So, here’s the question: Just what, exactly, are aging rock musicians supposed to do as the last few calendar pages flip by? Sure, Roger Daltrey sang “I hope I die before I get old.” Things are getting interesting now that mother nature has called that bluff.
I once had a revolving debate with a musically inclined friend of mine. He likes to toss around the word “dinosaur” to describe graying rockers, the implication being that they’ve got no business walking among us. Of course, nobody ever “wins” this debate. The approaches are just too dissimilar.
I’m coming from the viewpoint of combined nostalgia and “autobiographical content.” That is, music provides me with the same powerful memory triggers as does the sense of smell. My debate partner concerned himself with the social and historical context in which the music was first introduced. Any attempt to recreate the past (at, say, a concert) is just a cheap gimmick, profiting on musical ghosts. I point out that, like “pretension,” you’ve got to know a little about intent to prove any of this.
When I tried to turn the tables, asking him if 30 years from now Aimee Mann (one of his favorite artists of more recent vintage) should be “done,” his reply was along the lines of “Absolutely, she should be home playing with the grandkids.” Ouch. On this point, we’ll never agree.
A Bigger Bang, released on Sept. 6, 2005 by the Rolling Stones — a group of the crustiest rock dinosaurs — provided another opportunity for us to see if it’s time to call the museum curator. After all, depending on whom you ask, the Rolling Stones haven’t recorded anything worth listening to since: a) Some Girls, b) Exile On Main Street, c) Let It Bleed, d) the day Brian Jones died.
Well, A Bigger Bang deserves to be placed right alongside the aforementioned albums. The Rolling Stones came up with a bunch of stylistically varied songs executed with (it’s about time!) a minimalist lineup that allowed the tunes to breathe. All of it combined to let the essence of their thing to take over. There were a few extra musicians here and there, but mostly it was just Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts — with Daryl Jones on bass.
The results were something stripped down and raw. It’s all right there.
The opener, “Rough Justice,” rocks as hard and smart as anything they’ve done since “Respectable.” So good to hear Keith and Ronnie’s guitars grinding against each other. Halfway into the chorus, and you’ll be twistin’ that volume knob. There’s lots more grinding to be had here including the swaggering “She Saw Me Coming,” “Oh No, Not You Again” (imagine that, Mick’s got lady troubles!), “Driving Too Fast,” “Dangerous Beauty” and the blistering “Look What the Cat Dragged In.”
A Bigger Bang closes with the loping funk of “Infamy.” This is the kind of song that the Rolling Stones used to own. It lives in that area between rock, funk and soul. Mick Jagger ties the sway together with some taunting harmonica play. Moving back through the record, there are a few related tunes including the sleazy “Rain Fall Down” and the dark and moody “Laugh, I Nearly Died.”
Ballads? Would this be a Rolling Stones records without one? A Bigger Bang has two: Mick Jagger’s “Streets Of Love” and Keith Richards’ “This Place Is Empty.” It’s nice to see the guys drop the macho front and display their thoughtful side. Does the world need more love songs? Right about now, I’d say “yes.”
Over the years, much has been said about the tune “Sweet Neo Con.” Was it about George Bush? Neocons in general? I’d say it’s probably a little of both. Personally, I think that too much has been made of this, since the true centerpiece of the whole pile turns out to be “Back of My Hand.” It’s a steamin’ blues rendered by the trio of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts. Mick plays some sweet slide guitar that conjures a nice back-porch feel.
Can old dinosaurs learn new tricks? Do they even have to? On A Bigger Bang, the Rolling Stones revisited some old musical stomping grounds … but so what? They played with the passion and conviction of bands half of their age. There were no ulterior motives, just some good old rock and roll. Gray hair and craggy faces don’t diminish what this stuff is all about.
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