Sound — 9
Sticky Fingers: The record that (according to the Stones themselves, jokingly of course) took one million hours to complete, the subject of a scathing and rather undeserved review in Rolling Stone Magazine at the time of its release, and finally the record that spawned the worldwide hit single "Brown Sugar". These unlikely credentials, along with many other elements, are what make this album possibly the Rolling Stones' finest, most concise statement ever. (and, yes, that also includes the 1972 masterpiece, "Exile on Main St.")
From the moment you hear Keef spitting out the chords to Brown Sugar, you know that you're in for one hell of a ride. It easily ranks as one of the best opening songs for an album, ever. It also helps that the rhythm section is so understated that it actually becomes one of the most prominent features as the song careens along a route of sex, slavery and debauchery, and can you resist that sax solo?
The pace slows down quite a bit for the next number: Sway (which is my personal favourite track). This song is a heavy blues influenced number, embelished with strings, a bottleneck slide solo and a jawdropping outro solo courtesy of the Stones' guitar wizard, Mick Taylor. Supposedly the original take was much longer but got lost somewhere along the way...
There really is'nt much to say about Wild Horses, apart from the fact that it's one of the most heart-rendingly sincere songs the Stones have ever recorded, and remains a perrenial favourite on classic rock radio stations all over the world. Can't You Hear Me Knocking is the Rolling Stones at their rocking-est, at least for the first three minutes, after which it shifts abruptly to a latin jazz workout with some competent, if not completely awe-inspiring solos courtesy of Bobby Keyes and Mick Taylor on sax and guitar respectively. You Gotta Move is, in my honest opinion, equal parts loving tribute and sarcastic send-off of the blues numbers the boys where influenced by in their early days. This particular one was written originally by Fred McDowell and, once again, features excellent slide guitar by Taylor.
Side two opens with the punchy little rocker Bitch, a song that, while I am aware is well-loved by many Stones fans, is the only song on the album that I truly couldn't get into, apart from the horn arrangements, which foreshadowed their excellent use on the next album. I Got the Blues, despite the cliche title, is an emotional affair, that eventually sends you into blues bliss after the organ solo by Billy Preston finishes and leaves you floating there, starved for more, a proverbial drug, as it were. The "down" attitude prevails on the next track as well, the haunting, acoustic Sister Morphine, in which we have slide guitar by Ry Cooder.
Dead Flowers uplifts the mood for a bit, but the deceptively upbeat music contrasts the lyrics, more of which will be said below. That being said, it is one of the best country songs the Stones ever did, ranking right up there with Torn and Frayed and Far Away Eyes. Finally we have the breathtaking, emotionally rending Moonlight Mile. Widely considered to be the boys' best ballad, this song is the perfect companion when you are on the road in the middle of the night. The atmosphere that it creates is just unbelievable. With that, the album ends, on a strangely sad but at the same time, uplifting note.
Lyrics — 10
This Album has gained notoriety for it's lyrics, which reference drugs in almost every song, combined with a wide variety of other taboo topics:
- Brown Sugar is a gleeful tale of sex, slavery and lost virginity, not necessarily in that order.
- The pressures of living the rock lifestyle are depicted poetically as much as - realistically in Sway (It's just that demon life that's got me in it's sway, anyone? )
- Wild Horses alledgedly deals with the topic of Mick Jagger's painful break-up with Marianne Faithful, but Keith Richards has stated that it could be about His relationship with Annita Pallenberg.
- Can't You Hear Me Knocking is the tale of a modern day Romeo and Juliette, with a twist. Juliette refuses to listen while her erstwhile lover knocks leading him to pose the question. This is the first song that explicitly references drugs (Yeah, you got cocaine eyes.)
- Bitch uses a girl as allegory for a heroin habit. Keith was slowly sinking deeper into addiction, which would come to a head in a few years, but for now Jagger's lyrics make it seem that he's speaking to a "queen of torture".
- I got the Blues uses the classic blues motif of love unresponded to, to great effect, the way Jagger sings it. It really takes off, lyrically, at the end, with the narrator's repeated oaths of love and loyalty to the subject.
- At first listen, you might think that Sister Morphine is about a junkie looking for his next dose, even while dying on a hospital bed, but it becomes more ambiguous with each and every listen. Eventually it could also be the story of a critically wounded man in search of a painkiller, perhaps the victim of a car crash...
- Dead flowers talks about a man whose love has abandoned him and who, in frustration and sadness turns to drugs so he can forget the pain.
- Moonlight Mile speakes about the difficulties of travelling and being away from one's family and loved ones, naturally in a very poetic, almost surreal language.
All in all, it is quite possible that the lyrics on this album rank as the Rolling Stones' best, Period.
Overall Impression — 9
The strangest thing about this particular album is that it does not seem like much at first listen, but if you take the time to explore it, and find it's merits, it grows on you and rewards each and every listen with something new. My personal favourite tracks are Sway, Can't You Hear Me Knocking, and Moonlight Mile. This album is so good that I would steal it if I didn't have it. Of course if someone did steal it from me I would not mind, in fact I would congratulate them on their fine taste. This one gets a 9 purely and only because I didn't really like Bitch. The rest of the album ranks as 10. Sheer musical bliss. If you don't have it already you should be, at the very least, shot.