Proudly winding the country road and preening it’s sinister street corners, The Stones antagonism, misery, and darkness is authentic and obvious here. 1971 was the year The Rolling Stones emerged from Beatle-contradictory, leather-necked bad boys, a depiction that encompassed them in the 1960’s into metamorphosis, that of narcotic-ridden, jet-setting rock stars during the 1970’s. Produced by the unarguably devoted, multi-talented Jimmy Miller, Sticky Fingers was the first product under the group’s newly formed Rolling Stones Records. Recorded at Muscle Shoals Studios in Alabama and on-board their estranged Rolling Stones Mobile Unit, Sticky Fingers is a world-weary, self-analytical album that’s never joyful …and far from painless.
Now time-stamped in signifying a new career phase for the band, this more elegantly developed endeavor is, in a word, involving. This set, considerably more than others in this sphere, seems to involve the listener in what is a tastefully orchestrated unhappiness that’s periodically pooled with bleak, headstone messaging.
More serious in tone than some of this act’s subsequent comparatives, something manifests during Sticky Fingers that’s noticeably semi-haunting in essence. There’s nothing overtly superficial or bluntly marked to that fact. Instead, the premise exists as a steady blackened undercurrent stirring beneath the surface. Shared to it’s shadowy disposition, there are some especially “moving” stages that propose the low sense of the writers’ personal reflection. These small chapters are staggered between and employ moods of difficult repent, self-pity, and yearning despair. The meaner, hard-bitten material demonstrates patent swagger, venom, and is paired to an atmosphere of malice that on a couple tosses, climaxes to a developed frenzy. Sonically speaking, the entire project exudes an ominous “thick air” which ranges from a stale edginess to something subtly murky. Serving as a Rock N Roll portrait of this ensemble’s existence during the period, Sticky Fingers provides such genuine qualities that, in the very least, it is deserving of introspection.
“Brown Sugar” starts things off shaking and rocking, sounding “tireless” in nature. Rhythm guitar is suitably utilized with thumping percussion that play reciprocally to a sensational melody and chorus. Its sound and content are still daringly bold, decades away. “Sway,” second, shifts momentum downward, deeper. Addiction, death, and emotional suffering first surface in this ones roundabout wordage. It’s at this early location, the listener realizes they’re very possibly headed towards a darker place than the starter cut.
“Wild Horses” is as melancholy as it is regretfully beautiful. With its western approach to slow rock balladry, the song is unforgettable. Sooner or later, other artist’s opted to try its mood (The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, etc.); however, here The Stones do not try, they simply “are.”
As a whole, this album shows not of fixed, biting tracks that make up the better sum of the band’s more commercially tangible albums during the decade. Sticky Fingers feels to a more fluid musical piece rather than simply several tailor-tight individuals. Logical ears will ascertain that of this work’s most redeeming qualities is professional instrumentation and arrangement. The Stones may be a Rock n Roll band by day, but by night they show much more.
Charlie Watts is as imperfectly perfect, as usual. Lending periphery to the song construction that otherwise may have lacked flexibility and character, Watts’ technique offers both punch and style. Brass, bass, and keys all play in tuneful respect to each song’s sense of duty. On many tracks, various instruments come to form a collective theme, several times including additional studio musicians producing a by and large communal vibe. Guitars exist more rounded out than slap dashed, resulting in slight polish that’s integrated to an otherwise sustained analogue density. The production proves to be slightly smoothed and occasionally graceful but never glossy.
Abiding to play to a loose, slower momentum than many Stones albums, Sticky Fingers wanes rather than seers. Not to confuse, there are still some rockers here. Not all over the place, but the ones that are present are so poignant, they keep the album from ever being drawn out.
“Can’t You Hear Me Knockin” is infectiously hostile. “Bitch’s” groove is aggressive. These, for the better part, demonstrate Hard Rock at it’s finest. Characteristically, this capable group of gentlemen are not strangers in deciding to combine influences or throw in bits to create a balance by contrast. These specific compositions are two prime examples. There’s a hybrid jazz exit for the first; Big Band meets electric for the latter. That noted, Keith Richard’s guitar work is instantly identifiable, audibly what may be best described as “enjoyably threatening” on both. It’s songs on Sticky Fingers such as these that bring about a dangerousness that separated The Stones from their peers.
