Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Last Rolling Stones Album

I've been in a Stones mood ever since Dr. Dockery's post about Exile On Main Street back on Hollerween, and especially digging on Undercover, which I regard to be the last and final Rolling Stones album. Everything they did after this feels like a different band, a shadow of its former self, populated by imposters. Very good imposters, but imposters nonetheless.

I remember late one night seeing the amazing video for the song "Undercover of the Night" for the very first time in 1983. Shot on film rather than tape, it felt like something The Clash would have done (and in fact, several scenes were reminiscent of Don Letts' shot-on-film video clip for "Radio Clash"). Totally changed everything for me from that day on. Both the song and the video were more violent and political than anything the Stones had ever done, or have done since. Keith Richards as an international terrorist shooting up the place with a pistol and a Dia De Los Muertos mask on his head, shit, you don't see Aerosmith doing that! (Keith got to wield a chainsaw for the album's third video, "Too Much Blood")

That standard-issue seventies-Stones tight-riffed choppy chooglin' sound that they first discovered on Sticky Fingers with "Brown Sugar" and "Bitch", and then had refined to a science by the time of Exile is here on Undercover in its undistilled form for the final time, in songs like "She Was Hot", "Too Tough", and "All The Way Down". This comforting sound is contrasted with dark and sinister lyrics, probably the darkest of their career, even more so than during their Jack the Ripper period in the late 60s.

I'm not gonna dissect the album too deeply here because I suspect most people reading this haven't even heard it, or at least haven't in quite some time. Suffice it to say you should seek out this last great hell-ride of a hurrah before the boys descended into the tarpit of solo albums, mediocrity, and the loss of Bill Wyman. I regard it as the last true Stones album, because the weak and anemic albums that followed the subsequent three-year disappearance of the band lacked the indescribable something that they had in spades (That's not to say they haven't squeezed out a few more good tunes since then - "One Hit To The Body", from Steel Wheels, probably does belong in the pantheon of true Stones classics, and the live album Stripped has some great moments).

I should also add that Mick and Keith hated each other at this point in their lives, Charlie Watts was full-blown junkied out, and Bill Wyman was pursuing his well-reknowned sex addiction (before they called it that) at a feverish pace. I think this chaos contributed to the album's excessive excellence.

- - JSH

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