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A Bigger Bang
It’s unmistakably The Rolling Stones as we know and love them, down to the last chopped rhythm of Keith Richards’ telecaster, Charlie Watts’ snare crack and the mannered tics of Sir Mick’s white boy blues croak. Like The Ruttles’ clever pastiches of Beatles classics, the Stones appear to have perfected the art of parodying themselves to a point where you wonder if they might be having a laugh.
Colm O Hare, 12 Sep 2005
Convention critical wisdom has it that the last great Rolling Stones album was Some Girls, which, astonishingly, came out in 1978. In truth, it wasn’t all that great, save for the disco-fied groove of ‘Miss You’, the cod country hokum of ‘Far Away Eyes’ and the leery rocker, ‘Beast of Burden’. The follow-up, Emotional Rescue, at least boasted a great title track while Tattoo You had a handful of now acknowledged classics like ‘Waiting On A Friend’ and their long-time concert opener ‘Start Me Up’. Every Stones album released since then has been patchy and disappointing (apart from Voodoo Lounge, which hinted at a return to form). But frustratingly, most have had their moments – albeit brief, tantalising flashes of the greatness for which the Stones were rightly lauded in the past (the benchmark being 1969’s Let It Bleed, which remains their absolute high point).
Even making allowances for their advancing years, A Bigger Bang (yep, even the titles have gotten worse) their 25th studio album and first since 1997’s lacklustre Bridges To Babylon is no exception to the above rule. But it’s unmistakably The Rolling Stones as we know and love them, down to the last chopped rhythm of Keith Richards’ telecaster, Charlie Watts’ snare crack and the mannered tics of Sir Mick’s white boy blues croak. Like The Ruttles’ clever pastiches of Beatles classics, the Stones appear to have perfected the art of parodying themselves to a point where you wonder if they might be having a laugh. Almost every song here can be referenced to one or more of their former glories. The opener and current single, ‘Rough Justice’ revisits a pair of rockers ‘When The Whip Comes Down’ and ‘Respectable’ (buoyed by some nifty slide guitar from Ronnie Wood); the soulful ballad ‘Rain Fall Down’ recalls seventies ballads ‘Angie’ and ‘Fool To Cry’, while the bluesy ‘Back Of My Hand’ has all the atmosphere but none of the menace of ‘Midnight Rambler’.
It’s not all pilfering from their own legacy – ‘Rain Fall Down’ cadges the guitar riff from Prince’s ‘Kiss’ and the groove of Bowie’s ‘Fame’ but it’s a rare departure from form. Throughout Jagger hams it up like an old pro, sounding for the most part on cruise control. To his credit Keith Richards’ shaky lead vocal adds poignancy and emotion to the ballad ‘Biggest Mistake’ and he sings with a tad more assuredness on the closer, ‘Infamy’ (which to these ears recalls U2’s ‘Numb’).
Buried towards the end of the album, the only nod to political posturing - if you can call it that - ‘Sweet Neocon’ should have been buried altogether, the lyrics alone rendering it an embarrassment. “You call yourself a Christian, I think you are a hypocrite./You say you’re a patriot I think that you’re a crock of shit.”
The Greatest Rock and Roll Band In The World have long since forfeited the title.
They’re still getting away with it – but only just.