CK Retro Review: Goats Head Soup by The Rolling Stones

The letdown was bound to happen. In retrospect, 1973’s Goats Head Soup is only a weak album compared to the four that preceded it in The Rolling Stones catalog. But it’s still jarring to hear the steady but sometimes bland professionalism that permeates this album compared to the unmistakable brilliance found on the previous four records. The contemplative mood of many of the songs isn’t the problem as much as the lack of focus in delivering those ideas. The album is rescued by some excellent ballads and nearly torpedoed by an unfortunate one. Here is a song-by-song review.

ONE STAR

10. “Can You Hear The Music”- “Love is a mystery I can’t demsytify.” Do tell, Mick. Actually, please don’t. And leave the triangle for Ed Grimley.

TWO STARS

9. “Hide Your Love”- Oddly enough, the album’s one attempt at Exile-style grit doesn’t make much of a mark outside of Mick Taylor’s guitar work.

THREE STARS

8. “Silver Train”- It chugs along well enough because it’s the kind of groove that the band has concocted a million times. The chorus also has a little pep, but there’s nothing here that’s overly memorable.

7. “Coming Down Again”- An early blueprint for the bluesy balladic style that Keith Richards would later perfect as the years wore on. Some lovely piano work from Nicky Hopkins is a positive here (as it is throughout the album), and Richards’ wavering croon is always affecting. Not his most focused effort lyrically though.

6. “100 Years Ago”- There are some songs here that start off well enough but tend to lose their way. I like this one a lot in its early moments, with Mick Jagger musing about an idyllic past over Billy Preston’s rumbling clavinet. But it tries to do a bit too much perhaps, with an extended musical breakdown not really bringing much to the table (they hadn’t learned much from “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” apparently.)

5. “Dancing With Mr. D”- I think they miscast it as the opening track because they thought Keith’s creeping riff was a good place to start. It really doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the album and it approaches novelty territory with the over-the-top lyrics, but it’s much catchier than most things here and gets a fully-engaged performance from the band.

FOUR STARS

4. “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)”- I’m not sure the cultural commentary goes too far because Mick bails out on it after a couple verses to concentrate on improvising over the music. But that music goes a long way, starting with Preston’s coughing open, progressing through Charlie Watts’ slick beat, encompassing Taylor’s evocative solo, and topped off with the thrilling horns. Here’s a case where you don’t mind a little excess in the running time because they’re so locked in.

3. “Star Star”- It’s somewhat worrisome, I suppose, that the liveliest moment on the album is this takedown of a particularly discriminating groupie. You might blanch at the content, but you can’t argue that Jagger states his case quite thoroughly and humorously. And you also can’t deny that Richards and Taylor winding their way around a Chuck Berry groove is never less than compelling. Good luck getting that chorus out of your head; just make sure you’ve got some space before you succumb to singing along.

2. “Winter”- One thing that was missing in the haphazard melange of Exile was an elegant ballad a la “Moonlight Mile”; Goats Head Soup doubles down on that element. “Winter” builds off Taylor’s soulful licks and Hopkins’ tender piano into a string-laden, snow-covered gem. Taylor later indulges in a powerful solo, while Jagger goes to town with some of his most emotive singing. Not well-known, but it should be.

FIVE STARS

1. “Angie”- It’s understandable that people would want the Stones would want to stay disheveled and raucous considering the mileage they got out of those traits, starting with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and heading all the way through Exile. But precision and songcraft can deliver the goods as well, and “Angie” proves that. Richards isn’t much of a factor on the rest of the album, but his acoustic work here, vulnerable and perfectly intertwined with Hopkins’ invaluable piano, is moving (and so is the music he composed.) Jagger sings compassionately and realistically to a flame that has just about flamed out, urging her to see that there is consolation, even honor, to be found in a relationship that sputters if every effort has been exhausted to sustain it.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on the Stones, my new book Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs comes out this month; preorder it with the link below.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-The-Rolling-Stones/dp/1442254467

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2 Comments on “CK Retro Review: Goats Head Soup by The Rolling Stones”

  1. hans altena says:

    Coming late with comments, because I’ve been out too long, I still want to object to this evaluation, coming from you who has made plenty admirable criticisms. You start of well, describing that this record only lacks something compared to the holy quartet, but then, when you describe the various songs, one would get the impression that the Goat mostly sucks big time. I adore its atmosphere, like hazy harvest time after a long hot summer with lots of parties gone bezerk, and that atmosphere is exemplified for instance with the daringly experimental Can you hear… well yes I do and I see stars, lots of them. Sure, most of the songs have a tiredness beneath them, even the rockers have a rare golden sheen, but they describe the feeling we had in those mid seventies, which only a good blow made bearable, the fall of the empire of love and hippiness… When listening now, sober and well, I still experience the pang. Do we miss some of the knife sharp swagger of Keith? Sure, but we get stoney hooks nonetheless and Taylor seizes the moment to shine. Coming Down Again and 100 Years are great ballads and ballads is what this Soup is about. Pity a lot of Stones fans don’t have the guts to cry, this one’s full of tears, look away if you want. Or listen to the new Richards record, he improves on the recipy

    • countdownkid says:

      Hans, it’s good to have you back. I hope you go through some of the older posts and see what you think. I just felt with Goats Head the ambition wasn’t quite there to create something truly top-notch. So what some people see as kind of a sustained mood of fatigue on the album might just have been the accidental result of them not caring quite as much about the finished product. That said, I think my review admits that there are some real beauties on there, especially “Angie” and “Winter.” I still find “Can You Hear The Music?” to be an out-of-character mess though.


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