Friday, February 11, 2011

Rolling Stones 35: Voodoo Lounge

In the five years since Steel Wheels the Stones had toured the world, lost their bass player and indulged in solo projects. They also signed with Virgin Records, who prepared to reissue their post-1971 albums with improved sound and better packaging. (For some reason they also issued the Jump Back compilation in late 1993 everywhere but America, which had to wait a decade for it. Basically an update of Rewind, it included some singles from Dirty Work and Steel Wheels, and—just in case you missed them—“Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”.)
When it came to recording their new album, the band turned to strangely dreadlocked producer Don Was to run the show. But while he is also a bass player, they contracted Darryl Jones to take the job onstage and on the album, with Charlie’s approval. Despite the changes, Voodoo Lounge still sounded more like a Stones album than Mick probably wanted.
Although recorded and marketed in the CD era, its 62-minute running time made it the equivalent of a double album, and while it’s no Exile On Main St., it still translates to four albeit short LP sides. The first part re-establishes them as a rock band, beginning with the smoky “Love Is Strong” and continuing through the trademark riffs of “You Got Me Rocking” and “Sparks Will Fly”. Then it’s something of a trip back in time, with four songs that echo past eras, but without sounding intentional or embarrassing. “The Worst” is a Keith country mumble, and “New Faces” features a prominent harpsichord. “Moon Is Up” pairs pounding drums with a Leslied guitar over some catchy changes. The big ballad is the piano-based “Out Of Tears”, which even has subtle strings and a nice slide solo from Ronnie.
Then it’s back to more basic, if silly rockers, starting with the archetypal “I Go Wild”. We can’t imagine Mick spent more than two minutes on the lyrics for “Brand New Car”, though the horns don’t get too much in the way. “Sweethearts Together” has a Tex-Mex feel that jars next to the James Brown-heavy “Suck On The Jugular”, which is the closest Mick gets to dancing. “Blinded By Rainbows” is another quiet one, juxtaposing lyrics that border on political with an ambiguous chorus, just like the similarly titled “Blinded By Love” from Steel Wheels, but “Baby Break It Down” happily brings back some midtempo rock. And since everybody loves Keith, he gets to warble another classic in “Thru And Thru”, recorded with just Darryl and Charlie. “Mean Disposition”, not included on the LP for some reason, returns us to the sound of the first three tracks.
While it runs out of steam towards the end, in Voodoo Lounge the Stones had an album that at least had some staying power. The production has not dated at all, and some of the songs still sound pretty good. A few songs could have been left off and they’d still have a decent set, but apparently that just wasn’t in the business plan.

Rolling Stones Voodoo Lounge (1994)—

1 comment:

  1. You are so right about "Brand New Car." What a piece of quickly tossed-off, generic junk. In 1994 Bob Hilburn of the LA Times claimed the song had "imagination and charm" and "wry blues sass." His shout-out has bugged me to this day, and I've often wanted to call him on it whenever I saw him. So thanks for confirming my instincts. "Mean Disposition" is a wonderful little tune, and its omission from the vinyl configuration - while hardly detrimental in the CD age - signaled how dunder-headed Stones management and Virgin could be. It should have been a single ferchrissakes! -- and certainly had more potential than "Out of Tears" -- not some bonus track.