`A Bigger Bang': Yes, it's a blast

Mick and the boys show they can still rock hard on record

CD Review

September 06, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Say what you want about how the Rolling Stones have aged physically. Musically, the guys are still explosive. In stores today, A Bigger Bang, the band's first album of new material in eight years, is an exhilarating return to form. Rollicking and inspired, the set, with a little trimming, could easily stand next to any of the Stones' classic LPs. Think 1972's Exile on Main Street or 1978's Some Girls.

The new album coincides with the band's world tour, which stops at Washington's MCI Center Oct. 3 and at Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena Feb. 1. For more than a decade, little has been expected from the group's studio records. Here and there, a killer track enlivened albums such as Steel Wheels (1989), Voodoo Lounge (1994) and Bridges to Babylon (1997). But overall the CDs felt forced.

It seemed the guys were just coasting, warming over old ideas. The real bucks were made on tour, not from record sales. And in concert, fans wanted "Satisfaction," "Honky Tonk Women," "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Who cared about the new stuff, anyway?

Well, with A Bigger Bang, the Stones seemingly want to prove that they can still make powerful albums. They want to show us that they can rock just as hard (or harder) than any new jive band out here with members who weren't even born when Mick Jagger first had "Sympathy for the Devil."

On A Bigger Bang, the Stones seem to want to show us how rock is supposed to be done: with guts, with heart, with soul and lots of sweat. And for the most part, the rich old cats succeed. Now, the group doesn't unleash any brand new tricks on the 16-cut album. Things are mostly in a back-to-basics mode. This time, though, the Stones seem to be more invested, injecting their tried-and-true, blues-based sound with much-needed energy.

It's refreshing that the group was stubborn enough to stick with what it does best. The Stones and co-producer Don Was wisely eschew trendy programming and odd dance elements that marred some of the band's recent releases. Instead, Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood decided to just play: pound out bold, immediate grooves over which the guitars brilliantly interlock and Jagger's raunchy, slurred vocals slide and strut.

The album kicks off with the blistering "Rough Justice," a sexy rocker teeming with clever, naughty-school-boy animal imagery about foxes, roosters, chickens and cocks. Only Jagger could get away with such lines and not come off as an old pervert.

"It Won't Take Long" features some of the most vibrant guitar work Richards and Wood have done in a while. Watts' earthy drumming anchors "Rain Fall Down," a swaggering, New Orleans funk-influenced groove and one of the most danceable cuts on the CD. (An entire funk record by the Stones would be a treat.)

Things slow down a bit on "Streets of Love," a surging rock ballad Coldplay could only dream of doing. On "The Back of My Hand," a brilliant, rustic blues number with fine vocals and harmonica playing by Jagger, the Stones channel the great Howlin' Wolf.

Richards steps to the mike and delivers ragged vocals on "This Place Is Empty," a piano-led ballad that sinks the mood. He also closes the album with "Infamy." Undoubtedly, A Bigger Bang would have benefited from the exclusion of those two tracks. Although they're not complete throwaways, the songs pale next to the more impassioned tunes on which Jagger handles the lead vocals.

The Stones, lyrically focusing mostly on sex and sour relationships, keep things mostly defiant and irreverent. The group gets bitingly political on "Sweet Neo Con," a flaming arrow aimed at President Bush.

As it stands, A Bigger Bang is still a great album - a little too long but solid nonetheless. We hope it doesn't take the Rolling Stones another eight years to deliver a worthwhile studio effort. By that time, the guys will be in or close to their 70s. But even then, they could probably still raise the roof.

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