Friday, 4 July 2008
Rolling Stones "Goat's Head Soup" (1973) (Revised Review 2015)
On which the Stones have indigestible goat’s heads for lunch, but enjoy a last helping of pretty ballads and rocking tunes for dessert…
Dancing With Mr D/ 100 Years Ago/ Coming Down Again/ Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)/ Angie// Silver Train/ Hide Your Love/ Winter/ Can You Hear The Music?/ Star Star
"Don't you think it's sometimes wiser just not to grow up?"
By 1973 Main Street was no longer far enough away, with the Stones now unwelcome in most European countries after increasing tales of lurid parties, run ins with the law and Keith's escalating drug habit (well, ok, the escalation of his first drug habit), with the taxmen getting ever closer. So the Stones took the sensible option of running off to Jamaica, where the Stones were still relative heroes and where reggae fan Keith felt right at home. Back in the days when most fans viewed the blurry-eyed 'Exile' album with suspicion, this return to suitable musical pastures should have been something of a return to focus and strength: just to Muddy the Waters, 'Goat's Head Soup' is named after a local aphrodisiac, named 'Mannish Water' by locals and most likely the source of Waters' 'Mannish Boy' and there was a general murmuring that after so many years together and the release of a slightly self-indulgent double record the band needed one. However 'Goat's Head Soup' is perhaps the last great moment when the Stones defy expectations and simply deliver what they wanted to anyway. 'Goat's Head' is truly unique in the Stones canon, a record that virtually ignores it's Jamaican roots and the expected percussion for one last great flurry of psychedelia, with an emphasis on free-form songwriting and ballads. It's as if after turning out lots of small low-key pieces for 'Main Street' the band have gone the other way into epic mode with only ten songs, most of them long. Fans expecting a reggaefied album were disappointed at the time the Stones used so little of the local sound, but to be honest that's as silly as expecting the French-made 'Main Street' to come out sounding like Jacques Brel: the Stones weren't looking for a new sound so much as a new home away from the law; the wonder is that, for the first time since Beggar's Banquet, the band change styles as much as they do. Legend has it that the Stones were only in town to hire famed reggae artist Lee 'Scratch' Perry anyway and turned up uninvited expecting him to drop everything for them and run - instead he turned them down as he was too busy and they sheepishly (goatishly?) hung around and made an album rather than go home. So if 'Goat's Head' isn't as spicy as expected, is it any good?
Someway, somehow, Goat’s Head Soup has got a reputation amongst Stones fans for being the first 'weak' album, the first record where the band are a parody of themselves rather than the real thing and, yes, the bookending tracks about devils and groupies do feel a tad recycled for the first time. But that's only a minor part of the album - elsewhere this is the last record (except perhaps 'Some Girls') where the band are really pushing their sense of who they are and what the Stones are all about. Mick and Keith don't usually match each other in mood or circumstances but both are in a reflective frame of mind here, worried about the health of the band and the state of their marriages/relationships (specifically Keith and Anita, Mick and Marianne). More thoughtful and wistful in tone than usual, 'Goat's Head' is probably the Stones' most beautiful LP, full of elongated tortured ballads about love and loss and junkiedom. Even opening rocker 'Mr D' is more of a purr than a roar, while the one time the band get screaming is on the fadeout to '100 Years Ago' where it's the tagline to a song about growing old and feeble without noticing. Instead of being the first of a run of bad albums as it's so often called, I put it to you dear readers that it's really the last of the great ones full of the last songs where the band really stretched themselves and at least equally as deserving of praise as the far more famous 'Sticky Fingers' and 'Main Street'. The epitome of being cool, young and rebellious in the 60s, by the time the 70s arrived the Stones were suffering with newer, feistier artists queuing up for world domination, this is often seen as the point for many fans where the Stones became uncool, old and ever so slightly establishment. Well, even I can’t defend some of the albums that came after it, but I’m going to rescue Goats Head from the dustbin of history and show how it actually is among the most eclectic, mature and stylish albums of the Stones’ career. This is the one where the Stones first start thinking about age and how what they do effects others, with tales about drug addict hell and breakups affecting both partners. Of all the albums the Stones made post-1969, this is the one that Brian Jones would have had the most fun playing on: every track has a different sound or texture, features a hidden exotic instrument or simply gets away from the long held tradition that it's only a Rolling Stones song if it's got a riff in it.
