While it isn't a surprise that the album kicks off with a rocker, "Rough Justice", listeners may be deceived into thinking that A Bigger Bang is a geriatric band's effort to prove they can still kick it. And the hip-thrusting grooves do threaten for a good couple more songs... suspiciously.
But keep listening, and you'll be rewarded with some incredible music. The Stones, more on A Bigger Bang than on any recent album, have referenced some of their original influences to grand effect. In fact, there are times you feel like you're listening to a classic Stones record. Or at least a collection of unreleased tracks from the Exile on Main Street (1972) sessions.
There are also surges of driving rock that seem to hint at less regarded albums like Steel Wheels (1988) - like on "Oh No, Not You Again" or "Let Me Down Slow" - but more often you'll find yourself thinking of pre-70s Stones: "Streets of Love" is this year's "Playing with Fire"; "Rain Fall Down" is "Sympathy for the Devil"; "Back of My Hand" is this year's "Little Red Rooster", and so on.
Even "Keef's" occasional lead vocal turns are strangely sweet, if a little dirt-floor blues. Though it must be added that the odd stab at modern issues ("One thing is for certain / Life is Good at Halliburton" from "Sweet Neo Con") feels like an elder's admonishment rather than a teenage rebellion.
A Bigger Bang seems to recapture some of the roots and rhythm of vintage-era Stones - when "Gimme Shelter" was still regarded as the archetype of the rock n roll song. But it updates that idea sufficiently by drawing economically from the best of the rest.
Mick Jagger's voice may sound a little less effervescent these days, but the Stones are still hard to compete with in the sexy rock stakes. And as everyone surely knows, if there's ever to be an archetype for old-timer rock n roll, it's probably going to be a Rolling Stones album. Maybe even this one.
- Anton Marshall
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