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A Bigger Bang, the twenty-fourth American studio release by the Rolling Stones, is stacked deep with chunky, lusty rhythms and liquid guitar lines that stand as testimony to the band’s reputation as the greatest rock and roll band in the world.
The scaled-down disc opens with the rhythm-driven "Rough Justice," powered by jagged-edged, staccato guitar riffs from Keith Richards, intertwined with tightly-laced slide guitar, courtesy of Ronnie Wood, who only appears on only six of the disc’s fifteen tracks. Darryl Jones’ prowess on bass delivers powerful interplay to stealthy percussion supplied by Charlie Watts, arguably the most versatile drummer in rock.
The slightly countrified "Let Me Down Slow" is one of the most riveting tracks on the album, with its uptempo cadence and hypnotic hook. Its lyrics are far more vulnerable and resigned than much of their past work, lacking both the isolation and defiance that was part of "Satisfaction." Unlike "Under My Thumb," with its semi-putdowns, in "Let Me Down Slow," change signals a beginning of the end here, as the observation is made, "There’s a swish in your step, There’s a gleam in your eye, –Are you coloring your hair with some new kind of dye?" Strangely enough, it has all come down to this here, rather than to the kind of changes that had once led to the self-inflated, narcissistic, "Down to me, the change has come, –she’s under my thumb."
The heart-stopping rocker, "It Won’t Take Long" is the most stinging track on the album, and one of its best. An unusually reflective Jagger sends his declarations over razor precision, transcendent drumming from Watts as he sings, "You can lose the love of a lifetime in a single rolllife is short, one look and it’s over, it comes as quite a shock, all I’ve got is some memories stuck in an old shoe box." At the end of the song, Jagger howls a chorus, invoking a haunting acknowledgement of the ever-present hand of fate. The track is as proverbial as the Stones classic, "Time Waits For No One," and it goes on like a funeral dirge, as it coolly predicts, "It’ll all be over, in a minute, you’ll be in the past." It is here that Jagger delivers some of his best vocals since the early Seventies. Unlike much of his past work, he avoids slurring any vocals; lyrics are punctuated with intense deliberation, intent and clarity. Partly delivering a good riddance, this track, like "Jumpin’ Jack Flash," is a relentless, decisive anthem about emotional survival and carrying on.
As on past albums including Undercover, Black And Blue and Emotional Rescue, there is a well-stocked supply of dance rhythms on this album, found on tracks like the earthy, Latin-driven "Look What The Cat Dragged In," in which Jagger pulls out his claws and coughs up some deliberately aimed hairballs, complete with his dis towards a "dirty old mouse."
A lyrical reverse of Richards’ previous work, "Thief In The Night," the tables are turned in "She Saw me Coming," as Jagger warbles, "She busted in and burglarized my soul, but now the bad news, she’s out on parole." Here, Jagger is transparent, while not being able to see what is right is in front of him.
The gritty "This Place Is Empty" features Keith Richards, accompanied by the album’s producer, Don Was, on keyboards, with Jagger on guitar. Blondie Chaplin’s vocals are a perfect weave around Richards’ cigarette-stained voice, as they waft past Watts’ subtle percussion.
Again joined by Blondie Chaplin on vocals and Jagger on harp, "Infamy" is Richards’ play on words, and it is yet another one of Richards’ handful of songs throughout his career, in which he mentions the subject of dreams, and things that are not what they seem. On this forty-proof, relentless track, he tries to figure out why he is a target for hostility.
"Oh, No Not You Again" is reminiscent of the band’s late Seventies Some Girls period, with its frenetic rant from Jagger, "It was bad the first time, I can’t stand it twice." With its lyrics about running from a dangerous temptress, this song could have been sequenced right after "Respectable." Like that song about "the easiest lay on the White House lawn," in "Dangerous Beauty," Jagger delivers taunts with a D.C. backdrop, including, "You’re a favorite with the Chiefs of StaffYou’re a natural working with dogs." Perhaps this time around, he was thinking of Condaleezza Rice.
On "Sweet Neocon," Jagger sings, "You call yourself a Christian, I think that you’re a hypocrite, you say you are a patriot, I think you’re full of shit." Eerily prescient in the midst of a Presidential administration that rejected budget costs that could have prevented the immeasurable tragedy that resulted from the levies breaking in New Orleans, Jagger sneers, "How come you’re so wrong? Where’s the money gone? In the Pentagon."
Despite the media frenzy about the song’s commentary, this is not the first time the band has delved into politics. The band expressed similar sentiments during the band’s 1989 Steel Wheels tour when performing the track "Highwire," in which Jagger sang, "We sell ‘em missiles, We sell ‘em tanks, –We give ‘em credit, You can call the bank, –It’s just a business, You can pay us in crude, you love these toys, just go out, play your feuds."
With this Bang, the Stones have prove again that Bigger is better—and this time, by a Moonlight Mile.
PHYLLIS POLLACK lives in Los Angeles where she is a publicist and music journalist. She can be reached through her blog.