Monday, March 11, 2013

The Rolling Stones, Part 7

The Rolling Stones - Complete Discography - Part 7

Undercover (1983)
Rating: 5
"I wanna dance! I wanna sing! I wanna make some love!"
Best Song: Wanna Hold You
Worst Song: Geez, anything other than the title track, She Was Hot, and Wanna Hold You

       Don't believe the hype -- THIS, not Dirty Work, is the Stones' worst moment. Not that it matters, of course, both of them suck, but this one has juuuust enough poor material to call it the worst of the two. Dirty Work is simply an endless stream of mediocrity covered up in mediocre 80s production, but this little jewel is an endless stream of mediocrity covered up in AWFUL 80s production. Okay, the title track and "She Was Hot" have decent riffs (though the chorus of the latter is TERRIBLE), and "Wanna Hold You" is another fun, poppy New Wave song in the spirit of "She's So Cold" and "Hang Fire". 
       Everything else? Horrid. It's all gross -- the album cover's gross, the lyrics are gross, Mick's singing is gross, the songwriting is gross, the production is gross -- blrarggggghhhhhgrrrr. NO, NO, and lastly, NOOOOO THANK YOU. A truly painful listen. "Wanna Hold You" and maybe the title track are sorta worth seeking out, but steer CLEAR of everything else on here. 

Dirty Work (1986)
Rating: 6
"Ya move it to the left / Ya move it to the right"
Best Song: Too Rude
Worst Song: Ha.

       Okay, it's not as offensively bad as everyone says it is, but lemme tell you -- it's still pretty awful. The key thing to note here is that I wouldn't call a single one of these songs especially "bad", it's just that nothing on here is remotely memorable, interesting, or, well, good. No catchiness, no trademark Stones verve, no performances of note, just boring, mediocre 80s rock tripe for 40 minutes. The very best song on here isn't as good as the worst song on albums like Some Girls, Tattoo You, Goats Head Soup, Between the Buttons, Flowers, and (obviously) anything from '68 to '72. Heck, I'd even say that the vast majority of Emotional Rescue tracks blow all of these out of the water.
       There is simply NOTHING to recommend here. That's the most major problem. The very best thing here is Keith's reggae cover "Too Rude", and that's only good because it's, y'know, not stereotypical. It's still not that great. So...yeah. Nothing to see here. It's hard to truly hate the album, just because there's nothing really that offensive on here. But please, move along. Even diehards need not waste their time with this.

Steel Wheels (1989)
Rating: 8
"You're not the only one with mixed emotions / You're not the only ship adrift on this ocean"
Best Song: Mixed Emotions
Worst Song: Continental Drift

       Not offensive at all. Of courrse, it's also completely inessential, and it adds nothing to the Rolling Stones legacy, but hey -- whatever route the band has to take to get out of this drought, I'm all for it. They actually sound like THE ROLLING STONES here, as opposed to some generic 80s rock band, and the album is all the better for it. Plus, they actually bothered to write some memorable songs this time! Yeah, really! With decent riffs and hooks and such!
       Take the opening rocker, "Sad Sad Sad". Is it up there with the Stones' riff-rockin' classics like "Brown Sugar", "Start Me Up", and "Soul Survivor"? Heck naw, but at least the chorus, as simplistic and stupid as it may be, is still memorable and catchy! I actually get it stuck in my head after giving it a listen, which is WAY more than I can say for anything from Dirty Work or Undercover. And also unlike those albums, the guitars here sound...well...alive. Not a minor classic or anything, but hey -- not bad!
       And the next track, "Mixed Emotions", is even better! Hey, I'd go as far as to call it worth the while of any Stones fan! It's just a simple pop-rocker, but the melody throughout is extremely pleasant and memorable, plus the guitars are just as alive as the previous number! And aren't those backing vocals in the chorus nice? I even like the subtle synths underpinning the whole thing. So yeah, another thumbs up here.
       "Hearts for Sale" is a decent, blues-y track with a really cool, almost industrial-sounding guitar riff, "Slipping Away" is a surprisingly nice Keith ballad (with an actual melody this time! Wow!), and "Blinded By Love" is a nice, albeit unmemorable, ballad in the genial acoustic stylings of something like "Waiting on a Friend". The medieval lyrics are a bit silly and out of place, and Jagger's voice doesn't really sound too hot here, but eh -- it's pleasant, and it's a non-Keith sung ballad, which, if you don't count Tattoo You (which you shouldn't, 'cause those were all mid-70s outtakes), is Mick's first since...yikes...Black and Blue. Plus, the fiddle is a nice touch, so I enjoy it plenty.
       But things aren't all sunshines, lollipops, and rainbows. No, "Rock and a Hard Place" really irritates me, if only because it rips out the amazing riff from my beloved "Soul Survivor" and stuffs it inappropriately into a crappy rocker that sounds straight outta Dirty Work. The cheesy backing vocals, the synthesized horn section, a forgettable Mick vocal melody -- yup, that's the Dirty Work recipe, alright. Of course, it's still better than anything from the album just because of the improved production and increased energy, but c'mon...why'd you have to screw with something from Exile? I guess it's more a personal peeve than anything, but it still kind of bugs me...(It should also be noted than none other than Michael Jackson stole this riff for his own "Black or White" a few years later. Okay, it was changed a bit there, but it's close enough, eh? I'm calling foul play.)
       The worst thing here, though, is definitely the Eastern pyschedelic throwback "Continental Drift". A boring melody, couples with the fact that Peter Gabriel-ish Eastern sounds, psychedelia, and mid-80s production don't go together AT ALL make this a forgettable listen, at best. And those backing vocals grate like mad on my ears.
       There are some other tracks too, but most of those are just plain forgettable. And that's your album. It's not a lost classic, and I'm not a big fan of it, but if nothing else, it helped them get their career back to a point of decency, and that's pretty important. But "important" doesn't always mean "pleasant to listen to", and I'm afraid that sorta applies here. If you can get it cheap, go ahead, by all means check it out. But otherwise? Eh, go for "Mixed Emotions" and maybe "Sad Sad Sad" or "Blinded By Love". I'm glad this album happened, if only to pave the way for Voodoo Lounge, but I probably won't be returning to it much in the future. But hey, speaking of Voodoo Lounge...

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