One of the hoariest
cliches in rock criticism is that every new Rolling Stones album since 1978
is "the best" since that year's "Some Girls" -- the band's most inspired,
least produced and most immediate recording. This claim is certainly in
evidence in many reviews for "A Bigger Bang," the band's first album of new
material in eight years.
The sad truth,
however, is that the Stones have not made a beginning-to-end great album in
27 years, and they aren't likely to, since they just don't seem to care
enough to write songs that are as unforgettable, groundbreaking and
passionate as those they produced during the first 14 years of their career.
"A Bigger Bang" is just another piece of product from Rolling Stones Inc.,
better than some of their recent offerings ("Voodoo Lounge," "Bridges to
Babylon") but ultimately adding nothing substantial to one of the best
catalogs in rock history.
Frankly, if this disc
wasn't stamped "Rolling Stones," no one would care.
The good news here is
that producer Don Was keeps things stripped-down and simple, with no disco
frills or elaborate production tricks. When the band is rocking out, as on
"Rough Justice," "Oh No, Not You Again" or "Rain Fall Down," this is a
perfectly acceptable, faux-Stones, bluesy garage-rock record. But plenty of
bands, the Redwalls and the White Stripes among them, have done better in
this vein of late.
The trouble comes
when the Glimmer Twins try to vary the sound, as on the uninspired blues
vamp "Back of My Hand" or the anemic drone "Laugh, I Nearly Died." Both are
dreadful enough to make you hit the fast-forward button after the first
"Sweet Neo Con" is the only thing that's really new: the most overtly
political song ever from a band that has hardly ever gotten specific about
politics during a four-decade career. Mick Jagger takes dead aim at
President Bush, and he scores a bull's eye: "You ride around your white
castle on your little white horse / You lie to your people, and blame it on
your war, of course / You call yourself a Christian, I call you a hypocrite
/ You call yourself a patriot, well I think you're full of s---."
music doesn't pack nearly as much conviction as the lyrics. And with Jagger
declining to discuss the song in the handful of interviews he's deigned to
give (he declined to speak to the Sun-Times) while the band avoids playing
the song in concert on its current tour, "Sweet Neo Con" plays as a cheap
bid for easy headlines on the back of one of the most controversial and
emotional issues in America today.