Voodoo Lounge arrived in 1994 a full five years after Steel Wheels, but the general consensus is that it built upon the foundation The Rolling Stones laid on that comeback album. Overall the songs are maybe a shade weaker than its predecessor, even if there are a few nice attempts at changing the pace and style. 15 songs was way too many, but that’s what CD’s, with their extra running time, wrought. Cut this thing down to ten songs, especially if you choose from the rock-solid first half, and you’ve got something that really hums. Here is a song-by-song review.
15. “Baby Break It Down”- “Hey, guys, we need another song to fit the CD running length. How fast can we cough up a refried groove? Right, let’s get on with it then.”
14. “Brand New Car”- The Stones indulged in this kind of fast-machine-for-sex metaphor before, most notably with “Start Me Up”. This is no “Start Me Up”.
13. “Suck On The Jugular”- It wants to be James Brown-funky but it gets a bit busy and overproduced fast. Quite a title though.
12. “I Go Wild”- This one just never catches fire. Mick Jagger tries hard (maybe too hard) with some elaborate lyrics, but the tempo drags even with Charlie Watts going to the snare often. Skippable.
11.”Sparks Will Fly”- Watts gives this one the pep it needs to get by, and the chorus is solid enough. I like the touch of the fire chief playing cards while everything burns. The vulgar turn the lyrics take is a bit unnecessary though, considering it’s a relatively benign-sounding song otherwise.
10. “Mean Disposition”- Not a bad little rockabilly tack-on at the end of the disc. Granted, it’s anticlimactic after “Thru And Thru”, but the ease with which the band sinks into this one is engaging nonetheless.
9. “Moon Is Up”- A pretty good studio construction, with every component in the music given a twist, such as Watts banging on trash cans and Jagger singing through the harmonica mike. The song itself is far less memorable, but the exotic touches improve it a lot.
8. “Blinded By Rainbows”- Well, the first thing you notice is that it has something on its mind rather than matters of the heart (and groin). Mick’s series of questions are a bit all over the place as the song goes on, but the gentility of the music and the yearning of his vocal are a good match that pushes this song past its overearnest limitations.
7. “Sweethearts Together”- The Drifters-style rhythm was something relatively new for the band, and they seem energized by the chance to take it on. Mick and Keith Richards, in the same mike rhyming “together” and “forever”: Very cool. Flaco Jimenez brings an accordion into a Stones recording and comes out none the worse for wear. Nice surprises all around here.
6. “You Got Me Rocking”- Stereotypical late-period Stones, you know, where some permutation of the “rock” figures prominently in a song full of brawny guitars. Jagger winks at himself with the line “I was a hooker losing her looks,” letting us know that those who take a song like this too seriously are missing the bus. Best to just crank it and leave analysis for the couch.
5. “The Worst”- The acoustic sorrow on display is pulled off quite well, with the violin adding to the high lonesome feeling. It seems like Keith has written this song before and probably a little better, but he always charms when he’s in self-deprecating, fragile mode.
4. “New Faces”- You’d probably have to go back to the Brian Jones era to find instruments like harmonium and harpsichord adorning a Stones song. Jagger always slides into these settings with aplomb, and the instrumentation pretties this up without a doubt. The bridge lets some emotion into the formality of the musical backing. An effective curve ball for sure.
3. “Your Love Is Strong”- In my book I had this just out of the Top 100 at #101, and listening to it again it makes me appreciate just how strong the catalog is that a track this solid didn’t make the cut. Jagger makes the most of his lower register to convey some serious sultriness, while his harmonica part uncorks his libido. The groove is thick as August humidity, while Richards and Wood prowl all around the scene. It’s only after listening a few times that you realize the narrator hasn’t even met this girl who makes him hard and weak all at once; the music convinces you that they’re pretty hot and heavy.
2. “Out Of Tears”- Another example of latter-period Stones really shining on the slow stuff. There’s something about how the ballads display their vulnerability, showing their age in the best possible way. Jagger writes a really strong melody here, while Ronnie Wood’s slide part is understated and tender. The production is smart all the way through as well, such as when the last verse returns to just Mick and the piano before the surging finish. We’ve all been there; the key here is that Jagger, with his bandmates helping out immensely, makes you believe he’s been there as well.
1. “Thru And Thru”- A truly unique effort from Richards, one in which he zigs every time you expect him to zag. It makes for a thrilling listen, even for a song that, at its core, is wounded and bereft. The weird jargon of the lyrics, the strange turns those lyrics take, the sudden whoosh of the harmonies, the sharp drums emerging from the creeping guitars, the menacing coda, and on and on: It’s impossible to put a finger on this one, and why would you want to? You’ve got six minutes of brilliant idiosyncrasy here. David Chase has a good ear, for sure.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on the Stones, check the link below or any online bookseller for my new book, Counting Down The Rolling Stones: Their 100 Finest Songs.)