Review Summary: Despite some consistency issues, Let It Bleed proves to be a worthy successor to the groundbreaking Beggars Banquet.
The turn of the 70's was a huge shift in focus not only for the Stones, but for rock music in general. Psychadelia was reaching its climax, and the Beatles were on the brink of breaking up. The Rolling Stones until then were on a steep critical slope following Aftermath, which, while well received, didn't have follow-ups quite as readily applauded. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, and the late Brian Jones decided to take a trip through memory lane and reexamine their roots in classic blues music, a path which culminated with a much needed commercial and critical success following the mediocre release of Their Satanic Majesties Request, which nearly put the Stones out of relevance in the eyes of critics and the general public.
1968's Beggars Banquet was a huge step in the right direction for the Rolling Stones. Not only had it helped bring about the return of many a fan from the British Invasion era, but it also put them back into a favorable spot in the eyes of rock critics who frowned upon the Stones' joining on the recent trend of psychadelic rock. Now that Banquet put the Stones back in the forefront of rock n roll, all eyes were upon them for a worthy follow-up, to which the band responded with Let It Bleed.
Let It Bleed basically continues the Banquet formula, and pretty much eliminates all the traces of the band's psyche days that still lingered in Banquet. The stripped down melody that backed lead singer Mick Jagger in Banquet's intro, "Sympathy For the Devil", somewhat resembles the one backed with the powerful vocals of Merry Clayton in the iconic "Gimme Shelter". The sexual themes of songs like "Stray Cat Blues" that took up about 2-3 tracks in Banquet begin to take a much larger presence in Let It Bleed, with songs of this nature taking up more than half the album's runtime.
But the most obvious difference between Let it Bleed and its predecessor is the production. Beggars Banquet, as much of a classic as it is, suffered from sound quality issues that made the songs all sound somewhat hazy and unclear, an issue that is still present despite numerous remasters. Let It Bleed surprisingly doesn't have these minor kinks, allowing for a much clearer sound in general.
Possibly the best part of Let It Bleed is its pure blues focus. Tracks are almost always memorable with their bouncing melodies, Keith Richards is as accomplished a musician as ever, and Mick Jagger fits the music as well as he ever has. The country, gospel, and folk influences are as present as ever and it's readily apparent that the Stones are truly enjoying themselves in the studio. And that translates very well into the CD, making it a worthwhile entry to the Stones' extensive catalogue. These grooves also happen to be just as infectious, if not more, than those of their predecessor. Take 'You Can't Always Get What You Want', a sequel-of-sorts to 'Salt Of The Earth', which happens to be the Grooviest track on Let it Bleed. It has a fantastic chorus, great rhythm, and fantastic background melody, bringing the album to a perfect close.
However, this album is not without its fair share of issues. The first and foremost being those lyrics mentioned earlier. If anything, Let It Bleed is a sign of the over-the-top approach the Stones would take to their sexual themes in later albums that would make them become self-parodies struggling to maintain relevancy in later years. And it's not hard to see why when taking the title track for instance:
"She said, "My breasts, they will always be open
Baby, you can rest your weary head right on me
And there will always be a space in my parking lot
When you need a little coke and sympathy"
If there was one song in particular that the album could easily do without however, it would have to be "Country Honk". An original version of the Rolling Stones' own 1969 smash-hit "Honky Tonk Woman", "Country Honk" shows heavy bluegrass influences right down to even a fiddle solo, this song also happens to be the dictionary-definition of filler. With dull instrumentation, mediocre vocals, and only a semi-decent chorus, "Country Honk" fails to make any impression on the listener, not to mention that it pales in comparison to the later version, which would have been a much better fit for the record instead.
Let It Bleed is not as good as Beggar's Banquet, and altogether is probably the least memorable of the albums released during the Rolling Stones' "Golden Age". Even so, Let It Bleed has plenty of great songs that deserve their place on the Stones' extensive catalogue.