Off-the-wall for the most part, half of these songs are as blood-red with fury as the soup, with violence and anger in many of the songs, with Jagger inhabiting even more desperate and crazed-sounding victim-narrators than normal. The other half is like the goat, ‘horny’, with the Stones studying the traditional songwriting themes of love and lust surprisingly often on this album, with styles varying from the delicate intricate ballad asking where all the missed opportunities for romance went to a basic boogie-woogie shuffle which in typical Stones style has lots of fans, err, having fun with their favourite band. The Stones make their last great statement of rebellion here, the furthest out that the band (or anyone) could possibly go in 1973 and it's all downhill from here for fans who liked the Stones precisely for being the counterculture giants of the age. Probably not entirely coincidental, this final slab of psychedelia is also the band's last album where drugs and groupie sex are something to be championed rather than hidden. Even Keith has reached the point where he's realised that the band have fallen into such excess that things are about to change (the haunting 'Coming Down Again' is the sound of a man who knows he's killing himself and others - this was Jimmy Miller's last record of five in the producer's chair before quitting due to a drug habit of his own, while Mick Taylor will only last one more album too - but is so wrapped up in his drug-riddled stupor to do anything about it) and there's a sense that only by using outrageous cartoonish violence in the satanic 'Dancing With Mr D' (a far more cliched song about devils than 'Sympathy') and the hilarious 'Star Star' (a deliberately cliched song that features the 'f' word more times per minute than any song released in the days before rap music) can the Stones still do what they always did, which is shock. A combination of the changing of the guard, a changing of the band's mentality and the future changing of the producers means that this is the last time the group use what will in future become seen as 'the' Stones sound: blurry, murky and loud due to reverb and repeat rather than sheer power of fast tempos. Frustratingly, the band have never used it so well either, softening their harder edges for an album that simply luxuriates in the power of the music, each song developing slowly from quiet chrysalises to emerge as colourful butterflies by the end of the song and each track bleeding nicely into the next in what's one of the Stones' cleverest running orders.
With Keith fading away slightly, this is the album of the two Micks and both excel themselves here. For his part Jagger is at his emotive best, relaxing into the vocals without the need to bark the songs and writing some of his most profound lyrics, such as the time-travelling '100 Years Ago' or the tale of heartbreak 'Winter'. Jagger notably inhabits several very different roles on this album, from awestruck helpless narrator to lovestruck romanticist to starstruck rock demigod and everything in-between (notably, Goats Head is the last album where Jagger isn’t just being Jagger for most of the way through the album—and this leaves a surprisingly large holes in most of the band’s forthcoming records which suddenly become interchangeable rather than going somewhere new each time). With Keith absent from many of the sessions and struggling on much of the rest, Taylor really steps up to the mark and plays some of the most beautiful guitar work of any Stones album, fluid and pure in great contrast to either Keith or Brian's work down the years (or Ronnie's later). 'Hide Your Love' may be a pretty basic song, but there's nothing basic about the gorgeous burst of noise that comes with Taylor's crystal clear guitar solo, while the special effects at the start of 'Can You Hear The Music?' have to be heard to be believed. There's hardly any choppy rhythm guitar here and the Chuck Berryisms are all condensed into closer 'Star Star', with the album taking on a much more laidback, slowly unfolding feel (frustratingly the band will only try this once more, on next record 'It's Only Rock and Roll' and sadly the title rather gives away where the change is, with a return to insipid rock and some rather throwaway songwriting topics). Many of the tracks here are really by the two Micks together and the pair prove to be a highly compatible writing partnership, high on beauty and passion. Taylor had been promised his first real writing credits with the Stones as a result, but the Jagger-Richards partnership will later become notorious for their reluctance to part with extra credits and that all sadly seems to start here, with Mick T's name removed at the last minute, without his knowledge. As a result Keith gets the writing credit for a good four or five songs in which he played no role whatsoever and Mick Taylor never ever got the credit he deserved for writing some of the most beautiful melodies and downright exquisite guitar passages of any Stones record. Though 'Exile' - a much more 'Keith' record not least because it was recorded at his house - tends to get the rewards, song for song 'Goat's Head' reveals a much more sure songwriting touch for the most part.
