Monday, March 11, 2013

The Rolling Stones, Part 6

The Rolling Stones -- Complete Discography -- Part 6

Some Girls (1978)
Rating: 13
"I wanna walk before they make me run"
Best Song: Shattered
Worst Song: Some Girls

       The time had come. The crunchy sound of the classic '68 - '72 albums had gradually morphed into the sluggish guitars and muted drums of It's Only Rock 'n Roll (and Black and Blue, to some degree), so Mick decided there was only one thing that the guys could do to remain relevant with the ever-changing late-70s musical landscape -- completely reinvent the band's sound. That's right, the laid-back, roots-rock stylistics have been completely exchanged for a grungy, dirty, punk-y sound, with elements of disco and New Wave thrown in. This is easily the band's harshest sounding album, and it's pretty obvious that the band was aware of this. Every stylistic choice that the band made in this period just seemed to scream "HEY, LOOK AT US, WE'RE SO TOUGH AND RELEVANT", but unlike when they attempted to scream "HEY, LOOK AT US, WE'RE SO ROCK 'N ROLL" like they did on, well, It's Only Rock 'n Roll, their claim is actually believable. The band sounds genuinely threatening on here, like the harsh, frightening streets of New York that they seem to mention so much throughout the album. And...gosh darn it, it works like a charm!
       However, the one drawback to this is that after spending so much time reinventing the band stylistically, it seems that the guys didn't have a whole lot of songwriting "juice" left in 'em. That's not to say that songs like "Lies" and "Respectable" aren't a good bit of punky, a$$-kicking fun, because they are, but the melodies really aren't that memorable, are they? And, let's be perfectly honest here, they're...pretty much the same exact song. "When the Whip Comes Down" attempts the same sort of thing, but the melody here is quite catchy and memorable, as are the...erm...interesting lyrical choices. ("If you're gay in New York, you're a f*g in L.A." indeed...) Whatever the case, it's a great song, and one of my favorites on here. Those last two minutes are especially THAT'S some hardcore punk riffage. Yum.
        I'm sure you're all already well aware of the brilliant ballad "Beast of Burden" (now THAT'S some mighty fine unintentional alliteration!), but I'll divulge to you my personal favorite thing about it anyway. Sure, the melody's great, the guitar's great, and Mick's delivery is great, but the coolest thing about the whole song, to me at least, is that it PERFECTLY blends the genial ballads of years past with the new street-wise, "cut-throat" stylistics. I mean, it still fits in perfectly on the album, yet it's COMPLETELY unlike anything else on here. It's both grungy and beautiful at the same time. (Side note: I feel that I should explain my use of the word "grungy" throughout this review; I certainly don't mean it as in  "it sounds like grunge". I mean it in the literal use of the word "grungy", i.e., dirty, nasty, etc.)
       The album's other hit (and one of the Stones' biggest hits from any era) is the disco of "Miss You", be honest, I don't have a lot to say about it. Sure, Mick's delivery is UH-mazing, the guitar interplay is fantastic, and that's one tasty saxophone solo, but if it wasn't such a big hit, I don't think reviewers would consider it such an all-time amazing song. As is, it's just another great one in an album full of them. (And...maybe I'm crazy here, but isn't it just a bit overlong? Anyone else?)
My favorite of the album is probably the New Wave-tastic "Shattered", chock full of tasty guitar interplay (what an amazing tone!) and some great "sha-doobie!" backing vocals. And Mick's vocal delivery is easily one of his best ever. Nearly as good is the Keith-sung "Before They Make Me Run", which hides a BRILLIANT vocal melody behind Keith's ugly vocals. But get past those and you'll find it's really quite an amazing track.
       I'm also quite fond of the band's cover of "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)", even if it is a bit overlong. Some seriously incredible guitar work can be found there, and isn't that vocal melody just positively wonderful and genial? Mmm, it just makes me all happy on the inside.
       On the down side, "Some Girls" is a boring, go-nowhere jam that completely lacks the sharp, brutal focus that the rest of the album has, and "Far Away Eyes", while funny, is nowhere near as good as "Dead Flowers", or many of the band's other country tracks...even if that chorus is pretty awesome. Oh, and speaking of country, the deluxe edition of this album (which includes a nice load of bonus tracks) shows that a good deal of the band's recorded material in these sessions was, believe it or not, hardcore country! Songs like "You Win Again", "No Spare Parts", and "Do You Think I Really Care?" -- these are all GREAT country songs, ones that any fan of the band's roots-rock period needs to hear. Heck, if you don't already own the album, DEFINITELY get the deluxe edition. The bonus tracks here far exceed those found on the Exile reissue, which was relatively underwhelming.
       A very solid album, one that would lead you to believe that the band was about to embark on an awesome new leg of its career......we now know that's not the case, but still, it's easy to see why critics went crazy over this at its release. A must-have, for sure.

