Monday, November 21, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 340: Rolling Stones

For someone actively without work right now, I'm amazed at how fast some days can go by. After job hunting, and running a few errands I looked at the clock and saw it was already four o'clock.

One thing is certain, I need to make time to get this review written, so I can stop listening to this album.

Disc 340 is...Their Satanic Majesties Request

Artist: The Rolling Stones

Year of Release: 1967

What’s Up With The Cover?: It looks like a Ren fair where all the participants are on hallucinogens. I don't like seeing the Rolling Stones look like this. It seems somehow...undignified.

How I Came To Know It: Recently I've had a bit of an uptick in my interest of the Rolling Stones, after many years of having little interest at all. I bought "Their Satanic Majesties Request" because it has a song ("2000 Man") that Kiss covered on 1979's "Dynasty" album, and I wanted to hear the original. Also, coming out in 1967, I felt it was relatively safe coming at the very beginning of my favourite Rolling Stone period that begins with "Beggar's Banquet in 1968 and ends with "Exile On Main Street" in 1972.

How It Stacks Up: I have six Rolling Stones albums. "Their Satanic Majesties Request" is by far the weakest. It is not even close.

Rating: 2 stars, and I'm being generous.

What the hell were they thinking?

This was the question I kept asking myself as I subjected myself to a couple of consecutive listens of "Their Satanic Majesties Request." Here they were, one of the world's biggest bands, well known for fusing pop, rock and blues sensibilities together and making strong music, going off the musical deep-end.

"Their Satanic Majesties Request" is a hodgepodge of psychadelic rock, full but directinless orchestration and what sounds like the liberal use of one of those musical jack-in-the-boxes. Of course, when the top opens instead of getting a spring loaded puppet, you get some drug fueled musicians, high on their own self-importance.

This album is what I imagine the studio sounds like very late on a Wednesday night, where the band has decided to eschew a night on the town in favour of staying up until 4 AM getting hammered and jamming. I expect that is a very fun thing to do if you are a musician, but what results shouldn't be permanently pressed onto vinyl, or any other storage medium known to civilized man.

There is a considerable divide of opinion on this record, and no doubt some Rolling Stones apologists will want to point out just how genius the band is. The song construction is certainly complex in places, and when Richards is allowed to play a guitar riff unhampered by bells and xylophones and the screeching of tortured cats, it comes off pretty well. Their talent is enough to drag this record into the very bottom reaches of 2 stars.

However, just because you are musically gifted doesn't mean everything you write will be good. In fact, the very effort made here to be innovative and creative with sound just makes the trainwreck that much worse. By way of proof, the two actually listenable songs on the record ("2000 Man" and "She's A Rainbow" are also two of the most straightforward. I know, it's only rock and roll, but I like it that way.

When I first bought this record, I was far less negative. I think I was overwhelmed by how different it is to anything else by the Stones that I have, and I admired their bravery to do such a record. Also, hearing "2000 Man" in its original sixties psychadelic rock style was a real treat, and simply for this reason I won't be selling the record despite its many faults.

Beyond that, the novelty has worn off like the cheap veneer on the door handle to hell. Now the whole thing just sounds tinny and discombobulated. Songs like "Gomper" and "Sing This All Together (See What Happened)" are all over the place. Strange stratching sounds mix with what I think are bongo drums; weird hoots accompany screeching whistles and bells. The problem is that there is no underlying melody to attach all this stuff to. It is just a big, hot mess. The two songs are five and eight minutes long, but feel three times that long.

The worst part is, that in the eternal Beatles/Stones battle, I am decidedly a Stones man. Nine times out of ten I'm on their side, and this is how they choose to repay me? I'm not generally given to the directionless, drug-fueled music coming out in the late sixties anyway - or at least not this particular style of it - but it can be done right. In fact the same year that "Their Satanic Majesties Request" came out there was another album that did the same thing, and did it far better: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by the Beatles.

Man it hurt to type that last sentence.

Anyway, if you're like me and you generally enjoy the Rolling Stones, a good place to start is "Sticky Fingers" or even the hit-laden "Some Girls." If you must hear "2000 Man" then I heartily recommend Ace Frehley's update of it on "Dynasty" (helpfully reviewed at Disc 78). At that time I wrote:

"I also really dig "2000 Man" which I had always thought was an Ace Frehley song. But when I looked at the liner notes, I see it is a Rolling Stones song - now I must seek out the original, if there is one."

What the hell was I thinking?

Best tracks: 2000 Man, She's a Rainbow

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