Just take the overall theme of the album, which is down without approaching the woe-is-me self pitying mood of some later Stones albums. They say that good albums, like life, are made up of ever so many partings and that's true of the lyrics of this album, where everyone seems to be trying hard to break it to everyone else that the party's over. Sometimes, as with the record's hit single 'Angie' it's a relationship on the rocks. Only, compared to 'Under My Thumb' or 'Backstreet Girl', the Stones sound as if they actually care; indeed Angie is a real wrestle with the narrator's conscience to let a girl go for her best interests after the couple end up poverty-stricken; about as selfless as any Stones relationship ever gets (in fact it's quite an eerie premonition of what will happen to Marianne when her own drug addiction causes her to become homeless in years to come, though most reviewers assume it was written for David Bowie's wife Angie). Elsewhere it's more serious yet: the slightly lesser-successful-in-the-charts-but-memorably-titled-all-the-same hit single 'Doo Doo Doo Doo Heartbreaker' is a fascinating composition, a philosophical book dressed up as a smart-assed limerick all about how television brings us closer to grief stories from around the world but blackens out hearts due to over-exposure. While many other Stones songs feature gangsters and policemen, few deaths are as unnecessary or as mourned as the one at the start of this song, a teenage boy in the wrong place at the wrong time, followed by a ten year old girl whose already a drug addict and experiencing hardship most adults can't face. Throughout 'Goat's Head Soup' there's a sense that the world is a frightening place, something the Stones will return to in more general form on their 1980s albums ('Undercover' especially) and even as late as 2012's 'Doom and Gloom', but here it's personal and more heartfelt, not just an existential exercise.
'Coming Down Again' is a cry for help from an addict whose recovered from his situation just long enough to be shocked by how many friends he's lost to the same habit and then takes more to blot out the fear it will happen to him too, a 'farewell' song that's most extreme. '100 Years Ago' is a Rip Van Winkle suffering a nightmare, heading back to a simpler past - perhaps on drugs - while watching their friends grow old and weighed down with responsibilities in the present day, desperate not to turn into the same with a stinging guitar solo but ending up succumbing to apathy by the end all the same. 'Winter' is as close as the largely upbeat Stones ever come to suicide, Mick bemoaning a cold and hard winter with passion while a detached backing track covers the usual Stones soundscape with snow and ice. Most comically of course is the opening track where the narrator tries to seduce a girl and finds out she's the devil herself, well out of his depth. Finally, 'Can You Hear The Music?' is a goodbye to 'us', the fans, as music drowns out the horrors of life and the narrator tries to fill their life with as much as possible because there's a still empty silence in death he's scared of. 'Sometimes I wonder why we're here' sighs Jagger, later adding 'but I get scared!' until the music starts to play. Still the worry about what happens next hovers over this track, mirrored musically by the croaking frog of a bass-heavy production, like a question still waiting to be answered however pretty the music by song's end. If in truth some of the other tracks are a bit simple - 'Star Star' is a one-joke shock of a song, 'Hide Your Love' a nice groove that needs another take and 'Silver Train' a desperate attempt to give this album a catchy single midway through the sessions - that's still a lot of ground to cover. In terms of mystery and subject matter only the clever twists of 'Between The Buttons' and the downright madcap journey of 'Satanic Majesties' cut it close; even 'Main Street' for all its double album excess can't go to as many places as this album does in one.
Perhaps one of the reasons this album never got the kudos it deserved at the time, however, was that it simply doesn't look like a classic album. Though the content is largely mature, the artwork most certainly isn't, with a shot of an effeminate Jagger wearing, of all things, a pair of tights over his head. Actually in some ways it kind of works - Mick's famous features seem stretched, making him look strangely like Marianne Faithful in fact, which is a fair representation of this slightly odd and unusual album. However none of the other four Stones on the inside sleeve and back cover match the same level of poise and (left to right) Bill, Charlie and Mick T just look silly, whilst a badly wasted looking Keith has never looked scarier up to and including his turn as Johnny Depp's dad on 'Pirates of the Caribbean' (what must it have been like tripping with a pair of brown stockings stuck on your bonce?) The picture of a bemused looking goat's head in a saucepan, daring it to stare back into its angry eyes, also takes the title far too literally.