Emotional Rescue (1980)
Rating: 11
"Is there nothing I can say, nothing I can do?"
Best Song: She's So Cold
Worst Song: Indian Girl 

       C'mon, it's not that bad, people! No, it's certainly not perfect, but I really do enjoy this album! Lay off the hate!!
       For those not in the know, after the success of Some Girls, the band decided to take a crack at making another album in the same style. The result was this, Emotional Rescue, widely considered to be the band's worst album up 'till this point. As you can see, I certainly don't agree with this sentiment -- I think quite a few of the band's earlier albums aren't as enjoyable as this one, and heck, I even think that It's Only Rock 'n Roll is quite a bit worse.
       So why do so many people hate the album? Well, as far as I can figure, most of these songs are definitely one thing -- sloppy. Like, really sloppy. The tough, threatening spontaneous feel of Some Girls has been traded in for a messy, discombobulating looseness that certainly lacks the needed punch. Sure, it definitely still sounds "tough", but it's a disorienting, off-putting form of toughness that doesn't really make for a pleasant listening experience at first. Verses seem to run straight into choruses without a chord change, or really any other form of warning, and overdubs and chanting voices are sprinkled liberally throughout. It's messy, really messy...
       ...but if you give it time, it sort of becomes charming! Really! The bizarre backing vocals in "Where the Boys Go" eventually become addicting instead of annoying, and the silly voices in "Dance, Pt. 1" eventual become funny instead of irritating. Same goes for the disco of the title track -- it sounds REALLY stupid on first listen (especially that falsetto), but if you give it time, it grows on you! Admittedly, the melodies on here aren't really that special -- in fact, more often than not, Jagger's DELIVERY is catchier than the melodies themselves --, but none of them are really bad
       Okay, maybe the directionless ballad "Indian Girl", but everything else is at least decent. Even the oft-hated, Keith-sung "All About You", while having a meandering verse melody, has a very powerful chorus, PLUS it packs quite the emotional punch. And I'm sorry, but I really dig that New Age-y guitar tone, if only because it sounds like something from the second half of Apollo Atmospheres and Soundtracks.
       Most people point to the album-opening "Dance, Pt. 1" as an example of just how bad the Stones were at this point in their career, it really any worse than "Hot Stuff"? I'm sorry, but I love the riffage here, and that "Ooooooo, and it's got me moving" hook line may be really cliche lyrically, but it still gets stuck in my head all the time. 
       "She's So Cold" simply HAS to claim the title of "most fun Rolling Stones song ever". I mean, how could it not?!? The vocal melody is one of Jagger's finest, the guitar interplay is FABULOUS, and the lyrics work wonderfully. What, you think they're stupid? Naw, man! "She's so cold, she's so cooooold, she's so cold cold cold like an ice cream cone," that's friggin' poetry! Brings TEARS to the eyes...okay, I'm joking, but this is seriously one of my favorite Stones songs. SOOO addicting...."III'M THE BURNIN' BUSH, III'M THE BURNIN' FIRE, IIIIII'M THE BLEEDIN' VOLCAAAAAAAAAANOOOOOOOOOO"!
       Elsewhere, you get the catchy-as-heck punk of "Summer Romance" and "Where the Boys Go", both of which would be EXCELLENT if you just removed a bit of the production clutter. "Down in the Hole" is a fantastic dark blues piece (haven't heard that from these guys in a while, have you?), and "Let Me Go" is a fun, albeit kinda mediocre, rocker. "Send It to Me" is one of the album's weakest moments, a lame attempt at a reggae song that comes up WAY short. Yawn. It's not horrid, but give me "Cherry Oh Baby" any day.
       I LIKE THIS ALBUM WAY MORE THAN I SHOULD, OK? No, it's not a classic, but I enjoy the crap out of it, and that's good enough for me. But hey, even if it isn't a classic, it's not a train wreck either, and any Stones fan who's steered clear of this album thanks to the overwhelmingly bad press surrounding it needs to give it a listen, and how. Any Stones lover who hasn't heard "She's So Cold" is a sad Stones lover indeed...

Tattoo You (1981)
Rating: 12
"A smile relieves a heart that grieves"
Best Song: Waiting on a Friend
Worst Song: ????

