Review Summary: Should have named it ''Stones By The Numbers'' instead....
Back in the mid seventies, the Stones were seen as a dinosaur act by contemporary critics and emerging music scenes (i.e. punk). Exile
was the last album to garner positive reviews (after a lukewarm initial reception) and, since 1973 until their huge commercial resurgence in 1978, the group battled with drug addiction (Richards and Taylor), legal and financial problems that hampered their studio output and co-operation as opposed to earlier years. Despite the reduced quality of releases, the group continued to enjoy commercial success from the majority of the public, but from Goat's Head Soup
onwards, the Stones were simply not ''hip'' anymore with the newer audiences.
This is completely evident on It's Only Rock 'n' Roll
, a record that is by far the weakest of the mid seventies releases, for a variety of reasons. The most obvious one is the lack of artistic devotion to the songs; for starters, there are four rockers here, one being a cover and not one of them
is a classic. Okay, the title track comes close enough with its fun and cheery attitude, but then again, I could name a dozen rockers from the classic period that are superior than this, admittedly, excellently written track. The rest of the rockers are more or less in the same vein; they have grooves, but most of the time it feels like the group is sleepwalking. If You Can’t Rock Me
and Dance Little Sister
, while featuring solid hooks, lack the overwhelming power of their better material and feel as retreads of past glories, while Ain’t Too Proud To Beg
is as perfunctory a cover as they come.
It’s pretty ironic, then, for a record claiming from its title to be only rock-and-roll, that the better songs reside in the ballad territory. The sorrowful tunes here may not be completely and utterly sincere as the group’s best efforts, but they are no worse than Angie
in the "emotional investment" department, anyway. Till The Next Goodbye
is an earthy, laid-back country ditty with an extremely captivating hook and could have, with a little polishing, landed on Exile
. Time Waits For No One
is an epic power ballad full of intensity and pensiveness, made all the more fascinating due to Taylor’s mind blowing
guitar soloing that permeates the majority of the tune; dark, brooding on one hand, but romantic and gentle on the other. Terrific guitar showcase! Finally, If You Really Want To Be My Friend
is a soul/gospel/country number with a tender performance from Jagger as well as tremolo-dominated guitar outbursts from Taylor as its highlights.
The second drawback of the album is, unfortunately, the production; the band sounds muffled and tired under the sketchy and under-developed mix, where the rockers are stripped back with primal guitar tones, but never reaching a Honky Tonk Women
within a mile and the ballads are somewhat over-arranged, without too much finesse as found on something like Moonlight Mile
. Even worse, the formula rarely breaks and thus, the solidly written rock/reggae Luxury
, due to its ‘’upbeat’’ nature, ends up having a ‘’rock’’ treatment with loud and distorted guitars that don’t suit the song’s goal at all. Short And Curlies
is a pointless throwaway with an uninteresting melody made all the more boring thanks to the pedestrian production values. Finally, why on Earth
is the album so long? The majority of the songs are overlong, repeating the same hooks many times until the lack of songwriting development in most cases becomes apparent; for instance, a tune like If You Really Want To Be My Friend
could have easily ended at the three minute mark.
flaw, though, is the most glaring one: the Stones sound confused
here, as opposed to other post-Exile releases. If someone wants a pure-rock album, there is Tattoo You
; if someone wants an experimenting album, there are Goat’s Head Soup
and Black And Blue
. This album, though, has no real purpose behind it; when the group ventures into other genres for a bit, they are often either explored better on previous releases(country, soul, gospel, power ballads) or are being poorly adapted (reggae). Likewise, when the group plays its ‘’rock-and-roll’’ image, it ends up sounding contrived and forced for the most part. All in all, the creative ideas presented here are few and they mostly involve already explored genres, whereas the rocking has gone downhill.
It is all the more surprising, though, that they managed through all this mess to record an absolute classic in the form of Fingerprint File
. This one symbolizes the record’s ambitions executed in the best way possible. The band tackles funk music on its way through, while keeping their trademark darkness and edge intact; what is more, they sound fully confident and energetic here, resulting in a haunting seven minute jam that’s well worth your time! The spasmodic rhythm figures from Jagger’s guitar are drenched in phase effect and Taylor lays down a steady bass line along Charlie’s funky drumming; Jagger’s manic vocal performance is followed by an instrumental freak out, punctuated by Taylor’s inventive bass and Richard’s wah-wah lines. Definitely a minor masterpiece from the band and by far
the best cut on the entire album.
To cut the story short, this record has a lot of issues, despite the generally well-crafted melody-making found here; the group, obviously nervous from the mixed press of Soup
, has one foot on formula and the other one on experimentation, so as not to displease any side. It’s one of those cases, though, where this indecisiveness is fatal for the album’s quality, resulting in a by-the-book studio release from the Stones that superficially has everything, but essentially lacks cohesion.