Wednesday, August 25, 2021

No Stone Left Unturned - Revisiting the Stones' A Bigger Bang

In tribute to the late Charlie Watts, this piece written in 2010 is reproduced from a previous blog of mine.

In my last post I suggested that the debut album from Them Crooked Vultures was a bit inconsistent. But is this just the curse of the CD age - if indeed CDs and the concept of the album aren't dead anyway for a lot of listeners? When I were a lad your typical rock album lasted something like 35-40 minutes. In fact in an age when the equivalent of file sharing was taping a couple of albums for your mate on a C90 cassette, it was positively irritating for an album to run over the 45 minutes that could fit on one side of a tape!
Charlie Watts - making a bigger bang than most

Since the advent of the CD bands have the scope to put together anything up to about 80 minutes as a matter of course. But while that's technically feasible, it does raise another challenge - namely for a band to maintain a consistent level of quality when having to produce such a long set. Often enough they fail to meet that challenge. Once upon a time releasing, say, 70 minutes of music was a rarity that required a double LP - which of course broke down into four sides. But it's not just about quality control. Maintaining the listener's interest for over an hour requires some variety and sense of dynamics, and many bands seem incapable of that.  They repeat themselves, and leave in tracks which are no more than filler.
But the other day I renewed my acquaintance with what some might consider a surprising example of a band achieving just that, when I decided to give the Stones' most recent album a spin on my iPod. t Iook a punt on A Bigger Bang when it was released back in 2005, on the strength of a couple of reviews that more or less suggested it "wasn't that bad, actually, bearing in mind it's the Stones and let's face it we can't expect too much from them nowadays". Now, I'd call myself a Stones fan rather than a full-on fanatic, but listening to it the other day I have to say they sustained my interest a helluva lot better over 16 tracks than most bands manage nowadays.
Okay, so a lot of the time they're revisiting well worn turf, but you'd have to be a real curmudgeon to say that they don't do it well on this outing.  Let's face it, Jagger and Richards are top drawer songwriters, whether individually or together.  But A Bigger Bang also demonstrates their mastery of a wide range of musical styles, drawing on different strands of country, blues, and balls-out rock'n'roll just as it suits them.  And Jagger is probably so indifferent to criticism that he just says what he likes, whether it's unabashed cock-rock, plangent broken-hearted blues, or acerbic political observations such as 'Sweet Neocon'.
So what if the stuttering rhythm of something like 'Look What The Cat Dragged In' is basically a reprise of 'Under Cover', from 25 years previously? It's still better than a whole load of young supposed gunslingers might manage.  Hell, even the couple of tracks where Keef does a cracked vocal are good - in fact 'This Place Is Empty' is one of my favourite tracks on the album.
And through it all Charlie Watts lays down supple drum tracks suited to whatever style is in play.  In fact I'm inclined to think that Charlie's ability to flex effortlessly across different grooves is a key factor in how they manage to cover the bases so well.
So, old codgers who nowadays milk their live appearances for cash actually made a damn good album with only a scintilla of filler? Well, yeah, as it happens.

RIP Charlie Watts, 2 June 1941 - 24 August 2021.

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