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.