, Richard, and Watts, with Darryl Jones filling in the bass parts Richards or Jagger (!!) couldn’t play. While the record is, yes, too long, here’s the thing: I don’t know which songs I’d cut. I have the same trouble singling out any one band member for praise, so I’ll start with Jagger. He’s in great form, seeing Goyas and paranoias and playing quite credible slide guitar on “Back of My Hand,” and talking trash about reality TV on “Rain Fell Down.” “Look What the Cat Dragged In” would impress Rikki Rockett and Brett Michaels. There’s even a cogent political song called “Sweet Neo-Con,” in which Jagger calls shit on Brown & Root, gas prices, and Christian hypocrites; this is no “Undercover of the Night.” Of course it’s cogent: threaten his pocketbook or tut-tut him in the tabloids and Jagger gets mad. Self-interest as public interest—the Stones’ great gift to the world.
The realization that a band is a collaborative enterprise and not merely the first draft of a solo career empowers A Bigger Bang’s (many) good songs. On “She Saw Me Coming,” he and Richards provide the two-guitar interplay we expect from Wood and Richards (but Wood doesn’t coast: his slide solo on “Let Me Down Slow” descends the scale as swooningly as Jagger’s voice). As for Richards, we depend upon him to deepen his partner’s commitment to professionalism with a coupla croaked ballads which always become somebody’s favorites. Richards sounds great on the lachrymose “This Place is Empty” but it’s Jagger’s falsetto harmonies that provide the pathos. Who would have thought that Jagger could return the favor?
The Stones could fuck it up on the next album (Jagger can ask his homey Bob Dylan how to do it); these songs could disappear from the next tour’s setlist. Whatever. These four grizzled plutocrats have at long last bought VIP seats to their own show and had a great time dancing to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” The Stones have completed the cycle: they are now us. Fuck history: get your ya-ya’s out, you indie mopers.
It has been trumpeted as a return to basics, a rejection of modish fancies in favour of timeless blues-rock. But in one respect, the new Rolling Stones album could not be more of the moment. This summer’s must-have for any self-respecting major rock band is a daft pseudonym on their promotional CDs: Coldplay became the Fir Trees, Franz Ferdinand’s forthcoming album bears the name C Drive Backup and A Bigger Bang purports to be the debut release from the Little Wonders. Precisely how this is supposed to curb internet piracy is a matter of some conjecture, but it certainly sends a message about the importance of the CD in question. It is a release of such vital cultural significance that standard security measures are not enough. We’ve had to stick a little fake beard on it as well.
Of course, the less charitable observer might suggest that the Rolling Stones have spent almost 30 years pretending to be something they patently are not. They were the first big rock band to realise that mythology was a more bankable asset than music: stoke the myth and millions will turn up to see you live, regardless of how shoddy your recent work is. These days, the same money-spinning logic is applied by everyone from Brian Wilson to Oasis, but nevertheless, there is the sense that the Rolling Stones may have overplayed their hand.
The self-styled World’s Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band haven’t actually produced a great album since 1978’s Some Girls. Even diehard fans long ago gave up hopefully proclaiming their latest effort as a stunning return to form, and quietly appended the group’s soubriquet to the World’s Greatest Live Rock’n’Roll Band. If the Rolling Stones are to end their days as something more than a musical tourist attraction, then their albums are going to have to be more than flimsy promotional devices for their latest tour, a gig flyer for which you are expected to fork out £16.
Such thoughts seem to have rallied the troops. Rough Justice, the opening track on A Bigger Bang, races off, a ragged, distorted blur of slide guitar, thumping drums and Mick Jagger on winningly ridiculous, priapic form. “Once upon a time I was your little rooster,” he bawls. “Now am I just one of your cocks?” It’s a double-entendre that would have been blue-pencilled from Confessions of a Window Cleaner for being too obvious, but the gurning relish of Jagger’s delivery is irresistible.
In fact, a certain Carry On spirit seems to permeate much of the album, from the title to a Keith Richards number that reworks the old Kenneth Williams “they’ve all got it infamy” gag, to the question raised by Rough Justice: they’ve certainly pulled it out, but can men of their age keep it up for an hour? The answer is: almost. Oh No Not You Again and Look What the Cat Dragged In rage along, imbued with the same up-yours spirit as Shattered or It’s Only Rock and Roll, while Let Me Slow Down has a memorable tune and a chorus that winks knowingly in the direction of Out of Time (more unexpectedly, Streets of Love tips its hat to their 1966 ballad Lady Jane).