       "So, if it's universally agreed that Emotional Rescue represented a downgrade in songwriting prowess for the band, why is it that this album is always ranked so highly?" you ask. Well, dear reader, the answer is simple -- all of these songs were written years before this album's release. But, no, it's not a simple outtake collection, because if it was, it'd be pretty remarkable that the band was able to sound IDENTICAL to the way it did on Some Girls and Emotional Rescue way back in the early 70s. You see, as I said earlier, all these songs were WRITTEN years earlier. That's right, the actual recording of the majority of these tracks came during -- you guessed it -- the Emotional Rescue sessions.
       There are a few exceptions, though. "Slave", a 6-minute blues jam, obviously came from the Black and Blue sessions, and the backing tracks for "Tops" and "Waiting on a Friend" were recorded during the Goats Head Soup sessions, which means, as you might have guessed, we do get a little taste of Mick Taylor on this album. 
       So enough of the history lesson -- is it any good? Yes, quite excellent, though not quite as good as it potentially could have been (or as some make it out to be). There are two main reasons for this (well, more like one reason that inevitably leads to another reason) --

A) The album is cleanly split between its two halves, that being one half of the album comprised of rockers, and the other of ballads. And when I say "cleanly", I do mean cleanly -- nothing on either side could be considered even slightly belonging to the other, i.e., all songs on the "hard" side are definitely rockin', and all the songs on the "soft" side are most certainly ballads. What's the problem with this? Well, it means that the album is quite lacking in one word -- variation. Cap'n Marvel once said that the album would be a heck of a lot better if one was to push the "shuffle" button on their iPod when they listened to it, and I completely agree with this. The ballad side will put you to sleep if you're not careful, and the rocking side gets quite tiring after awhile, which leads me into point B...

B) Nearly all of the rockers are essentially "lightweight". What do I mean by this? Well, nearly every one of them is about 3 minutes long, and they all kind of have that sort of poppy, New Wave-y sound that "She's So Cold" and other such songs did. The only exceptions to the rule are the aforementioned jam "Slave" (which is, admittedly, AWESOME) and the bluesy "Black Limousine", which is, admittedly, not really that great. So not only are all the rockers in a row (which is a major problem in itself), but they all sound similar, and none of them really make a "statement" the way that classics like "Gimme Shelter", "Stray Cat Blues", or "Brown Sugar" do. Heck, these don't even really match up to the gruff energy found in songs like "Star Star". They're just fun, and while that's no problem on its own (songs like "Shattered" and "She's So Cold" fit this mold, and they're some of my very favorite Stones songs), when put in a row like this they come out sounding rather weak. 

       But don't let that ordering negativity get you down -- this is still one fantastic album. I mean, come on, this is the one with "Start Me Up" on it! You know "Start Me Up", right? Yeah, it's all rocky and rolly and stuff. Quite good, that all seriousness, though, this was the very first Stones song I ever remember loving. I remember very well being a kid listening to the radio one day hearing it and finding it INCREDIBLY catchy. However, I didn't know the artist or the title, so for years I went through life asking friends if they knew of a song called "You Make a Grown Man Cry". It wasn't until many years later that I discovered it was indeed a Stones song. 
       Okay, maybe I should be describing "Start Me Up" for you by now, but let's be honest -- you know this song by heart already. And if you don't...yeah, get on that. The poppy "Hang Fire" is one of my very favorite songs here, if only for that RIDICULOUSLY memorable "DOO DOOT DOO! DOOO DOOT DOO! DOO DOO DOO DOOT DU DOO DOOOO DU DOOOO DU!" hook. Good luck getting that one out of your head...oh, and Jagger's delivery here is no slouch either.
       On the soft side, especially notable is the..erm...ambient(?) excursion, "Heaven", which is a VERY cool piece. I...can't really describe it, but Jagger's just kind of...scatting into a creepy vocal filter, and then there's this Eno-y synth backing, and you also have some exotic percussion, and...I dunno, it all comes together really well for me. You gotta hear it, if only because it's so un-Stones.
       But as much as I like "Heaven", my favorite song from the second half of the album simply has to be the sweet, comforting Bossa Nova-y (c'mon, admit it, it sounds kinda like one) "Waiting on a Friend". Ohhhh, I love it so much. Has the band ever made a warmer, more inviting song than this? I really don't think so. The lyrics are wonderfully life-affirming and self-confidence-boosting, full of wondrous quotes about how friendship is the only thing that matters ("Don't need no whore / I don't need no booze / Don't need a virgin priest / But I need someone I can cry to / I need someone to protect.") From these guys, this kind of material would usually be downright laughable (because, y'know, Keith and Mick are such great friends), but in this context...ohhh, it works. It works so freaking well. "A smile relieves a heart that grieves" that's a quote one can live by. Mmm.
       Geez, this one's going long...lessee here..."Tops" is good, "Neighbors" is good, "No Use in Crying" is good -- dangit, everything's good! Again, if you turn on the "shuffle" setting, you've got yourself a 13. But sadly, I have to review albums in the way that they're presented, and that's how I'm doing it. But don't let the 12 scare you away -- this should be one of your first purchases after the "big four". It's also notable that this is the last TRULY essential Stones album, sadly enough. Sure, the band would get back to making solid music eventually, but first...ugh...the dry spell. *gulp*. Here I go...

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