That said, 'Exile On Main Street' with its ugly freakshow collage didn't look that great either: perhaps the Stones were just that step too far away from what everyone else was doing at the time, at the height of silly and empty glam rock. In which case, I know what I'd rather have been listening to. The result is an album which is forever being overlooked and perhaps only a couple of songs away from being the Stones' best LP: in fact two of the better songs released on the 'outtakes-but-we-didn't-know-it-at-the-time-because-it's-awhole-new-release-honest-oh-yes-it-is-baby' set 'Tattoo You' also come from this LP: the showbiz casting couch morality tale 'Tops' and the sweet ballad 'Waiting On A Friend'. Though neither song quite fits the overall album groove, they're far too good to lie in the vaults for eight years and would have lightened the album mood up a little more in fact, complete with a stunning Mick Taylor in the former (which, naturally, he wasn't credited for at all on the back sleeve). Add these into the mix and 'Goat's Head' would have packed a greater punch yet. Even so, the stew is already pretty intoxicating, with piles of fruit that are kinda cute and the last moment when the Stones could create brilliance casually without having to work up a sweat for it or find inspiration only for a particular track or three. It's an acquired taste maybe, but then so are many Stones albums outside the main brace of the 1968-1972 period and if you ever wanted to hear what the old Rollers could be like outside the confinements of riffs or 1960s production values then this is the one. Would that there had been more dishes like this one, but then it's an album that already knows that it's a doomed species and that it's time is coming to a natural end. Though it's the next record that bids us farewell 'Till The Next Goodbye', it's this one that bookends an impressive run back all the way to 'Aftermath' (the only half a great LP 'Let It Bleed' aside), with the last appearance of Jimmy Miller, almost the last appearance of Mick Taylor and one of the last times Mick Jagger will be so firmly in charge of the band. All three are things to be mourned for those who like their Stones slow, thoughtful and moody, with 'Goat's Head Soup' equal with 'Between The Buttons' in the 'why the heck doesn't everyone know this album?' stakes.Forget this record's reputation and the naysayers who didn't seem to understand it: this is as great as any other album the Stones did and firmly in my overall top hundred by anybody. Once again I'm left scratching my head over that perennial question: how come Goats always seem to be surrounded by Trolls?
The album starts menacingly enough with Dancing With Mr D, a poor man’s Sympathy For The Devil admittedly, but at least the Stones are ripping off their better tunes rather than their worst ones as they do a few years later. It’s not as bad a song as its critics make it out to be either - Richards’ menacing guitar lick, matched by Taylor’s bright and breezy bluesing over the top, is one of the band’s creepiest opening hooks and Jagger tries his hardest to cook up a storm despite the fact that we can hardly hear him. In fact, the only real reason why this song doesn’t quite work is because of its muddy mix; where Sympathy is the height of clarity, Dancing is confusing and the words are hard to hear. However, persevere and there’s a good song lost in the production mix, with this tale of the narrator dancing with the devil (who in a classic Stones twist turns out to be female!) sporting some classic Stones imagery if you can be bothered to listen closely for it.
100 Years Ago is much better and far more original, with a weary and surprisingly fragile-sounding Jagger putting on his best American accent for a tired, wasted sounding song about how the Rip Van Winkle narrator has woken from his century-long slumber to find that things haven’t changed at all in the wider world around him. The song starts off with some surprisingly pretty nature imagery completely unlike the Stones’ normal work, even telling us naively that its ‘wise not to grow up’, that we’re best off leaving the hope of a picture-perfect life dangle before us forevermore like some celestial carrot. The feeling of terror that comes in the next verse is highly unusual for a Stones track, who usually treat their songs as mini-horror movies – Jagger’s narrator is terrified that he is unworthy and will never find a true soul-mate or a purpose in life, leaving things far too late to chase after the girl of his dreams. Jagger turns in one of his best vocals on this track, turning the security of the opening verses into a strangled cry of desperation when the singer realises that he is just as unloved a century on as he was before because nobody has found him and being a ‘lazybones’ he hasn’t been searching for them. Another view is that the narrator has indeed fallen in love with the right person, but spends so much time and effort on his bad ways – boozing, partying, you name it – that he never actually takes much notice of his partner at all until some mid-life crisis brings him to his senses (while at the same time the drink brings him to his knees). The track really takes off in the song’s second half, with the band suddenly finding their ‘rock’ button and unleashing their usual Stones swagger, but this time it’s a pained and increasingly desperate response to the singer’s situation rather than the lazy aimless boogie of much of their late-period tracks. For its 70s vintage this segment sounds terribly loose and unpolished, just like the band ought to be all the time for no-one does this sort of material as well as the Stones. The band read each other perfectly here, Jagger’s murmured ‘come on’s segueing seamlessly into Richards/Taylor’s guitar attack and they also get the ending – where the full throttle rocker suddenly turns in on itself and becomes a ballad once more – just right. One of the group’s most sorely neglected songs, this track is also one of their most complex and rewarding - although again the muddy mix makes it hard work finding out what’s going on.
