Saturday, September 9, 2023



A Bigger Bang was one of those efforts where a legendary but lagging remains of a great rock band pooled what was left of their ingenuity, verve, and grit to patient fans, what, I thought, was a grand and wonderful parting gift. Then, it seems, the Rolling Stones as a creative entity ceased to exist, re-thinking themselves to be a forever touring road show . The goal there seemed only to pack as many stadiums and auditoriums before another one of them bought the farm. It was a canny decision on their part never to announce that they were retiring or that any particular tour or concert was their last dance, as it gave them pause to enjoy their wealth before going back to work. So now the Rolling Stones are releasing a new album , Hackney Diamonds, and a new single, Angry. As a reintroduction to music buyers of the RS as musical force, the new single is all things rote--the famed crossfire guitar work of Richard and Wood neither motivates me to dance, strut, or admire a forever punk attitude--it sounds merely professional, stylistically over-studied, something from a better than average stadiums as possible band. And Jagger goes for the yell-talk-shout style he's made good use of in the past, but his delivery here is no dramatization of a bad scene we can find nuance in; here he has the appeal of someone talking too loud on their phone in a subway car. Not impressed with this, and I can only hope the forthcoming album redeems the last men standing.But now let us consider some of their songs that are great and remain vital and certainly magical through the decades, the days before they became a road show rummaging through a massive songbook.

Child of the Moon:A perfect paen to psychedelic mysticism, if you had to call it anything. Rather like that Charlie's drums are upfront and clamoring, maybe even a bit impatient, and the piano and organ work by Nicky Hopkins bob and weave between the hard strummed acoustic guitars. Jagger sounds like a wasted sage struggling to make a pronouncement to a room full of the equally wasted. The song is a perfect example of what the Rolling Stones have done effectively for decades, which was to accentuate their supposed instrumental deficiencies and cut tracks that couldn't imaginably have worked in more “professional” versions. This song has the feeling of you coming into the practice room just when a meandering jam hits its groove and everything gels splendidly for a bit--the tempo has the feeling that it could go astray at any minute and the instruments, while locked in simple themes that produce an attractive audio, don't sound locked into their parts. It could all just collapse, but it doesn't, and the result here demonstrates the band's ability to achieve a high aesthetic while never losing that element of being stoned-ruffians with too much cash.

Backstreet Girl:I've always been struck by the fascinating disconnect between the folksy, sweetly textured sound of this ballad and all its implications of sublimely expressed dedication and the cruel , misogynist and entitled demands of a man instructing his mistress to know her place, to not contact him for any reason , to be happy with any attention he gives her at all, on his terms only. This works subtly and with a lack of the usual sexist insults that occupy the Stones' more chauvinist material, and I suspect that it's an irony a canny Mick Jagger was working for and achieved. The music suggests Impressionist paintings of a Paris blvd. with the choice addition of accordions to the melody, likely reflects the narrator's attitude, his state of mind, that he's laying the law to a problematic "outside" woman in a manner that is gentle but firm, delicately laid out, even kind in his estimation. The lyrics tell a different story and have the effect of a perfect character sketch that might have been lifted from Dickens or Sterne.

Another lively character study comes to mind:There's no bondage or misogyny in Get Off My Cloud, just the complaints of an impatient young man intensely aware of his awkwardness in the world. The genius here is that Jagger doesn't frame it as a protest song but as an immature rant. That element keeps this song relevant to human experience. Honestly, these songs of scaled-down experience, wicked or melancholic or satiric, are the songs that are the genius of the Stones reputation--that they've been able to rise to new heights from periods of so-so releases is one of the marvels of 20th century music history. But the grand statements--Can't Always Get What You Want, Midnight Rambler, Sympathy for the Devil--have always seemed arch , role-playing and not a little phony and pretentious. In general, I go with what Mailer said about Sympathy for the Devil when it was played for him during a Rolling Stone interview. His view, to paraphrase, was that it was all build up with no pay off. Mailer did, however, go on to say great things about "Live With Me", which he found a funny situation of a daft upper class British household. The Stones, when they cared to work brilliantly withing their limits, had the wit and craft of Wodehouse and Waugh.