VII. A Bigger Bang

The Rolling Stones

Mick is back. The Rolling Stones have made their best album since 1981. It’s called A Bigger Bang and it’s everything a Stones record needs to be, folks. It rocks, cocks, it even shocks. Plenty of dirt here, bad language there, naughty sexual metaphor everywhere, and lean, mean Rock and Roll in every groove. The ballads are soulful and sad, Charlie’s snare drum sounds bigger than ever, Keith and Ronnie are trading lines like the best of Black And Blue or Some Girls and Mick Jagger is singing with a swagger that reaffirms he’s one of the best who’s ever been.

The Rolling Stones have been together for so long, made so many records, mounted so many gargantuan tours, they’ve been recycling a carbon copy of themselves for twenty-five years. The last great Stones album is Tattoo You from 1981. The rest of the ’80’s had some strong moments (“Undercover Of The Night,” “She Was Hot” and “Wanna Hold You” from 1983’s Undercover, “Harlem Shuffle” from ‘86’s Dirty Work, and “Mixed Emotions,” “Almost Hear You Sigh” and Keith’s terrific “Slipping Away” from the "reunion" of ‘89’s Steel Wheels) and the ‘90’s were pretty tasty too with the dirty Voodoo Lounge and it’s inferior companion Bridges To Babylon. These last three however, while all competent representations of post-'81 Stones, ‘Glossiest, Richest, Biggest Grossing, Greatest Band In The World, etc.’ were in the end, more like excuses to mount those monster tours than attempts to make great Rolling Stones records. Much of it seemed like they were going through the motions, being Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie for the faithful, charging all the Yuppies those exorbitant ticket prices so they could hear “Satisfaction,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and “Honky Tonk Woman” live one more time. And while that’s great entertainment, there’s more to these Rock and Roll renegades than that. A Bigger Bang is proof. It’s more natural, less forced, down and dirty and in yer face. You can hear Mick and Keith working together, not just cruising on their immense talent or legend, and the reports they wrote the new album “shoulder to shoulder” are proven out by the time you get to the mean third tune and crunchy first single, “It Won’t Take Long.” It’s dirty, funky, imperfect. It sounds good. Feels right. There’s no sense of the contrived, no feeling it’s been manufactured just to have a new excuse to traverse the earth and make cajillions more. They’ve set out to make a great one, and it’s pretty damn close. “Rain Fell Down” slithers out around a killer Keith Richards riff, mining the New York City rhythms of Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You that made those albums so funky and vital. Mick sings “And the rain fell down…and the phone kept ringing…and we made sweet love…” in that one and only slur of his, sexy and ridiculous. We’ve taken him for granted too long. This guy is the real thing. He might even be a star if he plays his cards right. He sounds great, his voice better than ever, and the impression is he’s hungry again. But for what? He's already got everything. To prove he still fronts the greatest Rock and Roll band in the world? That he’s still an artist and performer to be reckoned with? That he can still do it all night? That he can make a Rolling Stones record as good as Exile On Main Street or Sticky Fingers? Yes. And while it doesn’t stand as mythically high as those two Pillars of Rock, A Bigger Bang is going down in Stones history right below them.

Two listens through “She Saw Me Coming” and you’re hooked. Tremendous tune. Hysterical lyrics. Slinky, junkyard groove. Hard to resist. And how about the balls-out opener, “Rough Justice”? Hot and sticky slide work from Ronnie Wood, Big Bang from Charlie Watts, still the greatest, Unadulterated Pose from Keith, and a line as fantastic as “Once upon a time, I was your little rooster, but now I’m just-a one of your cocks.” Surprising no one ever came up with that before. This album is an open party, ready to blow and get all messy, guaranteed to get you up and keep on satisfying. No need for Viagra with this one turned up loud. Everyone should rock this hard past sixty. And then there are the ballads, which rank with some of their best ever. “Streets Of Love” and “Biggest Mistake” are delicious takes on the old Stones heartbreak model, Mick emoting in sadness and regret over mistakes made, indiscretions committed. The band is tight and loose behind him, leaving lots of room to shudder and breathe.

The sheer sound of this album must be celebrated. The Glimmer Twins seem finally free of the times they’re making records in, not trying to adhere to whatever the new style or approach is, no co-producer shaping them into something that will be dated within three years. It conjures up earlier Stones and presents it in a modern recording. If you put on Dirty Work or Steel Wheels, they’re good, but they sound like The Eighties. And parts of Voodoo Lounge and Bridges To Babylon suffer from this as well, especially the k.d. lang re-write from Bridges. This thing is Some Girls 2005. It’s got that street vibe, but sounds even better. Imagine that. Using digital technology to capture and exploit the inherent grit in real music. Revolutionary? We’ll see.

They knock off country blues like only they can with gritty harp work from Mick on the terrific “Back Of My Hand,” and then turn it over to the Main Man for his customary cameo. Keith tears into “This Place Is Empty” with that breathy, half-vulnerable, half-screw-you delivery which made “All About You” and his solo classic “Make No Mistake” so great. This guy is unflappable, certainly a king of the world. And the coolest thing about the track is the way Mick sings the backup. He’s right there with his lifelong partner, and this is one of the least discussed of Jagger’s talents. He sings a mean background vocal. It's always great to hear him do it (something we never get to hear from Paul McCartney) and it galvanizes the band further. Then, when you're shaking your head at how good it is, it’s Mick's turn to take the mic for the best track on the album and one of the gems of his career, the aching “Laugh I Nearly Died.” Above a fragile Watts groove and patent telepathy between Keith and Ronnie, Mick does his best down and out, and it cuts deep. Whether he really cares or not, who knows, but it sounds like it and it connects. Multi-tracking his vocal on the restless refrain, “Been traveling far and wide, wonder who’s gonna be my guide,” he takes on Prince, his only real competition in the post-'70's sex king sweepstakes and wrestles back the crown. It’s been a long time, Mick. Good to have you back. Hot and sticky, loose and lusty, lean and mean, guaranteed to go all night, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones.


Been travelin' far and wide, wonder who's gonna be my guide.