WHEN WE LAST left the Glimmer Twins, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, Keith had run afoul of some unpleasant Canadian gentlemen, who seemed to think he was pushing heroin, while Mick was off chasing, well, Some Girl other than his wife, and in general playin' the field every night. The Rolling Stones (remember them, the guys who used to piss in gas station lots and who now get followed in People Magazine), had just released a classic double-live record made up mostly of fold hits but had otherwise been impotent in the studio, fielding only tepid records like Black and Blue and Only Rock and Roll.
But now the general dismay about the decay of the Rolling Stones has been at least temporarily dispelled by the release of Some Girls, an album that recalls the glory days of Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers. Like the phoenix, the Stones have risen up from the ashes of their recent disappointments and their tragic personal difficulties to record one of their most energetic and compelling albums.
If you have only heard the single, "Miss You" sounds a lot like the sort of thing that made Black and Blue such a cloyingly poppy album. Do not be misled by the games Jagger and Richard play. "Miss You" does indeed have a discoid beat, and Jagger does indeed sing like an Ohio Player (and some guy named Sugar Blue plays as classy a harp as you've ever heard), but "Miss You" is not much like the rest of the album at all. This is not to downgrade "Miss You" beyond reason. It is technically an excellent song led by Bill Wyman's trendy bass work and Charlie Watt's as ever tight drumming. It just doesn't hit the heart the way some of the other stuff does.
THE STAMP OF the old, uncompromising greatness is on the hard, stomping number that breaks the spell of "Miss You" and defines the pace of the album from there on, "When the Whip Comes Down." Jagger shouts from amidst a dense barrage of guitars riffing, and tells the story of a gay man who tries to make it in the City as a garbage collector. As with so many of the Stones' rockers, the hook is Mick and Keith howling the chorus, the only clearly intelligible words.
From the storm and fire of 'Whip Comes Down' the record passes into an old Temptations number, "Just My Imagination (Runnin Away With Me)," which Jagger has updated and set in New York. There is a strong New York theme throughout the album which serves to unify it and give the tunes a certain topical freshness. Unfortunately, 'Imagination' is not as strong as the original. Jagger's voice is strained and impassioned, but the band sounds a bit clubfooted, especially during the bridge. The Stones slide part way into the pit that threatens a hard rock band adapting a soft number to its style and the song becomes merely filler when compared to the rest.
The centerpiece of side one is, of course, the title track 'Some Girls.' Sugar Blue's magnificent harp gives way to Jagger's ironic and at times obscene catalogue of women. His stance is that of a complete misogynist defending his case. In an interview with Jonathan Cott in Rolling Stone, Jagger insisted that "Some Girls" is a joke and not a statement of anti-feminism. It's hard to read anything else but anti-feminism into a line like, "some girls take the shirt off my back and leave me with a lethal dose," but it's also hard to hear anything but a joke when he sings, "French girls they want Cartier, Italian girls want cars, American girls want everything in the world you can possibly imagine!" Jagger has never said his stance was clear, though, and in the end he seems to recant his harsh irony when he sings, "Let's go back to Zuma Beach, I'll give you half of everything I own."
"Beast of Burden," which opens the second side, also explores Jagger's ambiguous stance towards women in a song which is perhaps the prettiest on the album. Over a shimmering reggae-flavored guitar work, Jagger sings, "I'll never be your beast of burden," at the start of the song, gradually building up the energy and tensions through the chorus, "Am I hard enough, Am I rough enough, Am I rich enough?" until he sings at the end, "I don't need no beast of burden...all I want is for you to make love to me." Jagger doesn't want to be a pack horse for another, but more importantly, he doesn't want another to be a pack horse for him.
APPROPRIATELY, JAGGER'S MOST honest statement is preceded by one of the rare songs in which Keith Richard steps out to sing, and it too is a particularly moving number in light of Richard's imminent departure from the group to serve time after his Toronto heroin trial. "Before They Make Me Run" is his farewell to the world of "booze and pills and parties where you choose your medicine." His voice is nasal and far away yet it rings true when he sings, "I want to find my way to heaven, 'cause I did my time in hell." Whether or not Richard is tipping his hand concerning his legal problems when he sings, "I'm gonna walk, before they make me run," this could be his finale with the group (excluding the 40 or so tracks they have reportedly put in the can.) Yet what comes through from the bright Brown-Sugar like chords and Richard's lyrics is optimism.
Not all the tunes on Some Girls are profound, however. "Respectable" and "Lies" are two lowdown Chuck Berry-style floor-stompers reminiscent of tunes like "Star Star" and "Rip This Joint." "Respectable" takes and iron poke at the Stones' respected place in society before moving into a fairly standard denunciation of a "respectable" (read phony) woman.
"Far Away Eyes" is pure fun, as Jagger and Richard do a hokey country ballad about a truckstop girl "with far away eyes" in Bakersfield, California. Jagger's satire of radio preachers is particularly humorous. The album closes with "Shattered," a wierd soliloquy on the perils of New York, which Jagger talks-sings over a murky riff. Jagger sums up life as "laughter, joy and loneliness and sex and sex and sex and sex," and gloats ironically, "Look at me, I been shattered!"
Ernest Hemingway had a character in The Sun Also Rises ask the hero, Jake Barnes, for irony and pity, irony and pity." Jake Barnes couldn't fill that request, but Mick Jagger does. This album is concerned with sex, love, dreams and survival. The greatest works of art are nearly always probing these themes, and Jagger's lyrics are honest because in their irony and pity they reflect the ambiguities that color these themes in reality. The Stones' music once again is as relentless and streamlined a vehicle for Jagger's visions as it was in 1972. Now the problem is how much longer the show can go on without one of its main starts.