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The Stones back in classic form

The Rolling Stones - A Bigger Bang
(Virgin Records)
4 (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Sept. 7, 2005
The Rolling Stones

Review by Tony Bonyata

Whoaaaa, slow down there a second, buster! You can put that black suit back on the hanger and peel off the mourning band from your arm 'cause this ain't no eulogy here. In fact, on The Rolling Stones' twenty-fourth full-length studio album these stalwarts of rock & roll have created their tightest, rockingest, most cohesive effort since their last near masterpiece - 1981's Tattoo You.
Aptly titled A Bigger Bang, this quartet of sixty-somethings have delivered a record most critics and fans alike had long given up hope for, and that's an immediate, explosive new studio album that would complement past masterworks, such as Aftermath, Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street and Some Girls.
While A Bigger Bang is not as strong as the aforementioned albums (but then what the hell is?), what this sixteen-track collection drives home clearer than anything is that The Rolling Stones still have the stamina, endurance and will to matter in a musical climate where they really shouldn't. Sure they can rake in millions just touring as they have in the past (hey, at least they usually have a new studio album to accompany their tours, unlike The Who, who continue to flog their oldies on the road as original bandmembers continue to f-f-f-fade away), but the songs, production and performance of the material here clearly proves that these aging bad boys still have something to say.
Thankfully co-producer Don Was (of Was Not Was minor fame) has toned down the glossy, overproduced sheen of the last two Stones albums, Voodoo Lounge and Bridges To Babylon, which he also helped helm. While both of those albums had their highlights ("Love Is Strong" and "Saint of Me" respectively) A Bigger Bang is rawer, more direct and brimming with fully realized rockers in the grand Stones tradition. The opening track "Rough Justice" starts things off with a great Keith Richards guitar riff before Mick Jagger belts out the blues-inspired double-entendre "once upon a time I was your little rooster, but now I'm just one of your cocks." Other songs such as "She Saw Me Coming," "Driving Too Fast" and "Oh No, Not You Again," with Richards and lead guitarist Ronnie Wood sparring back and forth, as well as the raw, rocking funk of "Look What The Cat Dragged In" all showcase The Stones as a still-powerful entity in rock.
As good as this album is, The Stones certainly aren't trying to say anything new musically. Realizing they're well past their prime at creating revelatory music (something they laid claim to from '68 to '72), the band has finally done what they should have years ago, and that's stick to their bluesy, R&B, early rock & roll roots. Songs such as the raw Mississippi-soaked blues of "Back of My Hand," with both Jagger's gruff Muddy Waters-like vocal intonation and cat-in-heat harmonica prowling with Richards' scrappy guitar and Wood's stinging slide, are sure to delight fans of the band's early '60s material. Hearkening back to their 1975 Black and Blue album, The Stones inject a similar dirty funk on "Rain Fall Down," highlighted by Richards' greasy, blaxploitation guitar-line over drummer Charlie Watts and unofficial Stones bass player Darryl Jones' snaky rhythms.
While A Bigger Bang is not without a misfire, as witnessed on the heavy-handed balladry of "Streets of Love," an obvious bedfellow with their last two albums, luckily, however, this slight misstep is soon forgotten by two of the album's truly 'big bangs' - the emotionally drenched "Laugh, I Nearly Died" along with the one-two sucker punch of "It Won't Take Long." Even when the album tends to get a little softer on the tender "This Place Is Empty," the low, growl of Keith Richards lead vocals lends a warm, honesty to the song.
Never ones to shy away from politics, Jagger lashes out at the Bush administration on "Sweet Neo Con," where the singer rants about exorbitant gas prices, the war in Iraq and hypocrisy within the Oval Office. Jagger's jabbing blues harp along with Richards' scrappy guitar and Watts' cracking snare only help solidify the angst and frustration behind the meaning of the song.
Nobody ever expected a classic Stones album here, much less even a slightly more than passable attempt at some new material to obligatorily prop-up into the set of their current tour. And while A Bigger Bang may not be a bona-fide Stones masterpiece, with classic Keith riffs, Mick's pipes in fantastic form and the rest of the band sounding as if they're playing for their dinner, it's a close as they've gotten in decades. And that's close enough for me. The question that still looms, however, is... can The Stones still lay claim as the "world's greatest rock & roll band?" With their huge canon of work behind them (much of it still sounding as fresh and, at times, as apocalyptic as ever), along with this strong new album just hitting the racks as I write and a massively successful world tour just kicking off, the answer is a resounding "shit yes!" Hell, even a glass eye in duck's ass can see that.

The Rolling Stones will be performing at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Thursday, September 8th and again at Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday, September 10th.

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