October 2, 2003

Crypt of Mediocrity

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A Top 10 of all time rock album list is probably about the same as the Stones’ discography between ’64 and ’72. The culmination was the ’72’s double-LP Exile on Main St., an unsurpassable album that assured the Rolling Stones’ reputation as artists. For critics and fans, 1973’s Goats Head Soup was like following the Sistine Chapel with an overlong narcotic orgy in the alley behind a pawn shop: dirty, depressing, cheap, remarkable only in its depravity. Which is exactly what The Rolling Stones pretended to be on all their other albums. On Goats Head Soup, they actually are that dirty. This isn’t a mediocre album, but it’s a peculiarly diverse one from a famously reliable band. It’s unexpected precisely because each band member conforms to their ’70s stereotypes with such glee.

Mick Jagger had been neglecting his music for movie roles and establishing an image as a trendy sophisticate, attending beach cabanas and industry banquets. To put it gently, Keith Richards’s deal with the Devil didn’t pan out quite as nicely. Dropping the “s” from his name, Keith got more embroiled in coke and heroin than a starving, colorblind anteater in Hunter S. Thompson’s house. As for Mick Taylor, he couldn’t fully adapt to either position and fled from the band after one more album.

These are, um, disparate elements to mold into an album. Jagger sounds like he’s trying to be a Motown David Bowie, yelling more “Good God”s in the background of the guitar solos than James Brown at a Pentecostal karaoke bar. Keith will often start a song fine, but by the end sound like he’s lying on the ground with blood streaming out of his ears. That’s when he’s not getting bored and snorting the remnants of yay in his own saliva. And Mick Taylor, often on slide guitar, thinks he’s playing with The Byrds.

From the very first song, “Dancin’ with Mr. D,” a sort of anti-“Sympathy for the Devil,” Jagger is singing things I don’t think even I, as an upper-middle-class jet-setting snob, understand (i.e. Satan is disguised as “a drink of belladonna on a Toussaint night”?). Later, Jagger says, “Now look here, baby, you sure look cheap/ I make money seven days a week.” You can say a lot of bad things about this album, but, regardless, misogyny has never been this sexy. There are a lot of insignificant blues stompers on here, as well as a lot of trite melancholy masquerading as yet another Stones attempt to come up with an “Elanor Rigby” of their own. Despite the fluctuating temperament of the band, the finale, “Starfuckers,” coalesces perfectly. Keith lays down an unabashedly Chuck Berry-inspired riff while Jagger sings, “Your tricks with fruit was kind o’ cute/ I bet you keep your pussy clean.” The truth never felt so good. Oh yeah, “Angie” and “Winter” are here too.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt