Monday, March 11, 2013

The Rolling Stones, Part 4

The Rolling Stones - Part 4

Sticky Fingers (1971)
Rating: 15
"I'm just living to be dying by your side / But I'm just about a moonlight mile on down the road"
Best Song: Moonlight Mile
Worst Song: You Gotta Move

       It's perfect too. I realize this isn't a popular decision -- Sticky Fingers is usually considered the worst of the four -- but dangit, I think it's just as great as the other three. And why is that?
       Because I can't find a single flaw, that's why. To my ears, EVERY SINGLE TRACK on this thing works like a charm. There's not a single one where I could say "Eh, you know, that song isn't really that great, they should have left it off". Okay, sure, "You Gotta Move" isn't exactly a classic, but it's short, intense, and cool-sounding, so I think it fits in on here just fine.
       Plus, I really dig the mood on the thing. It is BY FAR the saddest album the Stones have ever created. Sure, you have your three riff-rockers, but everything else is just plain depressing. Everyone always hates on "I Got the Blues", but if Jagger's singing, the gripping organ solo, and that simultaneously triumphant and melancholy horn section don't rip your heart out, you might not have a soul. Maybe. Or you could just have a lower tolerance for Jagger than I do.
       Speaking of Jagger, this is definitely his greatest moment in the band's entire catalog. This is the sole occasion where I think that he matters more to the sound of the album than the band itself; I'm pretty sure this is a result of the overall emotionality of the piece. Aside from the aforementioned "I Got the Blues", he also shines on the AMAZING "Sway". I've never heard the man sound so gripping in his delivery. Just listen to that "HEYYY! HEYYYY! HEYYYYYYYYYYYYYAHHHHHHHHOWWWWWWWWWWW!" and how his voice just collapses at the end of the phrase. Egad, it gives me chill bumps just thinking about it. Or when he comes back in after that part with "One day I woke up to FIIIIIIIIINNNNDDDD / Right in the bed, next to MIIIIIIIIIINNNNEEEEE". Yikes, that's some good stuff. Oh, and that's not even mentioning the ultra-dramatic orchestra, or what is perhaps Mick Taylor's best solo ever. Mmm.
       And while we're on the subject of Jagger, Taylor, and ultra-dramatic orchestras (man, I'm on fire with these segue-ways), I suppose I better discuss the album's greatest track, as well as the band's very best ballad, "Moonlight Mile". Where do I even begin? First off, Jagger's delivery is his best ever, BAR NONE. He does these sort of dramatic improvisational scat-like things throughout, and those are just amazing, plus there's the massive ending section where he just RIPS IT UP. I'm talking, of course, about the "YEAH IM COMING HOOOOMEEE, CAUSE IM JUST ABOUT A MOONLIGHT MIIIIIILLLLLEEEEEE, DOWN THE ROAD, A-DOWN THE ROADDD, DOWN THE ROOOOOOOAAAAAADDDDDD....YEAH, YEAH YEAH, ahhhhhhhhhhh.....". And then those Asian-sounding flutes come in over the dreamy guitar twangings, and then the orchestra comes back in with that big final THAT'S how you end an album!!!!
       And that's not even discussing the beautiful main acoustic guitar line (played by Jagger, funny enough) and the amazing string section that swoops in and out of the entire song. The idea of making the piece so freaking dramatic actually came from Taylor, and works. I don't think anyone else likes it as much as I do, but oh, I love it so much. Pure, unadulterated beauty that's theatrical, but still not cheesy in any way. Talk about finishing an album off in style.
       But we can't end there! There's still loads of amazing songs on here!! Like, for example, "Dead Flowers", which is *probably* the boys' best attempt at a country song. Dig that twang on "Take me dooooowwwnn, little Suzie, takeeee me down!" Great piano work, solid steel guitar, funny lyrics, and not to mention a fantastic vocal melody (with some great Keith harmonies)....yet another undisputed winner.
       And then there's "Brown Sugar", which is my favorite riff-rocker the band ever did. (I don't consider "Tumbling Dice" or "Gimme Shelter" to be plain-and-simple riff-rockers, for the record) Much like "Midnight Rambler", "Monkey Man", or heck, the entirety of Ya-Ya's, it takes several listens to really *get* the groove. Sure, it sounds alright at first, but much like a fine wine (what a horrible metaphor), it improves with every listen. Nowhere else in the band's catalog is the guitar interplay so firmly pronounced. Just listen to thing on headphones, will ya? There's one guitar in each ear, and if you pay very close attention to the guitars and nothing but, it's painfully obvious that the jagged riffage coming out of both speakers fits together like a perfectly crafted jigsaw puzzle. (See, now that's a decent metaphor!) And then you throw the awesome saxophone solo and vocal melody on top of the interplay and incredibly solid, that's good stuff.
       I also admire the band for daring to release a song with subject matter like this during the heyday of civil rights. In our age of political correctness, can you imagine a band like One Direction releasing a song about cruel masters raping their slaves? (Okay, I suppose One Direction isn't the best example...their 70s counterpart would be more along the lines of Donny Osmond, I suppose) That took some serious guts. And if you think about it, Jagger never completely attacks the masters in question, does he? He just tells the story like it is, with no good-or-bad judgment whatsoever. That's mighty refreshing to hear these days. 
       Of course, there's also "Wild Horses", which is an amazing ballad you've heard 6'000 times. And then there's "Can't You Hear Me Knocking", which starts out as a riff-rocker, and then turns into a Santana-sounding jam quite suddenly. Of course, you already knew that, but's pretty clever, if'n you ask me.
       I love this album. Not quite as much as Bleed or Exile, but wow...this thing has got so many great songs. I just have to give it a perfect grade, folks. Get it immediately.

Exile on Main St. (1972)
Rating: 15
"Oh my, my, my, I'm the lone craps shooter / Playing the field every night"
Best Song: Tumbling Dice
Worst Song: Stop Breaking Down

        *sigh*...this is going to be a hard review. And probably short, too. You see, these songs...aren't songs to me. They' do I put this...indescribable works of art. Heck, they're more memories than songs to me, if that makes any sense. People can go on and on about their ambient music and their "musical wallpaper", but to my ears this is the ULTIMATE ambient album. Sounds weird, right? 
        But seriously, I keep seeing critics talk about how albums like Eno's Another Green World perfectly conjure up images in their heads. And sure, yes, I definitely get images in my head when I listen to Eno's best work. But this album, man, these images are CLEAR. The lyrics might as well not even be included. The WAY Jagger's singing is far more important than WHAT Jagger's singing. He might as well be rambling on about how to cook a good chocolate cake during, say, "Let It Loose", and if he sang "You don't need eggs, no you don't need egggggssss" just like he sings "I ain't in love, no I ain't in looooovveeee", then it would be just as effective. Heck, in "Casino Boogie", the lyrics don't even mention casinos, yet listening to the song gives me a perfect mental image of a casino. Again, it's all about the mood, not what's actually going on. It's an ambient album, remember?
        I mean, this thing covers pretty much every human emotion. Mad at yourself? Take a listen to "Let It Loose". Feel like you can take on the whole world? "Rip This Joint". Feeling complete and utter desperation? "Tumbling Dice". Are you homesick? "Sweet Virginia".  Say you recently lost a family member or loved one? "Shine A Light". I could continue, but you see my point. And even if you're not already in the mood that a song is portraying, you'll be in it by the time it's over, I guarantee. Take "Rip This Joint", for example. Can you not just picture some nightclub in the deep south back in the 30s? Everybody's dancing like crazy, the sax player's blowing like a man possessed, drinks are flowing...I mean, it just FEELS like it. The lyrics have nothing to do with any of that. But it FEELS like it. It's an album of feeling.
        The two greatest "declarations of feeling" on here are "Tumbling Dice" and "Let It Loose". Not in my opinion. That there is the truth. I almost don't want to write about them, they're so good. "Dice", as I've said many times over, is complete desperation set to music. Jagger's pleadings and moanings just rip out your heartstrings, and the choir's shouts are completely gripping. Oh, and don't let me forget to mention the amazing horn, guitar, and piano parts as well. But that just goes for the whole album. Every song has some of the, THE GREATEST instrumentation ever found on a rock and roll album. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. There are soooooo many layers of depth here, but it's a earthy, real depth, not a fake, Spector/Brian Wilson-ized depth. And as for "Let It Loose"...I...I can't go on. Buy it. Just buy it. 
        ...OK, I'll go on. Does "Shake Your Hips" not sound like a bunch of guys standing around a girl on a dark street in the deep south practically raping her by asking her to "shake yo' hip, baaabe" as they play their instruments? And as she keeps dancing more and more frenetically, they start playing with more and more fervor until eventually their hands are about to explode from playing so freakin' fast? Does it not sound like that to you? 'Cause it sure as heck does to me.
        Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention -- every melody on here's amazing. Every one. You won't think so at first, but they are. Just give 'em time. 
        This was my first Stones album, and while I hated it the first time I listened to it...well, you can tell it grew on me, can't you? Over the past few months, in fact, it's actually overtaken London Calling as my favorite album of all time. I think overall that the melodies on Calling are a bit greater than the ones here, but the EMOTION on these songs is a bit lacking on Calling. Plus, Joe Strummer and Co. didn't possess anything close to the amount of instrumental prowess that the Stones did at this point in their career. But that's just my two cents. And that's one of the best albums of all time. Get it now. Now. Now! NOW! NOW, I SAY!