There’s plenty of spirit here but, sadly, the songwriting runs out of puff long before the performances do, lending a hammy tone to the album’s weaker moments. Jagger’s heart was clearly in the right place when he wrote Sweet Neo-Con, which is more than you can say for the lyrics. They start out bashing Bush in sweary, forehead-slapping couplets (“I think that you’re a hypocrite – I say you’re a crock of shit”) and end up blustering like a stuffed shirt in an Ealing comedy. “If you’re right,” he cries, “I’ll eat my hat.”
Indeed those who complain that the Stones are incapable of growing up are offered swift rebuttal by many of A Bigger Bang’s lyrics, in which Jagger gamely tries to maintain the wizened roué schtick, but finds his attention continually distracted by more Pooterish concerns. On Rain Fall Down, he breaks off from “makin’ sweet love” in order to complain at length about the proliferation of “bimbos” in the media. Look What the Cat Dragged In sees him grumbling about having his peaceful enjoyment of the Sunday papers interrupted. Driving Too Fast appears to be a song admonishing someone who drives too fast. The Rolling Stones will be septuagenarians before their next album is due, by which point there seems every possibility that Jagger will be writing songs in which he complains that someone has upset his pipe rack or abandons lovin’ all night to protest that the neighbour’s branches are overhanging into his property.
There is a sense of finality about A Bigger Bang. It may not be quite the blazing ship to Valhalla they intended, but then nor is it the unmarked grave you might expect.
A Bigger Bang is not what you’d expect from the Rolling Stones on the new millenium if the albums after the 1970’s taught us anything it was that, the thought of a really great Rolling Stones album was long gone. But with “A Bigger Bang” that has changed. This album delivers hard riffs (Rough Justice), catchy melodies (It Wont Take Long), heart-felt ballads (Streets Of Love), and straight up blues numbers(Back Of My Hand).
1.) Rough Justice – 5/5
What a way to start the album! It starts up with a straight up rock riff and when the bass and second guitar come in you may think your listening to an AC/DC song. Then we get into a blues shuffle and in comes Mick Jagger! “Once upon a time I you were my baby chicken, but now you’ve grown into a fox! Once upon a time I was your rooster! But now im just one of your cocks!” And you can tell that this is a good old fashioned rock tune! Sleezy lyrics, hard riffs, and a catchy chorus! Makes this one hell of a song! And one that may be stuck in your head for a long time to come!
2.) Let Me Down Slow – 4.5/5
Starts off with a mid-tempo riff which is quickly followed by Jaggers vocals talking about his girl looking a bit too good for just a walk in the park! And when we get to the chorus we find out that he’s afraid she’s gonna let him go! And he asks her to let him down slow! In a great sing along chorus! This tune will be stuck in your head for a while! Theres nothing to special about the guitar in basically is just a background noise to Jaggers singing, that is until we get to the solo. It’s nothing to hot and fancy but it is more melodic. All these ingredients make for a real good song!
3.) It Won’t Take Long – 5/5
Yet another song that will be in your head for a long time! This is just a kickass rock song! It sounds very modern without losing the stones sound. We get a sweet rock riff before Jagger steps in with “And it wont take long to forget you, time passes fast! It’ll all be over in a minute, you’ll be in the past!” Which we later find out is the extremley catchy chorus. The guitar riff is the same for the most part being a catchy rock riff backing the vocals, and in the chorus we get to some nice strumming. At the solo we find yet another good solo, no shredding just some great playing that adds to the song. You can also find many fills throughout the song.
4.) Rain Fall Down 3.5/5
Turn up the funk! The song immeditatley starts with a jazzy/funky guitar riff that is heard many times throught the song. Then Jagger comes in to tell us about some filthy place where he made sweet love with a woman who may or may not also be filthy. In this song you’ll probably be remembering the riff more than the chorus, since the melody isnt very strong. It’s not a bad song, but it’s definetley not one of the best Stones songs.
5.) Streets Of Love – 5/5
This song is perfect! The lyrics arent the most innovative or deep, but the melody is one of the most memorable you may ever here. Jagger seems more sincere here than he ever has! This song stands up there with the other great ballads written by the stones including Beast Of Burden and You Cant Always Get What You Want. There’s a very quiet and simple acoustic guitar in the back behind Jagger’s emotional voice. The first time I heard it I was listening threw headphones and I actually got chills. You can really feel the sadness in Mick’s voice. And the chorus is instantly unforgetable! This is my favourite song on the album, I can’t get enough of it. This song stands up there with the best ballads of Both the Stones and The Beatles! “I I I I walk the streets of love! And there drenched with tears! I I I I walk the streets of love for a 1000 years!” This is the ultimate rock ballad.