Coming Down Again is Keith’s vocal showcase and it’s another wearisome song about being dependent on drugs – that’s wearisome both for him and for us. Most fans now hate this song because they see it as some kind of valediction to the band to carry on the lifestyle that killed Brian Jones and nearly killed Richards, Mick Taylor and Charlie Watts along the way too. Yet to my ears the song is more of an apology than a celebration, with Richards’ cursing the fact that even though his body is strong enough to take everything he can throw at it, he is still emotionally dependent on something out of his control. He also seems more than a little upset at the fact that some of his friends never ‘came down’ with him when the drugs wore off but remained permanently ‘high’ somewhere in rock and roll Heaven (‘Where are all my friends?’) and in its own sweet way this song’s why-hasn’t-this-happened-to-me-yet? lyrics is among the best set of words the guitarist wrote by himself. However, what fans are right to have been angry about is the rather slapdash arrangement and obviously hurried recording of a song that could have been a true tear-jerker. Slowed down to a crawl in much the same way as the up-coming Angie is, there’s an awful lot less going on in this song to provide interest and so little variety (short verses followed by two lines of ‘coming down again’ serving as a rather un-satisfactory chorus) it slows the record to a crawl – which is a shame because the kernel of an idea and tune are undoubtedly there. Keith’s vocal is, however, his best on a Stones record, coming at the exact midway point between his high-pitched whine of the 60s and the lived-in rugged voice of the late 70s and beyond, sounding the right mix between childish innocent and scarred veteran adult. A decidedly mixed song I the Stones’ canon.
(Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo) Heartbreaker is another strange song, fairly popular with fans but not particularly well known to the general public and curiously absent from most of the band’s 70s compilations despite being a sizeable hit in
. It somehow manages to straddle the line between commercial pop (its silly doo doo doo doo chorus) and the Stones’ more typically heavy, heartfelt rockers. The lyrics are also unusual for the band in this period – a vague sort of social protest song in the same manner as the later Undercover Of The Night, this song loosely condemns the plight of two young children, one shot by policeman because they think he is a criminal and a 10-year-old girl addicted to drugs because the pedlars made them sound like fun. Eloquent CSNY rebuttal this song certainly isn’t, but there’s enough empathy in Jagger’s voice and enough fiery power in the backing to make this song work, although a clearer mix where we could actually hear the words might have been a help. Lashings of Richards/Taylor’s wah-wah guitar interplay and a thrilling horn arrangement also help make it one of the band’s more paranoid, serious sounding singles despite the silly title. Caught between two extremes of pop and something deeper, this song ends up being an uneasy hybrid of the two, but whatever qualities are lacking in parts of the song the band still put in a great performance here, with Jagger particularly relishing the chance to act out his two favourite roleplays (sounding both ridiculous and menacing at once, an achievement even for him!) America
Angie is the other well known song here, a gorgeous ballad named after (so rumour has it) David Bowie’s wife who Jagger was hanging around with at the time. Keith’s daughter with Anita Pallenberg, naturally annoyed at being christened Dandelion by her wayward parents back in the 60s, later changed her name to Angela possibly because of this song – the second instance on this list of a song inspiring a Christian name and not the other way round! (see
on The Kinks’ Arthur, no 30 on the list, for the other). Either way, Angie is a classic tearjerker, one held together by the worlds’ greatest session man Nicky Hopkins on piano (see note 2 **). Another song where Jagger unusually takes the down-and-out character instead of the swaggering preening rooster of old, this song finds Mick saying goodbye to a soul-mate, not because he has found someone better but because they both realise they are too poor to have a family together. The song makes it clear that the relationship was never destined to be, full of so many obstacles the pair just couldn’t overcome them, although Jagger warns us moodily ‘you can’t say we never tried’, sounding typically bitter and angry here but at the world in general for once, not his partner. If in truth this song runs out of things to say past the first minute, merely telling us the pain of parting in slightly different terminology all over again, it’s worth the price of admission for its stinging middle eights alone (‘You can’t say we’re satisfied!’) where Jagger sounds the most moved he’s been since at least 1968. The band have always been surprisingly good at gentle ballads despite their rocking image and like their other classics Lady Jane in the 60s and Out Of Tears in the 90s, the band put eight times the effort into these songs as they do their sometimes-clichéd uptempo numbers. Spine-tingling and beautiful, Angie manages to appeal to non-Stones’ fans without losing the edge and artistry that the band always had at their best. Victoria
