The Rolling Stones: A Bigger Bang

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The Rolling Stones
A Bigger Bang
Virgin
2005

Rolling Stones albums have always been tricky never more so than in recent years as assorted songs and collections of same sneak up on you after having made little or no impression at first encounter. It's almost like the Cheshire cat in "Alice in Wonderland where you only see the smile, only with the Stones, all you may see are those big red lips!!! And so it is with A Bigger Bang.

Lost amidst the flurry of publicity around the re-emergence of the Stones—tour talk, cancer scare, political consciousness raising—is the practical reality of the new album, which on early listenings seem like little more than a mixed bag, no more no less, the emphasis on style rather than content.

Take "Rough Justice, for instance, as it blares from your speakers as the first cut, like "Let Me down Slow, echoing, albeit faintly, the prime Stones of 1968. Emerging from psychedelic fog proves to be no more or less invigorating than being shocked from their (self-created?) ennui by Charlie Watt's recent brush with cancer. The drummer's role crucial to the Stones as a musical unit because, at this point, the gigantic heartbeat wallop of his playing is as recognizable as the bluesy Chuck Berry-derived guitars of Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood.

A Bigger Bang was recorded mostly with the core Stones quintet, now also including bassist Darryl Jones, who's now well-ensconced as Charlie's rhythm section partner for nigh on a decade: the former employee of Miles Davis has learned to hit only the notes that matter—besides some runs that enliven tracks like "It Won't Take Long —to the point you feel him more than you really hear him.

The immediacy of the band's bond is so palpable, it's little wonder the digressions from that stripped-down approach sound so suspect. Matt Clifford's programming adorns "Rain Fall Down, where Jagger's singing is at it s most affected, not surprisingly over a funk riff that starts flinty and ends flaccid. The Stones have composed some beautiful ballads in their time—"No Expectations, "Child of the Moon, —but "Streets of Love reminds of nothing so much as the kind of thing a neo-metal hair band would perform to prove they're as sensitive as they're macho.

It's hard to believe the same band that did those cuts also recorded "Back of My Hand, ---but then it's not, the latter played only by Jagger, Richards and Watts, in a swarthy blues mold. Like "She Saw Me Coming and "Biggest Mistake,' this cut succeeds on its own terms because it's less labored than some of this album, particularly the latter half of its sixteen (?!) songs.

That in itself suggests the Jagger, Richards and co-producer Don Was should've conferred about culling four or five cuts from A Bigger Bang and extending the tracks they retained: the guitar banter on "Look What the Cat Dragged In is notable for the fact it's virtually the only such interlude on the disc. The topical "Sweet Neo Con, finds Jagger singing like he means it(though the words border on babble), and other new songs such as "Dangerous Beauty here might sound terrific live (and reappear so improved on the de rigueur live album you know will arise from this tour), on-par with the scintillating performance release last fall on Live Licks from the previous Stones tour.

But Oh No Not You Again is the formulaic likes of which this venerable band have trundled out for more than a decade now when they fall prey to the self-consciousness of trying to emulate themselves: Likewise the sound of Keith Richards singing, "This Place is Empty, it is the work of musicians writing and playing because they have to, not because they're inspired to.

But the album ends with the righteous swagger of the guitar-slinging Glimmer Twin drawling about "Infamy. With this performance, one more time, the Rolling Stones beg the question of when do they really begin to recall the big bands of yore, touring on after the retirement of their leader (Brian Jones) past the point their name members (original bassist Bill Wyman) have left the lineup?

Visit The Rolling Stones on the web.


Tracks: Rough Justice; Let Me Down Slow; It Won't Take Long; Rain Fall Down Streets of Love; Back of My Hand; She Saw Me Coming; Biggest Mistake; This Place Is Empty; Oh No Not You Again; Dangerous Beauty; Laugh, I Nearly Died; Sweet Neo Con;Look What the Cat Dragged In Driving Too Fast; Infamy.

Personnel: Mick Jagger: vocals & backing vocals, guitar, harmonica, bass, slide guitar, keyboards, vibes; Keith Richards; guitar, piano, bass lead and backing vocals; Ronnie Wood: guitar, slide guitar; Charlie Watts: drums; Darryl Jones: bass; Dow Was: piano; Chuck Leavell: piano and organ; Matt Clifford: piano, organ, strings, programming; Blondie Chaplin: backing vocals; Lenny Castro: percussion.

Record Label: Virgin Records

Style: Fringes of Jazz


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