MUSIC REVIEWS: The Rolling Stones

A Bigger Bang Virgin
Music •••• Sound ••••
Whaddayawant? A Rolling Stones album to come up and bite you in the ass? Well, here it is: A Bigger Bang, their first studio record since 1997's Bridges to Babylon. Back then in these pages, I said B2B was the Stones' best album since Tattoo You - and eight years on, it still holds up better than Undercover, Dirty Work, Steel Wheels, and Voodoo Lounge. Now comes ABB - and it too is the best since Tattoo, but in a different way. Whereas B2B succeeded in many genres, ABB is like a pimped-up ride of Some Girls or, dare I say, Exile on Main St.

Now don't get all torn and frayed. This ain't the Stones of 30 years ago. But in its 16 tracks at 64:22, A Bigger Bang certainly recalls the punchy grandeur of Exile's 18 tracks at 66:36. As for the sass of Girls, check out these lyrics: "One time, you were my baby chicken / Now you've grown into a fox / Once upon a time, I was your little rooster / But now I'm just one of your cocks."

That's how the album starts in "Rough Justice." And to hear a freshly in-your-face Mick Jagger give it the swagger - backed by the tumbling guitars of Keith Richards and Ron Wood and the whipcracking snare of Charlie Watts - is to know it's "only" rock & roll but, when it comes to the Stones, there's nothing like it.

And there's much more here to love: the tantalizing hook of "Let Me Down Slow," the dirty blues of "Back of My Hand," the brash holler of "She Saw Me Coming" - hey, stop me before I break down! But let me point out that, as co-produced by Don Was, this album makes the Stones sound like a bigger, better band, even when they're sometimes stripped down to a trio of Jagger, Richards, and Watts. It also shows them teaching "the kids" a thing or two - such as, when doing a power ballad like "Streets of Love," make it a ballad with power.

If you're miffed at the politics of "Sweet Neo-Con" (here's looking at you, Ann Coulter!), get over it. In fact, be happy that love and hope and sex and dreams are still surviving in the Stones, and that A Bigger Bang is the sound of supposedly dead men coming out rocking.