I don`t think I have posted an article about Rolling Stones before, so here goes. Will be interesting to see if the Stones fans are out there or if they have read all of this before.
As usual, you can count on Mr. Murray to give a proper slagging off when he feel it is deserved. And, as we have learned before, he often feel it is deserved.
Have a good read!
Sometimes You Can`t Even Get What You Need
The New Stones Album
Charles Shaar Murray sets off in search of Ancient Gods, and finds nothing more than four (or five or six as the case may be) Ageing Punks in search of an idea.
“The Rolling Stones are a really good band, but, like, I consider them like a boys` band because they don`t play mens music. They don`t play professional music for men, they play music for young people, and even with their most intelligent material as a stimulant, they play music for the young.”
– Mike Bloomfield, 1968.
“I`ve heard some of the Rolling Stones` new tracks and although I dig them, I don`t think they`re anything more than what they are, which is incredible, delicious and wonderful rock and roll and well overdue from them. The Rolling Stones should always be a non-progressive group.
– Pete Townshend, 1968.
“Quite simply, I personally feel that the Stones are the world`s best rock and roll band – quite unqualifiedly. Not that I think their records are always great… it`s like Glyn Johns says about a Stones session, you can sit and wait for weeks and they`ll just churn out a lot of rubbish.”
– Pete Townshend, 1970.
“That`s what makes the Stones the Stones: they never back down, never lose ground, they plunge ahead as raw as life itself, and even though they made mistakes sometimes they`re not afraid to admit `em, and they`ll take another wilder chance round the very next bend. That`s rock and roll, brother, and so are the Rolling Stones.”
– Lester Bangs, 1973.
The last time the Stones put out an album was nearly two years ago.
That was “It`s Only Rock`n` Roll” and since then they`ve pacified the natives only with a couple of crash-course-for-the-ravers compilations of their Decca and Rolling Stones Records periods (“Rolled Gold” and “Made In The Shade” respectively), Bill Wyman`s “Stone Alone”, assorted cameos on Ron Wood`s solo albums, and the everything – you – always – wanted – to – hear – from – the – Stones – and – then – wished – you – hadn`t – asked “Metamorphosis.”
Mick Taylor blue-jaunted at the tail end of `74, just as the Stones were about to embark on their next bout of recording, and various notables – including Jeff Beck, Ronnie Wood (two guys I would deem it inadvisable to invite to the same session), Robert A. Johnson (from John Entwistle`s Ox), Harvey Mandel (late of Canned Heat and John Mayall), and Wayne Perkins (late of Smith, Perkins and Smith) – zoomed in amidst flurries of are – they – or – are – they – not – the – new – Stones to help The Greatest Rock And Roll Band In The World to lay down their weary tracks.
Anyway, Ron Wood won the door prize and gets his pic on the sleeve despite still not being “officially” a full-fledged Stone, and the nationals generally play safe by referring to him as “guitarist with the Rolling Stones and the Faces” even though the Faces are gone-gone.
And guess what? “Black And Blue”, the Stones` new album, released last week, is composed entirely of material recorded between mid-December of 1974 and early April of 1975, featuring Wood, Mandel and Perkins on auxiliary guitars. Relevance, right? Immediacy, right? Fast throughput, right?
In his celebrated Rolling Stone interview, Keith Richard responded to Robert Greenfield`s remark that “Stones albums usually take a long time” as follows: “Which really pisses me off. Because everybody`s laid back a little more and everybody has other things, whereas when it was just a matter of being on the road and recording, that`s all you did… and obviously you could do things much quicker that way, but you can`t have weddings of the year and solo albums…”
So “Black And Blue” comes out nearly a year after it was cut, which would imply (a) that the Stones have been having a more than somewhat turbulent time of it and (b) a fairly low read-out on the prolific-o-meter.
Still, it wouldn`t matter a hoot in hell if the album had proved itself worth the wait, but “Black And Blue” is a let-down of hideous proportions, totally devoid of either the epic sense of sleazy grandeur or the galvanic bejewelled tension which are the Stones` twin ace cards.
From the top, then.