Silver Train is the closest to a traditional-sounding Stones song on the album and considering that it nicks bits off just about every railway song ever written it holds together surprisingly well. Most critics seem to have it in for this song for some reason and – while it might not be much of a song in its own right – it is at least respectful to all of the railroad songs the Stones are gently spoofing here, which is more than they’ll be able to manage with their poor blues, country and reggae ‘tributes’ over the next few albums. Indeed, forget the repetitive song, this track is worth enjoying for the performance alone: oodles of swirling harmonica, a repetitive riff, a terrific stylish Taylor guitar solo and a classic Jagger vocal at least help you while away a good few minutes in good company. That’s genuine ‘sixth Stone’ Ian Stewart on piano by the way – he was a fully paid up member of the band until some idiot of a manager (or, rumour has it, Brian Jones) told the band that their audience would only be able to remember five faces on stage and somebody had to go, with Stewart opting to become a road manager and general dogsbody along the way. Appearing on many of the band’s 60s recordings, Stewart had gone missing for much of the 70s but his boogie-woogie licks are very fitting to this retro blues number. This is just the sort of song you can imagine the Stones doing with Brian in fact had the founding Stone been able to have a stronger hold on his old group towards the end of his life.
Hide Your Love is, as all anti-Goats Head critics will tell you, the sound of Jagger messing around on a piano rather clumsily in Jamaica, with most of the band gone out for a lunch break somewhere (probably America). This song, they will tell you, almost certainly wouldn’t have been granted a release on any earlier Stones album and is a tentative demo at best, one plugging up space where another Keith Richards guitar solo could have comfortably slotted in. Well, yes, the song is a bit rough and unfinished even by early 70s Stones standards but what these nay-sayers don’t tell you is that the hypnotic, stumbling riff is right up there with the band’s best and the song is one of the catchiest and prettiest of the band’s career. If only the song had been developed a bit more it could have been a great number, but even so this murky, early version manages to rumble along nicely and shows just what an instinctive talent Jagger possessed when he didn’t think about what he was doing too hard. The lyrics are the track’s weak point, indeed that’s if you’re kind enough to call them lyrics at all, but the narrator’s fear of ‘falling’ in or out of love makes for a nice cohesive balance to Richards’ earlier song and the ideas of having a second go at love before its too late also fit other themes on Goat’s Head Soup nicely.
’s note-perfect bluesy wail of a solo is also perfectly placed, later overdub that it is, showing how well the ‘other’ Mick was slotting into the Stones in this period. A very un-Wyman like bass pattern suggests that it might be played here by Keith. Taylor
Winter is an epic ballad, with Jagger back to his fragile best and again it’s so uncharacteristically beautiful that most people would be hard-pressed to tell you that it’s a Stones song on first hearing. The song builds in classic Stones manner though, warning us of troubles ahead after a few years spent coasting, only for the tension to fall away again before it grows too strong. Despite Jagger’s impressive presence perhaps this song would have been better served as an instrumental, as some of Mick’s clichéd lyrics about missing someone in Winter-time don’t quite match Keith’s thrilling melody, which sounds surprisingly rounded and crafted for the stick-it-there-yeah sleep-walking Stone described in this period. Keith also seems to have woken up during this track’s recording, playing what sounds like his only true solo on the LP (as opposed to a duet or one by Mick Taylor) and it’s a good one too, bringing the song up to a higher level in the second half. Nick Harrison also adds a chaotically busy orchestration to the mix which doesn’t sound as incongruous as it might (strings? On a Stones track?) but doesn’t particularly add anything either. Yet again a muddy mix spoils what could have been a terrific song in other circumstances – it’s still a good, brave try though even so.
