The last really solid Stones album was the hodgepodge of Tattoo You, from the days when they put out a new album every year or two. Wavering quality can be forgiven in a tight release schedule, so when eight years—that’s right, eight, the equivalent of two presidential terms—go by between studio albums, one hopes those geezers have something worth hearing. Of course, every album since their mid-‘80s hiatus had been heralded with PR to the effect that they’ve “got the old classic sound back”. Each of their last few has admittedly had their moments, while having to sit alongside with Mick’s regular attempts to sound “contemporary”.
On A Bigger Bang, the old bastards do keep it simple, mostly by not being afraid to sound like themselves. Most tracks were supposedly started by the trio of Mick, Keith and Charlie; Ronnie added some guitar after the fact, and any bass not later provided by Darryl Jones was handled by Mick or Keith. For the most part, the album does rock, without any clutter. “Rough Justice”, all two chords of it, was the best choice for a single. “Let Me Down Slow” and “It Won’t Take Long” are just as straightforward, and when they bring in the funk for “Rain Fall Down”, it’s a nice change of pace, despite some of the lyrics (“the bankers are wankers every Thursday night/They just vomit on the ground”. Huh?). The obligatory ballad comes in “Streets Of Love”, and it’s not as bad as it threatens to be. “Back Of My Hand” is an interminable Delta blues number that according to the credits is mostly Mick. Luckily, “She Saw Me Coming” sounds like it was a long of fun to play in the studio. But the lovelorn lyrics of “Biggest Mistake” don’t ring true coming out of Mick’s mouth.
Keith finally sings lead on “This Place Is Empty”; it’s amazing how his voice has improved by taking it easy, though we’d love to know if anyone feels well and truly seduced when he coos “bare your breasts”. “Oh No, Not You Again” (which Charlie joked should have been the album’s title) gives Mick a chance to yell some of the dirty words censored off of earlier albums, but at this late date the shock value is nonexistent. Outside of rocking, “Dangerous Beauty” could either be about a romantic conquest or a public figure. “Laugh, I Nearly Died” slows things down to a sinuous groove that, dare we say, could be right out of 1978. “Sweet Neo Con” got all the attention at the time, with its anti-Bush lyrics. The song itself is decent, with some nice twists, but the recently dubbed Sir Mick really shouldn’t try to be political. (And someone should have mixed out the harmonica soloing through half the song.) The wordy “Look What The Cat Dragged In” pulls out all the rhythmic stops they last touched on “Undercover Of The Night”. It’s odd to hear a man who once extolled the virtues of teenage girls now berating the same; I guess it’s different when they’re your own kids. “Driving Too Fast” keeps up the pace, and Keith gets the last word again on the underwhelming “Infamy” (as in “you got it in for me”; get it?) and there’s that harmonica again.
At over an hour, A Bigger Bang qualifies as another double album that with just the right pruning could have been a solid forty-minute program. It starts well, and it’s not a waste of plastic, but they’ve yet to experience the late-career renaissance that some of their peers have enjoyed. One wonders if they can, or will.
The Rolling Stones A Bigger Bang (2005)—3