Further in, “Sister Morphine,” is a harrowing tale of drug overdose which waxes chilling steel guitar segments, compliments of the legendary Ry Cooder who guest spots.
The country-soaked “Dead Flowers” fairs unconventionally morbid, mainly owed to it’s management of providing some eccentric, hick-lipped sing-along yarning. Following it’s seeded twang and lyrical content, it’s clear of The Stones influence on select latter acts who did songs in similar vain. Conceivably, a more apparent akin is Guns N’ Roses’ amusing little gemstone, “Used to Love Her,” from the late 1980’s.
Rock, country, blues, even the tastes of soul and jazz are not to contrast any one take too strikingly from the next. In gist, every element and genre plays a role in this album’s conclusion rather than sounding singled or in itself. You see, another savoring uniqueness of Sticky Fingers is not of its different use of styles but in their accordance to overall summation. Every piece sounds necessary and fitting to complete an eerie puzzle of sorts rather than boast versatility.
Mick Jagger is snarly and forceful on the album’s more intense material. Yet, during several of the slower tracks, Jagger’s voice takes on remorse and has an almost apologetic tone, seemingly seeking understanding for a grave circumstance. Miller’s production signature of evenly cementing vocals into the mix rather than lacing them over top doesn’t seem to coincide with an attempt at concealing any sorrowful or aching emotions, nor should it. Recurrently, vocal tracks are “doubled,” which actually turns a more or less aurally pleasing layered effect against and in contrast to much of the disc’s lyrical discontent. Additionally, this particular recording technique lends benefit to this album’s generally extended main-line segments. On all accounts, there’s an undeniable substance that was captured to tape, resulting from not just the singer or the core unit but of all of this album’s participants whether in front or behind the glass.
Upon biting in, this foray emanates a persuasion that is unavoidably compelling to the entirety. However, as a collection, the record resonates unusually grim. It’s almost as if you’ve heard a very potent yet musically giving Rock n Roll album playing along to a bad dream. The only glimmer of hope throughout is the very last of it. With it’s oddly enough Japanese element, we finally have it, this mixture’s trophy winner: “Moonlight Mile.” Lyrically, it’s disguisingly stoned. Musically, it’s semi-hypnotic. Perhaps the close of this particular is the sunrise in all this album’s doom? Yet ,there’s something in this final number’s hopeful ending that’s still not completely assuring.
Psychologically, the realization of an unforgiving destiny happens to be the very sentiment that keeps the listener straddled in and on due course. Through a characteristically dimmed haze, matters have a way of evoking an underlying feeling of helplessness during spin where as a thoughtful, unwholesome solitude resides most notably after the fact. There’s no rescue possible; therefore, there are no senseless stabs made on any of the songs in hopes of finding a better consciousness. In light of all this and uniquely, the intent of the artists isn’t to beg for an option nor is it to look for resolve. In an honest, stuck acceptance of being too far gone for pardons, the essential objective all during is to merely express all their wrongful shame without shunning any of it out. Thematically disparaging but at the same time, it’s the very furthest from ever being unproductive. Ultimately, the most versed aspect that comes to mind over this decadently grand and telling auditory arroyo is that of a pathetically addicted, spiraled set of individuals who openly accept the possibility of passing away.
By description and vantage, there’s most likely a question that’s crossed many readers’ minds … if the album’s undertones are all so morbidly bad, why is Sticky Fingers so re-commendably good?
To make clear, select songs and the album’s cover art remain staples in Rock n Roll History. Great song writing is as present on this as almost any classic Stones album. Sticky Fingers remains unabashedly openhearted to all its mortality and moreover takes the listener on a journey though a darker one. In being a perfect representation of The Rolling Stones during their creative peak, a more apt question answers the first…How can one go wrong?
Ian Billen –