|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
album’s strengths, to determine if Mick was sincere about his attack on Bush —
and whether the Stones are victims of age discrimination.
LINA LECARO: Okay, I’ll start (this up) . . . sorry, couldn’t resist. I think this is the Stones’ best release as a whole since Tattoo You . They’ve 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: It’s 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 it’s getting very pricey/And who is going to pay?” It’s the most specifically political broadside Mick’s ever released. Too bad it wastes those lyrics with some of the weakest music on the record.
LL: I agree with what he’s saying there, but it’s 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 can’t be totally lost on Sir Mick.
FJ: He’s not that cynical. I think he’s even more offended by Bush Jr. than he was in the ’60s by Johnson and Nixon.
LL: I agree that it’s one of the record’s weakest songs musically, which is too bad. If it was super-hooky, with these scorching lyrics, maybe it could be in Michael Moore’s next film.
FJ: “Dangerous Beauty” sounds like one of Mick’s odes to some malevolent dominatrix type, until you listen closer and realize that with all those references to cattle prods and prisoners in hoods, he’s actually singing about Lynndie England, that prison guard in Iraq.
LL: Except she’s no beauty, is she?
FJ: I don’t know, Mick seems pretty turned on! I think he started out making a political statement and got distracted and excited by his metaphor. It’s definitely more subtle than “Sweet Neo Con.” The attraction of sleeping with the enemy — like the sexy FBI agent in “Fingerprint File,” [off 1974’s It’s Only Rock & Roll].
LL: I prefer Mick when he’s 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 I’m 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 Sugar”–ness of it. And the whole band contributes something to this one. Ronnie and Charlie particularly shine. It opens the record like gangbusters. It’s my pick for best on the album.
FJ: One of my favorites is “Back of My Hand.” It’s 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 Diddley–ish 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 Ronnie’s 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 they’ve 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 won’t 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. They’re ancient, nobody’s denying that, but why does that preclude them from rocking? It’s because sex is still in the mix here, and some people aren’t comfortable with that. But Mick’s 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 doesn’t 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 that’s very similar to Gun Club singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s solo single “Love and Desperation.” A hazy, glittering mournfulness. You can’t go wrong with songs about rain.
LL: Yeah, I like the hypnotic groove of this. It’s like some of
the stuff off Black and Blue and even “Dancing With Mr. D” or “Miss You.”
It’s their obligatory disco number, and it’s got those Glimmer Twin harmonies.
And let’s not forget about “Infamy.” Keith’s personal anthem has a great boogie-ish
bounce to it. Plus, his voice has never sounded better. I’m 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. It’s the perfect closer to the record.
FJ: Enchanting. With Keith’s ruff-&-tuff phrasing and that phaser’d guitar
sorta slinking in the inky soup, it’s eerily different from the rest of the album.
Like the universe, maybe the Stones are still expanding.
FJ: Let’s talk about Keith’s other song, “This Place Is Empty.”
He seems like he’s just as much of a lovesick fool as Mick, but he’s
more restrained and mysterious about it all.
LL: This tune isn’t that great, but Keef fans will love it. He always gets
a couple of solo turns on every record (and at every show) — it’s mandatory
at this point.
FJ: It’s a little sleepy, with unremarkable lyrics, but it still creates
a nice blue mood. A confidential ballad with Keith’s low, breathy vocals
— will it work in a stadium?
LL: Probably not, but I think Keith’s ballad-y stuff rarely does.
It’s 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 it’s one after the next. Still, it’s 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: Mick’s tits reference bugs me more than Keith’s 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 Mick’s ballads, including “Laugh, I Nearly
Died.” He seems more thoughtful and spiritual about love: “Been travelling
far and wide/wonder who’s gonna be my guide.”
LL: I agree. This one really does have a moodiness and wistfulness about it that’s
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 it’s particularly moving.
FJ: “Biggest Mistake” is even wimpier, but I sorta like it. It’s
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 wouldn’t 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
FJ: What about “It Won’t Take Long”? I think it’s 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 won’t take long to forget you,” but adds with less certainty,
“you know I’m never wrong.”
LL: Maybe “it won’t take long to forget you,” but, for me, that
can also be said about this song.
FJ: It has good, simple lyrics: “All I’ve 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 that’s 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 don’t get. What is this song
about? Is it about his daughter (who’s a model), maybe? Like, “all this
shit is going on in the world, and you’re out partying”? If it is, he’s
the last one who should be pointing fingers.
FJ: I agree. It sounds like he’s 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 Mick’s line of work.
LL: Maybe he’s scolding himself — or the man he used to be. Maybe it’s
the Texas drawl of Jerry Hall churning in his head.
FJ: A similarly flawed track is “She Saw Me Coming.” There are
more of Keith’s 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 that’s
what makes ’em stick.
FJ: A better rock & roller is “Driving Too Fast.” Maybe it’s
just another in a long line of rock songs about tragic car adventures, but with
way-distorted guitars and hammerhead piano, it’s a good driving song for
the open road.
LL: I don’t think it’s as strong as you do. To me, it’s 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 can’t
stand “Streets of Love,” which is one of those generic, production-line
power ballads like Cheap Trick’s version of “The Flame.” It’s
slicker and more overproduced than anything else on here, and doesn’t even
sound like the Stones. It could be any band.
LL: Three words: It’s no “Angie.”