Goats Head Soup seems like a hangover, the dark side of the decadence so celebrated on the last couple of albums. There’s an evil undercurrent here, and it doesn’t make for easy listening. Perhaps it’s the shrouded cover art; perhaps it’s the insistence that the album was recorded in Jamaica but there’s hardly any influence to be detected. That incongruousness is no more blatant than in “Winter”, which conjures mental images of snow, Christmas trees and harsh winds—hardly the stuff of a week spent recording in Kingston.
The darkness is apparent from the start, as “Dancing With Mr. D” takes place in a graveyard. “100 Years Ago” is a little schizophrenic, starting with a funky clavinet and changing gears halfway through with a slower section before delving back into the darkness. The tender “Coming Down Again” is a showcase for Keith and Nicky Hopkins, a lament over either infidelity, drug abuse or both. “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” turns it back up, bringing in the funk, heavy on the keyboards and full of anger. Not content to let Keith tug the heartstrings all by himself, Mick delivers “Angie”, all tenderness and strings, with a whispered section that gets creepier every year.
“Silver Train” brings back the boogie, but “Hide Your Love” sounds like it was recorded on the spot. “Winter” takes over the center of the album, just as “Coming Down Again” did on side one; it transcends its few chords and perfectly captures an ache better than “Angie”. Even the strings work. “Can You Hear The Music?” was probably the only way to follow this, with its finger cymbals and faux-mystical lyrics. And just to prove they could still push buttons, “Star Star” relies on a certain four-letter word repeated about 97 times over a standard Chuck Berry riff to cause controversy.
Ultimately, Goats Head Soup is something of a disappointment, since it had to follow the stellar track record of the albums that have gone before. It’s still good, but we can start to see the laziness that would be the brand’s trademark going forward.
The Rolling Stones Goats Head Soup (1973)—3½