CK Retro Review: A Bigger Bang by The Rolling Stones

As I write this (9/23/16) the rumors are flying that The Rolling Stones will be releasing a new album sometime in the near future. But if it doesn’t happen, and A Bigger Bang is the last studio album we receive from them, it wouldn’t be the worst way to go out. (Heck, could you imagine if they actually broke up after Dirty Work and that was their last?) Released in 2005, A Bigger Bang is a shade or two better than its predecessor, Bridges To Babylon. 16 songs is too many, of course, but there’s some solid stuff here and not too much of it feels derivative of older work, which, when you’ve released as much stuff as they have, is no small feat. Here is a song-by-song review:

TWO STARS

16. “Look What The Car Dragged In”- By the time you reach Track 14, one more diatribe against a female with wandering tendencies is one too many. But Mick Jagger does name-drop Sgt. Pepper, so that’s something.

15. “Oh No, Not You Again”- Remember when I said that there wasn’t too much on the album that was derivative. This one, which gets lost somewhere between self-deprecating and vulgar, makes a liar out of me.

14. “Driving Too Fast”- Jagger sustains his metaphor about life being a highway well enough, if a bit too long. The music doesn’t really help him either, coming off like a busy freeway when a one-lane country road might have been more effective.

13. “She Saw Me Coming”- About the only thing you might take away from this one is that Mick Jagger isn’t a bad little bass player. Other than that, it’s B-side filler at best.

12. “It Won’t Take Long”- Three straight churning rockers at the start of the album was probably too much, especially when they produced diminishing returns. You might forget this one pretty quick after you hear it.

THREE STARS

11. “Infamy”- Keith Richards gets the last word as usual, but, oddly enough, it’s not with a ballad. Instead he tosses off a gurgling rocker that, aside from Jagger’s harmonica fills and Charlie Watts’ forceful backbeat, doesn’t do a whole lot.

10. “Dangerous Beauty”- A weird one, as a grungy groove is utilized in service of a character sketch of a female who literally tortures her prey. This is what happens when you’ve got sixteen songs worth of music to fill, but, like I said, it’s just bizarre enough to be memorable.

9. “Sweet Neo Con”- When the album was released, Richards spoke about worrying that this one song, a Jagger broadside against President George W. Bush, would steal a lot of the album’s publicity. And he was probably right. The song is OK, mostly because the music expresses the tough stance better than the lyrics, but not good enough to be the center of attention, as opposed to say the brilliant but ridiculously unheralded “Laugh, I Nearly Died.”

8. “Rain Fall Down”- Some funk courtesy of Jagger to change the pace a little bit. A sultry bridge with moaning backing vocals connects the flickering guitars and relentless beat. Lots of open spaces for the atmosphere to seep in, even if it wears out its welcome after a while at nearly five minutes.

7. “Let Me Down Slow”- Jagger keenly notices some changes in his paramour and figures that she might be changing partners as well. The nice little descending melody in the chorus lives this one up nicely.

6. “Back Of My Hand”- One of their purest nods to the blues in quite some time. At least with the music: Jagger going on about “Goyas, paranoias” in the lyrics takes you out of the moment. Luckily his harmonica and Richards subtly scorching riffs get you back in there time.

5. “Rough Justice”- It’s your typical blast of adrenaline, fuzzed-out guitar, Mick being Mick album-opener from the boys. Jagger gets off some cleverly dirty couplets (“So put your lips to my hips, baby/And tell me what’s on your mind”) and Richards and Ronnie Wood get their money’s worth while Watts cracks the whip. It may adhere to the tried-and-true formula, but it’s still fun.

4. “Biggest Mistake”- Jagger surprises a bit by playing a narrator who admits his restlessness caused the breakup that’s now hounding. There’s a certain elegance to the music, even with the electric guitars adding a little muscle. The Stones occasionally get in trouble when the songs are too lyric-driven, but this is one of those that works.

3. “This Place Is Empty”- Richards takes the lead for an out-and-out love song, albeit one filled with enough minor chords and bluesy ambience to make you wonder if his intended in the song might not have one foot out the door. Beautifully arranged, as all Richards’ ballads tend to be, and it’s nice to hear Jagger pitching in on harmonies instead of sitting out a Keith number as he often does.

2. “Streets Of Love”- “Fool To Cry” was probably the first time Jagger unleashed his falsetto on a Stones ballad; he must have realized it was effective, because he’s gone back to it many times since. There’s something so over-the-top about the effect that it’s almost as if he wants us to think that life’s too short for such painful emoting. Regardless, he’s never less than compelling here and he outperforms the just-OK quality of the lyrics and tune.

FIVE STARS

1.”Laugh, I Nearly Died”- Out of nowhere comes this moody marvel that resuscitates the second half of the album. Actually it’s so good that it leaves the rest of the material well behind. It’s the one time on the disc where Jagger’s wordy lyrics find a true home, as he portrays a fellow suffering through a nomadic existence in an effort to forget his heartbreak. The chain-gang backing vocals, the dynamics from the bluesy crawl of the verses to the rising angst of the refrains, Jagger’s anguished performance: Everything here is in concert. The great lost classic of their late period.

(For more on The Rolling Stones, check out the link to my book below. As always, feel free me to e-mail me at countdownkid @hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter at jimbeviglia.)

https://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Rolling-Stones-Finest/dp/1442254467

 

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