Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Rolling Stones, Now! Was My First Album Experience With The Band!

The Good: Good overall sound, A few decent lyrics
The Bad: SHORT, Musical accompaniment is derivative and repetitive, Limited vocal range
The Basics: A rather indistinct album by The Rolling Stones, The Rolling Stones, Now! is r&b and bland.

With the recent attention on The Beatles I decided to take a different turn. For sure, I’ve done a review or two of albums by The Beatles. But rather than follow the herd, I’ve decided that while others are reviewing works by The Beatles or Michael Jackson, I decided to use November 2009 to delve into the works of a group I know nothing about. As embarrassing or improbable as it may seem, the band I chose for my November 2009 Artist Of The Month was . . .The Rolling Stones.

Sadly, though, it is true that I have had almost no experience with the music of The Rolling Stones. I mean, I love the use of “Ruby Tuesday” in The Royal Tenenbaums and I am aware of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, but beyond that, I’ve grown up in a world where The Rolling Stones are played on the rock and oldies stations and it’s seldom the song you want from them when you want. So, I went back as far as I could and I picked up The Rolling Stones, Now! which was the band’s third studio album. And right off the bat, I can see why The Rolling Stones rock, but objectively speaking, The Rolling Stones, Now! is a pretty boring, very short disc.

With only a dozen songs, occupying a paltry 35:58 on compact disc, The Rolling Stones, Now! is a mix of the talents of the group as artists and their strength as performers. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote four of the songs on the album, but the rest of the work is made up of coversongs from the likes of Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon and Jerry Wexler. The members of the Rolling Stones perform all of the vocals and the quintet plays their own instruments. The level of creative control the band had, though, is somewhat questionable as none of the members were involved in the production end of the work.

The Rolling Stones, Now! is a blues-based rock album and my immediate impression of it was that it was remarkably simple (that and David Bowie ripped the tune for “Jean Genie” off from "What A Shame"). Songs like “You Can’t Catch Me” sound like American Blues from the deep south (appropriate because Chuck Berry wrote it) and it seems like all it is – instrumentally – is plucking somewhat randomly on the guitar. For sure, there is some speed involved, but this album does not contain any of the instantly-recognizable songs by The Rolling Stones. And the songs are almost all rock-blues tracks heavy in guitar and bass.

This is not to say they are bad, but the sense of monotony comes through by the fourth track. The songs are melodically simple guitar, bass, drum tracks and the album plods along for several songs with little differentiation in the tempo or selection of instruments used in the instrumental accompaniment. This gets changed up with “Pain In My Heart,” which puts Jagger’s singing at the forefront and slows the tempo down even more. That song sounds more like a traditional rock-blues ballad and the men of The Rolling Stones pull it off well.

As for the vocals, this is where the album truly failed to impress me. The Rolling Stones, Now! features the same type of direct, monolithic vocals on each song. As a result, regardless of the lyrics, the emotional resonance is the same from “Down Home Girl” to “Surprise, Surprise.” What is that mood? It’s a strangely folksy (blues and folk have close ties as far as the origins go) declarative sound where the singer acts as a musical storyteller. In this case, each song tells a little song about a person, a place or an emotion and because Mick Jagger sounds the same whether he is singing about a how easy a girl is or how broken his heart is, the overall sound of the songs on the album is . . . casually informative. The basic emotional resonance of the songs on this album is one of “This is what I heard or know, do with it as you see fit.” This is not a terribly complicated or even interesting tone and as a result – in combination with the album’s short duration – it plays poorly on heavy replay.

That said, what pleasantly surprised me about The Rolling Stones, Now! was that the vocals were very clear. Unlike in today’s music where bands comprised mostly of men with male lead singers, The Rolling Stones seem to place emphasis on making sure that listeners can actually understand what it is they are singing. As a result, even though the tunes may be somewhat monotonous, the vocals are all clear. Led by Mick Jagger and backed by Brian Jones and Keith Richards, there is not a single song on the album whose lyrics I did not catch on the very first pass. Instead, Jagger singles clearly and articulately, even if his range is limited to a baritone/tenor range.

As for the statements, on The Rolling Stones, Now! the messages are pretty simple, even in the musical storysongs. So, for example, one of the few original tracks on the album, “What A Shame” only has eighteen lines! Sadly, some of the lines are plagued by ridiculously simple rhymes, like “What a shame / They always wanna start a fight / Well it scares me so / I could sleep in the shelter all night” (“What A Shame”). Despite being classic rock and not having such a long history of lyrics to be compared with, the rhymes are pretty bland and singsong.

By contrast, some of the covers actually have decent lines. “Pain In My Heart” is actually universally emotive and anyone who has ever had a broken heart will be able to understand it. Yet, not just heavy, some of the songs are actually ironic and fairly fun. Take, for example, the lines “Lord I swear the perfume you wear / Was made out of turnip greens / And everytime I kiss you girl / It tastes like pork and beans / Even though you're wearin' them / Citified high heels / I can tell by your giant step / You been walkin' through the cotton fields / Oh, you're so down home girl” (“Down Home Girl”). The lyrics have imagery and a decent sense of poetry and also is wonderfully ironic. The implication throughout the song is that the woman masquerading as a society girl is actually a common woman (in more ways than one) and the song develops with a surprising level of class.

But ultimately, The Rolling Stones, Now! is an early album by a band that made it much bigger later on. While the work is not bad, nothing truly stands out on it. This is relatively indistinct Rolling Stones and whatever from the album ends up on “best of” compilations is probably no better or worse than any other track on the album. In other words, it is safe to pass this one by and get the highlights on compilations.

The best track is “Pain In My Heart,” the low point is the unmemorable “Mona (I Need You).”

For other former Artist Of The Month artists, please check out my reviews of:
It Ain’t Easy: The Essentials – Wilson Pickett
Actually – Pet Shop Boys
Optiate - Tool


For other music reviews, please click here to visit my index page!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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