The Stones signed a multi-million dollar deal with CBS, so their old label responded the only way they could: with a hits album. Rewind went all the way back to “Brown Sugar” up to “Undercover Of The Night”, and was great if you didn’t have all the albums already. (More to the point, it included a lyric sheet and repeated only half of Made In The Shade.)
When Mick put out his first solo album in 1985, we hoped that he got all his desire to dance, dance, dance out of his skinny system, and that the reports of the new Stones album being more of a “Keith project” were accurate. Those hopes were dashed by Dirty Work.
The first bad sign was the cover: even under the red shrinkwrap it was horribly garish, with pastel outfits on the boys (why the hell is Mick sitting that way?) and scribbled lyrics on a neon background on the inside. Another clue that all was not well could be found in the credits. Jimmy Page was an odd choice for guest guitarist, but when no less than three drummers appear on an album that one would assume includes Charlie Watts, it’s not going to be a good ride.
And while we should be used to the Stones including an R&B cover on their albums, “Harlem Shuffle” was a lousy choice for the first preview single. “One Hit (To The Body)” would have introduced it to the world better, and starts off side one well. But then we get more of the same clichés: Mick wants you to “Fight” but “Hold Back”. A pleasant surprise comes with “Too Rude”, wherein Keith gets nice and buried within a dub setting.
Side two is mostly trapped by the times, with synthesized horns and a much-too-funky bassline all over “Winning Ugly”, and the social commentary of “Back To Zero” just doesn’t work. The title track at least brings back the guitars, which also drive “Had It With You”, a toe-tapper that also sports a nicely slowed-down “Midnight Rambler” nod. Keith nearly gets the last word on “Sleep Tonight”, a slow burner that suggest he should write more of Mick’s lyrics. But the album at least ends on a touch of class, with a snippet of recently departed confidant, pianist and tour manager Ian Stewart playing “Key To The Highway”.
Despite the hype, or perhaps because of it, Dirty Work sank like… well, like a stone. With no tour, mixed reviews and Mick and Keith avoiding each other when necessary, it was looking like the last Stones album. Which would have been a disgusting way to go out, and an insult to their legacy.
The Rolling Stones Rewind (1971-1984) (1984)—4
Current CD equivalent: none
Rolling Stones Dirty Work (1986)—2