The Rolling Stones
A Bigger Bang (Virgin)
There was a time when the release of a new Rolling Stones album was a major event. After all, not only did they receive extensive Top 40 airplay and sell millions of records, they also created some of the best modern rock and roll going complete with extensive tours that boasted amazing live shows. For a time, the Stones were the personification of rock and roll’s greatest musical achievements and its most grueling excesses.
Nowadays, these elder statesmen of rock and roll still put on amazing shows (albeit for exorbitant ticket prices) for massive worldwide audiences, but their album releases have become less and less of a component of the process. Obviously, the band still feels the need to put out a new release to justify a tour rather than just go out as an oldies act. Fortunately for us, this time around they’ve come up with a strong new collection of songs with A Bigger Bang.
This is a fine, if not spectacular album. Most of the elements of classic Stones music are there—the decisive thud of Charlie Watt’s drums, the rock-solid rhythmic chug of Keith Richards’ guitar, the angular, nasty leads of Ron Wood, the rock-solid bass playing of the shadowy studio and stage veteran Darryl Jones and the soulful sass of Mick Jagger. Most of the songs aren’t bad, either. The opener, “Rough Justice” churns along in great rocking style. “Rain Fall Down” is an infectious funk groover with pepperings of seedy urban lust. “Laugh, I Nearly Died” is delivered with all the sobriety of a chain gang song with its repeated, mantra-like chorus. “Oh No, Not You Again” is a real scorcher that threatens to blow up your stereo speakers.
On the other hand, “Sweet Neo Con” would be great if the actual tune measured up to the media hype over the song’s lyric. “Streets of Love”, currently being fruitlessly pushed as a single is merely an OK ballad. “Let Me Down Slow” and “It Won’t Take Long” follow the Stones’ blueprint for mid tempo rockers and aren’t particularly remarkable. But these shortcomings are saved by tracks such as the swampy blues rootsiness of “Back of My Hand” and the oomph of “Look What the Cat Dragged In” which features some of Keith Richards’ finest rhythm guitar work. Speaking of Keith, his two lead vocal spots are commendable with the ballad “This Place is Empty” (which is almost damn near pretty) and the slithery album closer “Infamy” which features some of his best vocals ever committed to wax.
Yep, it’s a good rock and roll album done by guys who wrote large chunks of the very book on how to do so. The production is modern and aggressive and the vocals are way out front for a Stones album. At times, you’ll feel like Mick and Keith are in your car with you. Contrary to Mick’s mindless mouthings in the press leading up to the album’s release, this is no modern Exile On Main Street—not by a longshot! But don’t fret over what’s lacking—namely the dark, seductive and sinister allure of their best work. Rather, revel in what’s still there. The Rolling Stones have managed to put together a hard-rocking, fun album with a minimum of duds. These rockers from the sixties and in their sixties can still show us a thing or two.