Agony Shorthand

Monday, November 08, 2004

For years an error of chronology gave me a very convenient but dead-wrong theory: that the ROLLING STONES reached their peak around the incredible, best-50-LPs-ever trifecta of "Beggar's Banquet", "Let It Bleed" and "Exile On Main Street", only to have their career begin the inevitable slide into irrelevance and mediocrity with "Sticky Fingers". I was pretty proud of myself for coming up with that one. Thing is, 1971's "Sticky Fingers" slotted right between 1969's "Let It Bleed" and 1972's "Exile On Main Street", so that's a theory of mine that's subsequently been discarded. I'm searching for another one to explain why "Sticky Fingers" just doesn't have the gusto and the knock-you-flat timelessness of those other three. Perhaps it's the 2 good, 1 bad, 1 good theory? No, that pattern doesn't work, because immediately preceeding "Beggar's Banquet" is "Their Satanic Majesties' Request" -- good, but not face-of-rock-changing good. The fact of the matter is that most of "Sticky Fingers" was a big step backwards into album-oriented rock and maudlin, syrupy sentimental schlock. It sounds like a spirtual cousin to clunkers like "Black and Blue" and "Goat's Head Soup" rather than "Exile", but millions upon millions will disagree with this sentiment -- so please allow me to elaborate.

First, you know is it isn't all bad when it kicks off in fine style with a killer bar-rock stomper like "Brown Sugar", which deservedly ranks up among their most-played & -worshipped tracks. I'm wondering if there's a bootleg version out there of the track when it was called, ahem, "Black Pussy". The next best track is #2, the wine-besotted lament "Sway". After that, the quality quotient drops severely and never returns to this level. In the difficult listening category comes "Wild Horses", a total lite rock staple, the sort of tune your Mom totally goes for, as well as my annoying co-workers. And girls named Staci or Traci who draw unicorns on their Pee-Chees. Even worse is "Can't You Hear Me Knocking", which not only carries on forever, but is Exhibit A for the AOR Stones that broke so many hearts a few years later (as is the woeful "Bitch"). After that are some decent junkie ballads like "Sister Morphine", "I Got The Blues" and "Moonlight Mile", but so below the late 60s standard these guys had set you gotta wonder how badly the smack really was interfering with the creative process. Well, the ship was righted for one last double-LP go the next year, and I may be going out on a big limb here (are you sitting down?), but "Exile" was probably their best ever. I just got the CD version of "Sticky Fingers" a couple weeks ago, and I'm afraid to report that digital reproduction still isn't able to right the many wrongs committed here.