6.) Back Of My Hand – 4/5
Did someone put in a (insert 50’s blues musciians name) record in? That’s what you’ll think when you hear it! It kicks off with a riff that sounds like Muddy Waters or B.B. King would have played in there prime. Then we get some harmonica in the background, and Jagger comes in singing with a sneer like no other. It actually reminds me of Bob Dylan at some parts. For any blues lover check this song out! It seriously sounds like it should have been written 50 years ago.
7.) She Saw Me Coming – 5/5
This is a definite Stone’s song! This sounds like it could stand up on any of the Stone’s 70’s album! We get a hard riff which is followed very quickly by the catchy chorus! “She saw me coming” We soon realize this is not a good thing! “She saw me coming bow did I get screwed!” This is another one of the songs on this album that will be in your head after only one listen! This is just a good old fashioned rock n roll song that were used to hearing from The Stones!
8.) Biggest Mistake – 4.5/5
This song has a slow R & B groove to it. We kick off with some falsetto “Ooo’s” which goes into the verse with Jagger singing over Keith Richards acoustic guitar. Jagger tells the story off how he left his girl and then goes on to think he’s made the biggest mistake of his life which he reveals with yet another sing along chorus. This song also brings up the Bob Dylan resemblence this time it’s not in the vocals it’s the melody and the way he tells the story.
9.) This Place Is Empty – 3.5/5
It’s time for Keith Richards to step up to the mic! It starts out with a little piano riff! Then Keith comes in with the voice of what sounds like an 80 year old. It’s a well written song, but I cant really seem to get into his voice and his spoken word style verse’s. His voice may remind you of Johnny Cash/Bob Dylan in there later years and the style of writing may remind you of Bob Dylan and Cash. Im sorry Richards but I just dont think there was really any need for you to sing on this track.
10.) Oh No Not You Again – 4/5
Charlie Watts favourite song on the album! We get a bluesy rock riff and Jagger sings out like it’s an arena rock anthem! The lyrics are the generic rock n roll lyrics! “Oh no, not you again! ***ing up my life!” This is jut a great fun Stones song, loud guitars, sing along vocals, this is a song you want to listen to when your hanging out with friends.
11.) Dangerous Beauty – 4/5
Here we get a basic Stone’s song. But the vocal performance from Jagger is what makes it so enjoyable. He just sings with some great rock n’ roll passion, and the guitar’s will defenitley remind you of the 70’s!
12.) Laugh? I nearly died – 4.5/5
Here we slow down the pace once again with a bluesy ballad. The vocal performance on this song is really amazing. He’s got some great reverb on his vocals! And it mimicks the guitar riff…which is always great! And the vocals feel really heartfelt here with passion in both the way he sings and what he sings “I’ve been to Africa, Looking for my soul, and I feel like an actor, looking for a role.” Once again this song will remind you of the past. Which for a band like The Rolling Stone’s is a great thing.
13.) Sweet Neo Con – 4/5
No we get to the song that everyone is talking about! The attack on George Bush!
“You call yourself a christian,
I think that you’re a hyporite,
You say you are a patriot,
I think that your a crock of ***!”
To add to the hurtful lyrics, Jagger delivers the lines with such aggression that you can really feel the hate for Bush. Another good section is
“It’s liberty for all,
Democracy’s our style,
unless you are against us
Then it’s prison without trial.”
This song has already been gathering some contriversy, and now the album is out it will probably be getting alot more! This is a really gritty blues rock song, that come with something that is rarely seen being the rolling stones talking about politics! I prefer the verse melodies to the chorus in this one.
14.) Look What The Cat Dragged In – 3.5/5
This is a generic Stones song. Cocky rock lyrics, delivered with the swagger that is Mick…Jagger, and we’ve got some real hard funky riffs/fills behind the vocals that make for a nice touch.
15.) Driving Too Fast – 4/5
Kicks off right into a modified blues shuffle with Jagger delivering some more energized vocals that make you forget he’s not too far from the grave! This is just a great rock n’roll song. That will make for a great sing-along at concerts! “you’re driving too fast, hang on for your life, i think your gonna crash” not exactly poetry…but it doesnt need to be!
16.) Infamy – 3.5/5
Here comes Richards on the mic again! This time his vocals sound a lot better, and he doesnt sound so damn old. But he still reminds me of Bob Dylan/Cash. I dont think there’s anything to special about this song, but I dont skip it/turn off the cd when it’s on.
If your a Stone’s fan and are looking for some new songs that kick ass get this album! If your not a Stone’s album, but love the 70’s blues rock sound get this album! If you’ve got an open mind and enjoy Blues, Folk, Rock, and Acoustic Ballads you will enjoy this album! And if your a sucker for Ballads like me…Streets Of Love just may be your new favourite song.