Side one opens up with “Hot Stuff”, with two guitar parts from Keef, lead by Harvey Mandel, and a dollop of piano from Billy Preston. It`s little more than a lengthy (nearly five-and-a-half minutes) workout on a funk riff with Jagger alternately breathing “Hot Stuff, can`t get enough” over the top, and indulging in what sounds like a drunken impression of Captain Beefheart doing an I. Roy talkover. Mandel takes a lengthy psychedelic I-am-backward-tape solo when Jagger pauses for breath, which isn`t nearly often enough. Richard`s rhythm lick is awesomely casual in the time-honoured Keef tradition of playing so loose that it sounds as if he`s going to miss a chop at any moment – except that he invariably holds it down with his patented understatedly deft throwaway precision. Plus Charlie`s good tonight, inne?
Unfortunately, even the sterling efforts of these two stalwarts can`t make “Hot Stuff” anything more than an embarrassment.
“Hand Of Fate” is built around a cluster of supposedly fail-safe Stones devices: a snarling, lurching Keefriff, a spitting, grandstanding Jagger vocal, Watts cymbal smashes to boost the momentum, mixed-down Preston piano, and a hardnosed lead guitar (by Perkins, who sounds uncannily like Mick Taylor, which doesn`t hurt a bit).
Only trouble is it don`t work. It sets itself up as the latest heir to “Brown Sugar” and “Stray Cat Blues,” but winds up as little more than a poor relation.
“Cherry Oh Baby,” the Stones` latest stab at reggae, was written by Eric Donaldson, who recorded the original version which, regrettably I haven`t heard. It features Nicky Hopkins in the unfamiliar role of organist and no less than four guitar parts (three by Keef and one by Honest Ron Wood, putting in the first of his three cameo appearances). Charlie Watts plays delightfully crisp and solid drums – the best white reggae drums I`ve ever heard, in fact – but Bill Wyman`s bass is far too sluggish and the guitars stumble over each other, completely demolishing the feel of the track.
The last time the Stones addressed themselves to the wonders of dat JA beat (“Luxury” on “It`s Only Rock`n` Roll”), they covered their bets both ways by simultaneously stylising reggae to hell `n` gone, and maintaining a basic classic Stones rough-edge drive with a reggae back beat. Here, they attempt a professional-music-for-men straightforward cop of Actual Real JA Licks, and blow it. The vocal is so hammy that any devout Rasta, Muslim or Jew wouldn`t even allow it in the house.
The final track on the side, “Memory Motel”, goes part of the way towards reclaiming the lost ground. Perkins and Mandel play guitars (acoustic and electric respectively), and Jagger and Richard pianos (ditto) while Billy Preston weighs in on string synthesiser (the acceptable face of mellotron). It`s a fair-to-middling example of the Stones Ballad, with just enough roughage from the vocal and drums to satisfactorily complement the pastoral keyboardarama, and extremely winsome melody. It would be a more than adequate Second Division cut on a Grade A Stones album, but on this one it`s the first track that actually achieves what it sets out to do.
In general, things pick up a little on the second side. They don`t pull off any masterstrokes, but on the other hand they don`t fumble the ball.
“Hey Negrita” is the album`s winner dance track, sinuous stomping funk with Richard and Wood on guitars (a commendably restrained one guitar track apiece) and Preston on piano and organ; tailormade accompaniment for stuff-strutting. The song ain`t no Nobel Prizewinner, but it`s just solid enough to give the riff an excuse for living and the chorus vocals (by Jagger, Richard, Preston and Wood) have a nicely sassy urgency.
“Melody”, which follows, is another of the album`s better moments. Cool, slinky, feline and deceptively mellow, it gives Billy Preston a handsdown landslide as its Best Supporting Player for his piano, organ and backup vocals, tho` Bro` Keef comes a respectable second for his snaky blues fills. It also wins Best Lyric and Best Vocal – not that Jagger gives himself too much competition on this album. There`s a beautiful verse which goes sump`n like:
`I took her out eatin` but she
drank up all my pay,
She said, `I`m gon` fix my
face, don`t you go away`,
I was lookin` for her high and
low like a master for a hound,
She was passed out in the
bathroom in the arms of my best
Unfortunately, the next cut, “A Fool To Cry”, throws away a very pretty backing track (Richard and Perkins on guitars, Jagger on electric piano, Hopkins on acoustic piano and string synthesiser) and a lovely chorus with a quite unprecedentedly crass vocal and lyric. Maestro?
