The Rolling Stones
A Bigger Bang
The Music Box's #2 album of 2005
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2005, Volume 12, #11
Written by John Metzger
Considering that The Rolling Stones released its debut more than 41 years ago, it certainly isn’t surprising that in crafting its 25th studio album A Bigger Bang, the group didn’t make any drastic alterations to its tried-and-true formula. Indeed, the entirety of its latest effort is deeply rooted within the classic material that the band vigorously rehashed as part of its whirlwind tour in support of Forty Licks. Then again, just about everything that the ensemble has done since 1978’s Some Girls has had an air of retrospection about it. Sixteen years ago, Steel Wheels yanked The Rolling Stones out of its downward spiral into utter irrelevance — the gravitational pull of which seemed to be nearly inescapable in the wake of the dismal Dirty Work — but the collective never managed to capitalize fully upon its return-to-form. True, Steel Wheels, Voodoo Lounge, and Bridges to Babylon were all solidly delivered endeavors, and the concerts that surrounded each outing irrefutably had their moments. Yet, there was still a nagging problem in that The Rolling Stones remained far too refined in its approach. As a result, it appeared to be rifling through its past merely as a means of satisfying expectations and fulfilling obligations so that it could maintain its status as an enormously profitable business venture.
Superficially speaking, A Bigger Bang isn’t that dissimilar from its many predecessors. It essentially surveys the finer points of The Rolling Stones’ catalogue, which inevitably means that it not only is stuffed full of hard-charging rock ’n‘ roll that is larger than life, but also that Mick Jagger’s soulful ballad Streets of Love suitably is answered in kind by Keith Richards’ grizzled crooning of This Place Is Empty. Yet, there is one notable exception: Compelled by the recent resurgence of garage rock, Jagger and Richards have rekindled their collaborative friendship, and this has made all the difference in the world.
While it’s true that A Bigger Bang contains a few tracks that are intended primarily for the purpose of filling time within the setlists of The Rolling Stones’ current and future concert tours — the most notable example is the arena-ready bombast of It Won’t Take Long — the vast majority of the endeavor leaves one with the impression that the group actually might be enjoying itself once again. Gone is the polish that has diminished nearly everything that the band has issued since Some Girls, and in its place is the same sense of gritty, street-smart urgency that propelled such classics as Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Exile on Main Street. Each tune is constructed around the grooves laid down by Richards’ angular riffs and Charlie Watts’ metronomic drumming, which means that Jagger is free to strut his stuff — and that he does — while Ronnie Wood slices through the fray with a savage attack of guitar. The opening tune Rough Justice, for example, is as wickedly scrappy as anything that The Rolling Stones ever has concocted, and Back of My Hand is as snarling and roots-y as the group’s Sticky Fingers-era remake of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s You Gotta Move. Elsewhere, the ensemble viciously tears into Look What the Cat Dragged In, while it adds a vengeful bite to the political tirade Sweet Neocon. The finest selections, however, sound like lost outtakes from Some Girls, and both the funky swagger of Rain Fall Down as well as the heavy, R&B-laden swirl of Laugh I Nearly Died rank among the most compelling songs to be released in 2005.
There’s little doubt that A Bigger Bang was designed to build upon the critical praise that The Rolling Stones received while it was in the midst of its tour in support of Forty Licks. Yet, what could have become a routine exercise that simply provided the band with yet another opportunity to return to the stage has translated into full-bore rejuvenation. Indeed, although A Bigger Bang isn’t quite on par with the many classic albums that The Rolling Stones has made, it comes damn close. ˝
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box