Goats Head Soup (1973)
Rating: 11
"Heartbreaker / With 'cho '44"
Best Song: Star Star
Worst Song: Coming Down Again

       After the insanely amazing Exile on Main St., everyone in the rock press was waiting for another roots-rock masterpiece. They got....Goats Head Soup, which is many things, but certainly not roots-rock, and in most critics' opinion, not a masterpiece. Well, in my book, anything rated 11 or above is a must-purchase, so you can already tell I like this album. And the funny thing is that I originally expected to HATE this album. Most reviews that I've ever read bill this as the "anti-Exile", so I was all ready to be completely disgusted by Soup and never listen to it again. But the first time I listened to it...I loved it. Sure, it's kind of weird, but that's part of the charm! I even like it about as much as Black and Blue, and everyone seems to think that that album is the true hidden masterpiece by the Stones. 
       So, you say, what's so great about it? Well, let's take a look at the songs. The best thing here is the extremely over-the-top, Chuck Berry-esque rocker, "Star Star". Filled with more ridiculous lyrics than you can shake a stick at, "Star Star" is also RIDICULOUSLY catchy. That chorus just gets stuck in your head for days, and before the end of it, you're fist-pumping and singing along to a lyric you normally wouldn't be caught dead singing! It's great. We also have the funky "Heartbreaker", which features a great riff AND an awesome horn section. It also has a fantastic vocal melody, to boot. On the "still-awesome, but not quite as awesome" front, we get "Dancing With Mr. D", a decent enough little number with a catchy melody in the verses and some funny pseudo-creepy lyrics about Mr. D, aka Mr. Death. 
      The tempo shifting "100 Years Ago" is probably the second best song on the album. Jagger's vocal melody is one of his best, and when the song speeds up and Taylor starts soloing's actually kinda breathtaking. Plus, the song has a reflective, reminiscent mood to it, so that's pretty nice.
      In most reviews I read, "Hide Your Love" is considered one of the album's weakest links, but I really don't agree with that. It's probably the closest the album gets to Exile territory, as it's a sort of a bluesy shuffle. It features Jagger singing with a neat effect on his voice, along with some good piano and guitar playing. Not a bad song at all, in my opinion. 
      To be honest, there really aren't any flat-out awful songs. Sure, "Coming Down Again" is overlong and a bit boring, and the same can be said about the psychedelic "Can You Hear the Music?", but we also have the gorgeous ballads "Angie" and the "Moonlight Mile"-esque "Winter", so...yeah, there are quite a few winners here. 
      So, there you have it -- Goats Head Soup. If you've heard all the "big albums", and you want something else, this is one of the best places to start.

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