“I come home baby, after
working all night long,
Put my daughter on my knee,
And she say, `Daddy, what`s
And she whisper in my ear so
You know what she say? She
`Daddy, you`re a fool to cry…”
Look, I know Mick and Keith used to write for Gene Pitney, but this is ridiculous.
For closers, there`s “Crazy Mama”, another entry in the Write – A – Classic – Stones – Rock – Out sweepstakes. The song`s a bit of a 98-pound weakling, but the track has a rolling, methodical, remorseless power with Richard playing both the rhythm and the principal leads, augmented by Mr Jagger himself on Assistant Rhythm and (it says here) Wood and Preston for the gorgeous solo and fade-out lick. I haven`t the faintest idea what Preston`s playing, since it sounds like three guitars to me, but I`m too chicken to argue the toss with an Actual Mock-Up of Actual Engineers` 16-Track Mixing Notes.
Commendations: Keith Richard still plays Keith Richard better than anybody else, though he`s played it considerably better in the past. Charlie Watts is, on the other hand, greater than ever. Mick Jagger`s guitar is improving dramatically, and he`s playing very respectable piano indeed.
The Massed Engineers (played by Glyn Johns, Keith Harwood, Phil McDonald and Len Hahn) have achieved a radically different Stones sound: ultra-crisp, clean and sharp, with an enviable degree of solidity and punch on the bass and drums: as opposed to the tangled, shaggy meatgrinder mixes of yore. It`s a Conventional Good Sound, and I still haven`t made up my mind about it.
Brickbats: the quality of the material and of Jagger`s vocals is at an all-time Stones low. The songs are mostly poor, and Jagger sounds strained and uptight, substituting caricature phrasing and enunciation for the deadly, lynx-like confidence of old. Could be he`s unhappy with the songs and is thus unable to work within them to his customary degree.
All in all, “Black And Blue” comes on like an idea-shaped vacuum. Why it wasn`t released a year ago I haven`t the faintest idea; and I can only presume that it`s surfacing now because they haven`t had the time/energy/inspiration (place a tick under either “true” or “false”) to cut anything better in the meantime.
Perhaps the most upsetting aspect of the album is that parts of it already sound dated. “Hot Stuff”, particularly, reminds one that a year ago, when it was cut, earnest spadophiles in the rockbiz were all enraptured by Thangs Fonky (Kool, Ohio Players, Fatbacks etc.) and the likes of Keith and his pals were probably dying to try their hand at Summa Dat Fonky Stoff. (Ditto reggae, for that matter.) Well, Fonk precision-tooled itself into a blind alley and “Hot Stuff” is still staring blankly at the wall.
It doesn`t sound as if the Stones are too much in touch with what`s actually happening. “Black And Blue” is neither a triumphant return to the forefront to show all the upstart bands of the last two years that the Original Is Still The Greatest nor a work of resolute classicism. Rather, it radiates confusion and aridity; isolation and stalemate.
Unquestionably they`ve still got the chops to play the ass off of their next set of good ideas, but those good ideas are gonna haveta be there if the Rolling Stones intend to be anything more than an oldies band. “Black And Blue” is neither a trailblazing foray off the beaten track, nor a confident lap of honour round the main freeway, but a directionless mooch round the side streets.
Oh well, I suppose it`s rather naive at this point to expect veteran heroes – even colossi like the Stones, The Who and Led Zep – to return messianically toting rock and roll salvation in the form of Tablets from the Mountain. The two first-named bands have by now enjoyed longer periods of genuine creativity than either Elvis or Chuck Berry, and even rock stars (especially rock stars) have to contend with built-in obsolesence.
The hell with it. If they won`t rock us, somebody will. But then you can`t always get what you want.
Impressive ad over two full pages in the NME.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Mick Ronson, British Country Music Festival, Abba, J.J. Cale, Magna Carta, Dr. Alimantado, Steve Harley, Osibisa.
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