The Rolling Stones’ endurance is a gift and a curse. Some people hold up their dogged fidelity to their tried-and-tested routine as the perfect design for living to anybody who wants a career past the regulation four albums. And for others, the fact that The Rolling Stones are able to get away with their same tried-and-tested routine in the year 2005 is held up as evidence that human progress has somehow been stunted. These people reckon that if John Lennon had survived, he’d be making techno records by now, which is tosh.
The Stones have clearly faced a similar internal debate, with Keef having won the battle for the soul of the Stones against Jagger’s ill-advised experiments with new-fangled dance producers. ‘Bridges To Babylon’ studio bods The Dust Brothers and Danny Saber have thus been binned in favour of Grammy-endorsed bigwig Don Was. Face it, you don’t want progress from the Stones, and in the eight years since their last proper record, a new generation of rockers have reconnected with the moves they created. Why wouldn’t the Stones do the same?
This is an old-fashioned Rolling Stones rock’n’blues record which suggests their history without ever going to the dangerous extremes of old. Indeed, the most successful tune is ‘Biggest Mistake’, an AOR ballad so inoffensive it may as well be by Sheryl Crow. They’ve created a gleaming simulacrum of something that never existed: it pulls off the Jagger preen and the Richards guitar wail, but erases any real danger that might alienate a fanbase the same age as the band. A topical swipe at George Bush on ‘Sweet Neo Con’ and some cheeky slap and tickle (“bare your breasts and make me feel at home!”, slurs Keef on ‘This Place Is Empty’) are allowed, but for the most part it’s overwhelmingly tasteful. But gosh, it has its moments. Opener ‘Rough Justice’ is a wipe-clean rewrite of, say, ‘Brown Sugar’. In a dark alley, smoky single ‘Streets Of Love’ could be mistaken for ‘Wild Horses’, and ‘Back Of My Hand’ reanimates the oldest blues chords on earth to staggering effect. Plus, Keef croaks on two tracks, ‘This Place Is Empty’ and ‘Infamy’, playing his grizzled ‘vocals’ for laughs.
So ‘A Bigger Bang’ is no masterpiece. As a loss leader to allow them to continue touring, it’s not even as good as ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’. But it’s the best record they were going to make, and a world with the Stones is better than one without them.
But still, how do the Stones get away with acting so youthful? The nubile women; the black magic imagery; the Hell’s Angels at Altamont; the refusal to accept their advancing years… they may yet reveal themselves as vampires, struggling with the gift and the curse of immortality. Lying about your age is expected – what’s a few million years between friends?