Review Summary: The Rolling Stones prove their musical flexibility in this marvelously trippy, even if in places unfocused, excursion
Legend has it that, from 1966 to 1967, the Stones were nothing but a poor imitation of the Beatles. During that time, they softened their music, became more pop-oriented and started mimicking everything the Beatles did. Surely, this has to be true since even Lennon stated that ''everything we did, they did six months later''. So why should anybody
care even in the slightest about the Stones' psychedelic outing? That's all good on paper and, on a quick look, 100% true. A close listen to this album, though, reveals that the Stones owe more to bands like Pink Floyd or Jefferson Airplane for their musical direction in this album. It is more spaced-out and trippy than the 67 records of the Beatles, which were more in the music-hall direction. So, why all the fuss? It probably has a lot to do with the covers of the albums thar are actually similar and the music-hall album closer. In any way, everyone
made music like this in 1967 and the Stones were simply no exception to the rule.
The most impressive thing about this record is the magnificent songwriting; the Stones by the end of 1967 were already masterful songwriters and this album is ample proof. First of all, it boasts two psychedelic classics in She's A Rainbow
and 2000 Light Years From Home
. The former is perhaps the most beautiful, in the traditional meaning of the word, tune the group ever penned. Right from the very first piano lines the song grabs the listener with its ethereal, optimistic nature and the band's tremendous harmonies and never lets go. Mick is at his most innocent while singing She comes in colors ev'rywhere, She combs her hair, She's like a rainbow
and the rest of the band is spot on in coloring a charming, graceful soundscape behind the lead singer. The strings that appear in the instrumental passage only add to this lovely experience. The latter is a dark, mystifying experience, with the band sounding as magical as they have ever been; Brian enters alone, plucking creepily his piano until Keith accompanies him with a dark riff. Then, Charlie hits loudly his drums and welcomes the listener into the futuristic, space-fueled atmosphere of the tune. On top of that, Mick is as out-of-this-world as possible, singing like a prophet the lines It's so very lonely, you're six hundred light years from home
. A unique excursion, perfectly suitable for someone who wants to know what the Stones were able of beyond rock'n'roll.
Still, the record doesn't go downhill from there; on the contrary. From the very beginning you're greeted with an outstanding pop number, Sing This All Together
. The song is brimming with a very jazzy sort of vibe; the intriguing piano lines, Keith's terrific fills,the sax, all of them supporting the main chant perfectly, while there is also plenty of percussion noodling around, enchanting the tune with a relaxing feeling. In any case, though, the eight minute jam of the song should be avoided at any cost. It is too
trippy to go in any particular place, and the jam itself is very dissonant, like it doesn't belong to the original song at all. Only the reprise of the melody near the end somewhat redeems it, but in the end the jam is redundant and easily the worst cut on the album. The same could be said of the album closer, which also doesn't have a real purpose and was probably shoehorned in the album in order to give it a more 'concept' feel, like Sergeant
. The melody is good, but not particularly exciting, and overall the group seems to be trying
too much, a rare thing for the Stones. Gomper
may be a good song, after all, but it is definitely overlong and not particularly memorable as the rest of the tracks, not to mention that it sounds a lot like a replica of Harrison's Within You, Without You
Hopefully, the rest of the songs redeem these misfires completely. Citadel
is an early 'classic period' rocker, mainly because of Keith's violent guitar attack and Charlie's furious drumming; Hopkin's tremendous harpischord passages don't hurt either, as well as Brian's saxophone runs. In Another Land
is Bill Wyman's only songwriting credit and it's a terrific tune; Bill's sleepy vocals above a dreamy background contrast beautifully with Mick's rousing singing and Charlie's loud drumming. 2000 Man
features prominent acoustic guitars and, naturally, Keith comes up with a delicious, sweet guitar melody surrounded by 'offbeat' drumming and Mick's 'clean' performance. Soon, the song transforms into a fast pop-rocker with the whole band on fire before ending in a way closer to the start. Finally, The Lantern
is terrific journey into more arabian territory, brimming with excellent harmonies and inspired playing from everyone; Mick is fantastic here, too, giving a stupefying performance, full of mystique and aura.
Now, the only problem with this album is the song selection. The three aforementioned 'weaker' cuts are forgettable and it was a stupid decision to make this record a 'concept' one. The jam could easily be replaced by magnificent numbers such as We Love You
, the combined length of which is actually the same as the jam's. This is one aspect where the anti-hype regarding the album is actually right; despite having a different 'feel' for psychedelia than the Beatles, the Stones fall in the trap of copying the 'concept' aspect of Sergeant
to their own album's detriment. And of course, Gomper
and On With The Show
could have been easily skipped, thus resulting in 35 minute album of pure bliss. Overall, this could have a higher rating were it not for these weaker songs. On the other hand, the album has such an excellent flow and pace that they rarely disrupt the enjoyment. So, be sure to purchase this record, as it showcases the Stones' excellent craftsmanship and diverse musical explorations to a tee.