Can You Hear The Music? is effectively Winter part two (that’ll be ‘Spring’ judging by the
’s weather this year then!), being another 5:30 near-instrumental without a lot happening. This time though, instead of the band plus strings, the song is packed with lots of exotic instruments which make it sound like a reject from Satanic Majesties. The track has got another of those typically-Stones hypnotic riffs which makes it grow on you the more you hear it and the band somehow manage to make it sound pretty and sinister all at the same time. Again, though, the lyrics aren’t up to the gorgeous melody, being for the most part a re-write of Jigsaw Puzzle from Banquet’s Banquet, listing what each musician is feeling as he plays. As an attempt to define the magical moment of playing live when the whole band seem to reach some higher level, however, it’s a fascinating exercise and at least its an attempt to try something new (its about the last time the Stones actually bother, at least until 1989). The delightful chorus, which seems to comment on both mankind’s restlessness and the band’s own seen-it-done-it-got-the-tour-T-shirt-routine, is also impressive, telling us of the narrator’s jadedness at going through the motions, until the music starts and he feels the magic all over again. Amazingly, the band finally get the hang of the post-production process and turn in a clear and bright mix this time around, although there’s still a murky wah-wah guitar riff let loose in there somewhere too. UK
The group then play out with Star Star, an innocuous boogie-woogie riff married to some of the most outrageous lyrics ever penned by anybody. A tale of groupies getting up to lots of, erm, fun on the road, it so annoyed the Stones’ record company that they tried to get it pulled from the album several times—you think they’d have been used to this after three years with the band. However, in many ways, its no surprise this song caused so much controversy. Indeed, if a rapper, say, decided to release this song as a single, even in our present day and age, he’d no doubt be dropped from his record contract, pilloried left right and centre, made to do some bizarre and completely un-related community service and receive three Asbos to boot. By contrast, however, when the Stones released this song a ridiculous 35 years ago they were so ‘old hat’ and out of fashion that the worst they got was a radio ban and a lot of yawning from the press. Even the publicity stirred up by the record company shenanigans went quiet quite quickly, when the band answered every issue the company could come up with to ban its release (Can’t swear on record? It’s been done—the Grateful Dead are traditionally meant to be the first to use the un-sayable ‘f’ word (no, I don’t mean folk-rock!) in 1971, although I bet there’s some little known group somewhere who beat them to it. Steve McQueen might object to the lyrics that had him getting up to mischief with an under-age groupie in a Stones hotel room? The band wrote to him and got his written consent, along with a lot of haw-hawing when the movie star heard the idea). The press’ phrase ‘lock up your daughters’ has never seemed so true, with the band only ‘drawing the line’ after several spoof replies to fan letters, thanking them for their ‘explicit polaroids’ and promising to make them ‘scream all night’ after the next show in their home town. Hmm, a quiet night in, then. With more swear words per minute in the chorus than even the Super Furries’ The Man Don’t Give A…, this song just about gets away with it all by not taking itself too seriously and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the band are killing themselves with laughter off-mike. As for the melody, it’s not the first time the Stones rip off a Chuck Berry song but surprisingly it is – to date – the last time the band attempted their original trademark inspiration and for that reason alone it’s worth a quick listen, tieing up all the loose ends before the band start phase three of their career.
So, the last desperate ramblings of a once icy-cool band trying to keep their bad boy reputation against a new onslaught of young punks or a surprisingly mature work from a time when the Stones were still the biggest rebels amongst lots of wannabe posers, it’s your call but I know which decision I’d agree with. Goats Head Soup has all the nastiness you’d ever want from a Stones LP, but backs it up with some sumptuous melodies, deep lyrics and exciting arrangements. Wow, those days really do seem like a hundred years ago with the state the Stones are in nowadays…