Rolling Stones Album – Voodoo Lounge to Hackney Diamonds

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Rolling Stones Album: It’s no surprise that the thirty-year-old Voodoo Lounge closely mirrors its 1989 predecessor, Steel Wheels, and the 2023 Rolling Stones LP, Hackney Diamonds. The album’s sterling audio, mastered by Stephen Marcussen, stands out as its greatest virtue. This high-quality production includes a sixteen-page booklet featuring all the lyrics and extensive credits, accompanied by characteristically poor cover art.

The Rolling Stones - Voodoo Lounge[Reissue] - Music

Voodoo Lounge

With thirty years of perspective, Voodoo Lounge underscores the idea that the recent Rolling Stones album primarily serves as concert tour material. Hearing it in a broader context reveals how albums from this era were shaped by whether Mick Jagger or Keith Richards had more influence during their production. The album, the band’s twentieth studio effort, is credited to ‘The Glimmer Twins’ (Jagger and Richards’ pseudonym) and Don Was, who has brought his expertise as a musician, producer, and Blue Note Records president since 2011. This collaboration emphasizes the blues, R&B, and country influences that defined the Stones’ classic albums from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Connections to Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Sticky Fingers are most evident in the rootsy instrumental finale, “Mean Disposition.” However, nothing on this record reaches the heights of timeless classics like “Street Fighting Man,” “Gimme Shelter,” or “Brown Sugar.” This might be due to Jagger and Richards’ waning collaborative songwriting intensity or the fact that each had just completed solo projects.

The primary motivation for writing these songs may have been to fulfill a new contract with Virgin Records, resulting in originals that lack depth and substance. One of the few tracks played live over the years, “You Got Me Rocking,” is not much more valuable than “It’s Only Rock n’ Roll (But I Like It)” from two decades earlier. Despite the opening track “Love Is Strong,” featuring skillful riffs and bluesy harmonica, Jagger’s exaggerated vocal style is off-putting. Tracks like “Suck On The Jugular” feel forced, aiming to maintain the Stones’ image. Criticisms at the time of release, such as the album being overly long at sixty-two minutes, are exemplified by songs like “Baby Break It Down.”

Ironically, ballads seem most authentic on Voodoo Lounge. Jagger’s performance on “Out Of Tears” feels sincere, aided by the ensemble’s stately rhythm and David Campbell’s string arrangement. Conversely, Richards’ relaxed delivery on “Thru And Thru” and “The Worst” requires no embellishment to convey emotional truth.

Contributing musicians, like former Allman Brother Chuck Leavell on keyboards and Daryl Jones replacing original bassist Bill Wyman, maintain a natural ease on uptempo tracks like “Sparks Will Fly.” This is likely due to the strong instrumental bond between Richards and the late co-founder and drummer Charlie Watts. Ronnie Wood’s improved soloing since joining the band in 1975 is evident on “I Go Wild” and “Blinded By Rainbows,” with his versatility enhancing the album’s stripped-down arrangements.

However, Mark Isham’s trumpet and David McMurray’s saxophone on “Brand New Car” add little value. Their restrained performances clash with the Stones’ raw style. This overall reserved approach on Voodoo Lounge reflects Lester Bangs’ description of Goats Head Soup as ‘prose by pros.’

This perspective raises the question of what aging rock legends like the Rolling Stones should do. Financial incentives aside, the choice to retire is complex, especially for a band still drawing large crowds (the Voodoo Lounge tour set records for gross ticket sales). Jagger, Richards, and company deserve credit for never announcing a farewell tour just to sell tickets, only to later retract it.
Judging by reports from their 2024 American tour, the Rolling Stones still play with genuine passion, unlike the often habitual performances found on Voodoo Lounge.

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Michael Jock

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