|Photo by Mark Seliger|
The new Rolling Stones album, A Bigger Bang , is their first respectable record in decades. Apparently the Glimmer Twins are writing side-by-side again, and the band seems tighter than ever which may be due in part to Charlie Watts recent throat-cancer scare. Through the magic of Instant Messaging, the Weekly s biggest Stones-heads, Lina Lecaro and Falling James, got together to debate the albums strengths, to determine if Mick was sincere about his attack on Bush and whether the Stones are victims of age discrimination.
LINA LECARO: Okay, Ill start (this up) . . . sorry, couldnt resist. I think this is the Stones best release as a whole since Tattoo You . Theyve always been very blatant in the way they interpret their influences, whether it be blues, country or soul. This record gives you a sampler platter of all of these, and I think it does it well for the most part.
FALLING JAMES: Its their strongest album since Undercover , but darker, more pained now, less laughing in the face of horror. Mick seems more romantically wrecked and resigned. Most of the songs are mean-woman blues with the exception of Sweet Neo Con, the controversial protest song. He disses Halliburton and the Pentagon pretty directly, but it feels like the pent-up rant of any reasonable person. I love gasoline/I drink it every day/But its getting very pricey/And who is going to pay? Its the most specifically political broadside Micks ever released. Too bad it wastes those lyrics with some of the weakest music on the record.
LL: I agree with what hes saying there, but its hard to take him seriously. I mean, sorry, Mick, but how does paying $3 for a gallon of gas affect you?
FJ: Well, his limo driver probably has to tell him at some point.
LL: I question his motives with this tune. Green Day did very well bashing Bush, and that cant be totally lost on Sir Mick.
FJ: Hes not that cynical. I think hes even more offended by Bush Jr. than he was in the 60s by Johnson and Nixon.
LL: I agree that its one of the records weakest songs musically, which is too bad. If it was super-hooky, with these scorching lyrics, maybe it could be in Michael Moores next film.
FJ: Dangerous Beauty sounds like one of Micks odes to some malevolent dominatrix type, until you listen closer and realize that with all those references to cattle prods and prisoners in hoods, hes actually singing about Lynndie England, that prison guard in Iraq.
LL: Except shes no beauty, is she?
FJ: I dont know, Mick seems pretty turned on! I think he started out making a political statement and got distracted and excited by his metaphor. Its definitely more subtle than Sweet Neo Con. The attraction of sleeping with the enemy like the sexy FBI agent in Fingerprint File, [off 1974s Its Only Rock & Roll].
LL: I prefer Mick when hes being seductive, rather than being seduced. The double entendres on Rough Justice work either way, though taking the Little Red Rooster reference and raunching it up.
Did you notice the word cocks was censored in their NFL Kickoff performance a few weeks ago? It was like, Once upon a time/I was your little rooster/But now Im just one of your BLEEP. They also censored You make a dead man come during Start Me Up. So ridiculous.
FJ: Rough Justice has one of those iconic choppy, back-and-forth Stones riffs, with a little of the dizzy swing of Brown Sugar
LL: I agree on the Brown Sugarness of it. And the whole band contributes something to this one. Ronnie and Charlie particularly shine. It opens the record like gangbusters. Its my pick for best on the album.
FJ: One of my favorites is Back of My Hand. Its closer to the bluesy, primal Stones. Very Muddy Waters, with lonely, across-the-bay harmonica, and trippy lyrics. I hear a preacher on the corner/ranting like a crazy man. . . I see Goyas and paranoias/I can read it like the back of my hand.
LL: Yes! Yes! Yes! Love this one. Makes me want them to do an all-blues record next. A total bluesy-woozy Bo Diddleyish stomp. I imagine Keith in a state of blissful abandon on this (like when I saw him doing blues covers at the Joint a couple years ago). This one could easily fit on Exile or Let It Bleed.
FJ: I was about to praise Ronnies succinct slide guitar on Back of My Hand, but the credits say that Mick played slide on this one and bass, harmonica and percussion! Wow, what does he need the rest of the band for?
LL: The presence of this tune suggests that theyve finally stopped trying to be modern or trendy and realized that if they just go back to the loose and lovely rapture of the blues, they can sound fresh again. Though the kids who like, say, Jet or whatever probably wont dig it.
FJ: Going back to Out of Our Heads, Stones albums have always had a mix of raw blues and sappy pop ballads (with the exception of Satanic Majesty). A Bigger Bang is in the same continuum, with more passion than usual, and even the kids can see that the old Stones have more charisma than their young imitators. But I know how you feel about the Stones being judged as irrelevant just because of their age.
LL: Yeah. Theyre ancient, nobodys denying that, but why does that preclude them from rocking? Its because sex is still in the mix here, and some people arent comfortable with that. But Micks still got the lips and the hips (and the young model girlfriends), so, guess what, he can still get away with the come-hither crooning. Keith, on the other hand, just doesnt give a shit, and that makes people resentful. Everyone wishes they could be as cool as the Keef.
FJ: I know I do! Another of my favorites is Rain Fall Down. This one has a space-funk groove, and a ringing guitar lick thats very similar to Gun Club singer Jeffrey Lee Pierces solo single Love and Desperation. A hazy, glittering mournfulness. You cant go wrong with songs about rain.
