See You in 2013
The Stones’ first studio album in eight years arrives with a compelling backstory: drummer Charlie Watts is diagnosed with cancer; Mick and Keef hole up together and—feeling a sense of urgency—come up with the best songs they’ve written since Studio 54 was a going concern. After hearing opener “Rough Justice,” the catchiest rocker since side one of Tattoo You, and the following “Let Me Down Slow,” which is almost as good, every word of it rings true. The Stones really are back!
Well… almost. After the rush of the first two tracks, A Bigger Bang still has 14 songs and 50 minutes to go, and the ideas quickly wear thin. Despite the stories surrounding the recording, the songwriting remains the problem. Once upon a time the Stones wrote songs that sounded great no matter who was singing them; now, worthwhile tunes come pretty hard. Jagger and Richards seem either unwilling or unable to push melodies in an interesting direction; they are content instead to recycle the same few sing-songy progressions in dull numbers like “Rain Fall Down” and “She Saw Me Coming.” By the time they get to “Sweet Neo Con,” an embarrassing political screed that sounds like the work of a teenager who’s just watched Fahrenheit 9/11, they’re not even trying to write proper tunes.
Whatever the record’s merits—the more immediate production, the all-around strong playing, Mick’s improved vocals—most of these songs, unfortunately, just aren’t very good. There’s a happy ending to the story, though: Charlie Watts is fit and working again.