An unappreciated highlight
finulanu | Here, there, and everywhere | 08/21/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After Mick Taylor left the Rolling Stones, I think they were kind of unsure as to what direction to take. So what did they do? They auditioned a bunch of new guitarists (Everyone from Wayne Perkins to Harvey Mendell to Jeff Beck showed up: rumor has it Clapton was even part of the additions. Of course, they settled on Ronnie Wood). They also listened to a huge variety of records and took in what they liked from them. The difference is, these records were not their traditional rock, blues, country and R&B: rather, this one sports reggae, jazz, funk, disco and Philly Soul influences. The "songs" are more "grooves": really, only two songs here are more than half-completed sketches of tunes: Memory Motel (which is the best song on the album: an amazing, soulful extended piece that transcends the cheesiness of the "sha-la-la-la" backup vocals and "life-on-the-road, I'm-in-love-with-a-groupie" lyrics thanks to the soulful delivery, the keyboard riff, and Keith Richard's "She's got a mi-hind of her ow-hown... and she use it mighty fine... she's one of a ki-hi-hind..." vocal bridge, which I think is the single best moment of the whole album); Fool to Cry is a smooth and satisfying Philly Soul ballad - nothing in the Stones' catalog sounds even close to it. It's weird. Good, all right, but weird. As for the sketches, Hand of Fate comes close to actually being thought out, but it's still more about the funk-rock groove - and a stellar guitar solo from Wayne Perkins - than the actual lyrics or melody (Mick refers to the hand of fate "kicking" him down, obviously forgetting that feet and not hands kick: then again, "Foot of Fate" just sounds stupid). But it's a GOOD groove! Same with Hey Negrita. Sure, the lyrics are as offensive as it gets, as if a quick look at the title couldn't tell you that. Still, I feel the same way about it that I do about several other sexist Stones songs: its lyrics are so over-the-top, that they're probably intended to be ironic. Anyway, the groove there is again solid, an amazing fusion of funk, rock, disco, and jazz: those elements also come together on Hot Stuff. Hot Stuff has some great guitar parts, all right, but I don't like Mick's vocals on it. Now the interaction between the group, on the other hand... whoa. The third funky rocker is Crazy Mama: while I think it would've sounded better with more energy (after all, it's hedonistic rock 'n' roll, innit?), it's still a good one to bang your head or maybe even dance to.
The real surprise on the record is Melody. I used to despise the song (actually, I used to despise half the record - but it really is the kind of album that requires multiple listens to enjoy. Goats Head Soup is another one) as a half-written toss-off, and basically it is. But the jazzy, extended instrumental break is worth digesting, because it's cool. And those tasty guitar licks from Richards after the choruses are too: so are Billy Preston's backing vocals and Mick's unexpected foot stomping. It's a bit repetitive, but I'm fine with it. The only song I haven't mentioned is the reggae cover Cherry Oh Baby, and that's because I don't like it. The Stones did some very good reggae songs (I'm thinking Sweet Black Angel, Luxury and Waiting on a Friend), but this doesn't fall in the same category as them. It's bad. Really bad. Bad enough to knock the rating down a half-star all on its own: I dock another because the songwriting's not as good as it used to be. Still, the playing here sure is sharp.
Black and Blue is a controversial record for sure. The only other Stones record I can think of that inspires more mixed reactions is Their Satanic Majesties Request. It's not your typical Stones fare, and you might not love it the first time you hear it, but that doesn't mean you should write it off entirely."