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The Rolling Stones

A Bigger Bang
Yahoo Music (September 2005)

What do we expect of The Rolling Stones in 2005? Musical progression? Originality? You may as well wish for change from Mount Rushmore. To expect the Stones to throw in a new style, to suddenly fall in step with the 21st century, is like asking rock itself to rearrange its DNA. We know what the Rolling Stones do on a new record because it's what they've always done - play goodtime rock'n'roll like the most successful bar room band in the history of popular music.

The real question with a new Stones album, therefore, isn't what they do but how they do it. Do they sound knackered, jaded, like - say - a bunch of ragged sixtysomethings knocking-out yet another album to pay for the upkeep of that
Caribbean island/illegitimate child/secret tic tac addition? Or is there still fire in those old bones, do they still believe in the music they helped to invent? Because, like it or not, by taking the pulse of The Rolling Stones, we're also taking the pulse of rock'n'roll itself.

Well, bad news naysayers and ambulance chasers - both band and genre appear to be in rude health. Whether they've been inspired by the resurgence in rock'n'roll spirit typified by the likes of the Kings Of Leon or motivated by the fact that both Jagger and Richards are only a few years away from picking up their bus passes, the Stones in 2005 sound fresh and re-invigorated.

Opener "Rough Justice" could be the work of a band 40 years their junior - albeit a band that sounds an awful lot like The Rolling Stones chewing on a pint glass. Fuzzed-up, scuzzy, almost lo-fi in its devotion to sawdust blues, it rattles along with a hunger and lust for life that the band haven't displayed for decades. That vigour remains unmatched on the following 15 tracks, but it makes the rest of the album feel more relevant than it might have otherwise done, unleashes a fresh dose of goodwill to see us through to the conclusion.

One thing's for sure: Jagger's in superb, surprisingly affecting voice. "Back Of My Hand", a slide blues howl accompanied by Charlie thumping on a tea chest, finds the singer in impressively raw form. "Streets Of Love" and "Laugh I Nearly Died", meanwhile, prove that he hasn't lost that fragile, romantic touch that melted so many hearts way back when. The most astonishing vocal performance, however, comes from Keith Richards. On "This Place Is Empty", he's half Johnny Cash, all rasping resonance, and half Jagger tribute. In fact, listening to Keef pulling off some of his old mucker's vocal tricks, while Mick himself chips in with backing vocals, is actually touching - you can actually believe they still love each other, despite everything.

The album's great talking point, of course, is "Sweet Neo Con", in which Jagger puts the boot into George W ("You say you are a patriot/I think that you're a crock of shit"), but beyond the fact they've stuck their head above the parapet about a year and a half after their peers, it's not much worth bothering with - a fairly dull, plodding song stuck in an unfortunate backwater of the Eighties. Far more impressive is the straightforward rock'n'roll blast of "Oh No Not You Again", which smirks, struts, pouts, and wholeheartedly proves that it's not what you say it's how you say it. Pull back the screens, open the curtains. This patient doesn't look like it's ready to give up the ghost for quite some time to come.


Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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