LL: Yeah, I like the hypnotic groove of this. Its like some of the stuff off Black and Blue and even Dancing With Mr. D or Miss You. Its their obligatory disco number, and its got those Glimmer Twin harmonies. And lets not forget about Infamy. Keiths personal anthem has a great boogie-ish bounce to it. Plus, his voice has never sounded better. Im sure he had some help in the studio, though. Hope he can make it sound as rich and soulful live. Also, the harmonica rocks on this. Its the perfect closer to the record.
FJ: Enchanting. With Keiths ruff-&-tuff phrasing and that phaserd guitar sorta slinking in the inky soup, its eerily different from the rest of the album. Like the universe, maybe the Stones are still expanding.
FJ: Lets talk about Keiths other song, This Place Is Empty. He seems like hes just as much of a lovesick fool as Mick, but hes more restrained and mysterious about it all.
LL: This tune isnt that great, but Keef fans will love it. He always gets a couple of solo turns on every record (and at every show) its mandatory at this point.
FJ: Its a little sleepy, with unremarkable lyrics, but it still creates a nice blue mood. A confidential ballad with Keiths low, breathy vocals will it work in a stadium?
LL: Probably not, but I think Keiths ballad-y stuff rarely does. Its his more upbeat numbers, such as Little T&A and Before They Make Me Run, that people want to hear live. This is like the stuff off Talk Is Cheap, which (and I saw him tour that album) is kinda boring live when its one after the next. Still, its a poignant interlude in the context of this collection.
FJ: Speaking of Little T&A, this is also one of two songs on the new album that uses breasts as a central image. Keith sings, Bare your breasts and make me feel at home, while in Oh No Not You Again Mick says, I feel like jello/Staring down your tits.
LL: Micks tits reference bugs me more than Keiths breasts. Mick is always trying to be the provocateur. Keith just puts it out there in an uncontrived way. Even when Keith did Little T&A, as a woman I never felt offended. I sang along! And still do...
FJ: I like a couple of Micks ballads, including Laugh, I Nearly Died. He seems more thoughtful and spiritual about love: Been travelling far and wide/wonder whos gonna be my guide.
LL: I agree. This one really does have a moodiness and wistfulness about it thats not unlike Memory Motel or even Waiting on a Friend. His voice evokes a loneliness, maybe the loneliness of the road. I love when Mick uses his falsetto, and on this its particularly moving.
FJ: Biggest Mistake is even wimpier, but I sorta like it. Its full of weepy, lost-love sentimentality, the kind of song I usually hate, but it seems like Mick is actually heartbroken about someone real.
LL: I think he was trying for more emotional depth here, and I wouldnt be surprised if Charlie Watts recent bout with cancer is what made him dig deeper on the record as a whole, but Biggest Mistake is still a throwaway for me.
FJ: What about It Wont Take Long? I think its the best of the straight-up hard rockers on the album. It has sinuous guitars, pumping like derricks. A seedy desperation and foreboding. Mick tries to convince himself that it wont take long to forget you, but adds with less certainty, you know Im never wrong.
LL: Maybe it wont take long to forget you, but, for me, that can also be said about this song.
FJ: It has good, simple lyrics: All Ive got is some memories/Stuck in an old shoe box. The lesser songs on A Bigger Bang are done in by bad lyrics. Like Look What the Cat Dragged In, a speedy, stuttering semi-Hendrixy guitar duel with clattering percussion thats marred by its cliché title. You should never quote your imitators (in this case Poison). It reminds me of when the Stones Rock and a Hard Place echoed the earlier Aerosmith album title. They should be above that. But there is one cryptic line: You look like a leper/dressed as Sergeant Pepper.
LL: And he mentions Syria and Lebanon, which I dont get. What is this song about? Is it about his daughter (whos a model), maybe? Like, all this shit is going on in the world, and youre out partying? If it is, hes the last one who should be pointing fingers.
FJ: I agree. It sounds like hes scolding someone his children, his wife, Keith, himself? for partying too much and coming home late and puking everywhere, but that seems kind of ironic, considering Micks line of work.
LL: Maybe hes scolding himself or the man he used to be. Maybe its the Texas drawl of Jerry Hall churning in his head.
FJ: A similarly flawed track is She Saw Me Coming. There are more of Keiths trademark gleaming suspended chords and fat chunka-chunkas, but despite the occasional cutting lines (I was served up on her grill/She busted in/And she burglarized my soul), the lyrics are lazy, and the coming double-entendre wears thin after the twentieth time.
LL: I like this one, actually. The rhythms might be repetitious, but thats what makes em stick.
FJ: A better rock & roller is Driving Too Fast. Maybe its just another in a long line of rock songs about tragic car adventures, but with way-distorted guitars and hammerhead piano, its a good driving song for the open road.
LL: I dont think its as strong as you do. To me, its like When the Whip Comes Down, only not as spirited or fun.
FJ: What do you think is the worst song on A Bigger Bang? I cant stand Streets of Love, which is one of those generic, production-line power ballads like Cheap Tricks version of The Flame. Its slicker and more overproduced than anything else on here, and doesnt even sound like the Stones. It could be any band.
LL: Three words: Its no Angie.
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