For at least a decade reports of the Stones’ disintegration have been somewhat exaggerated. But Keith Richards’ legal problems over illegal substances and Mick Jagger’s intra-and extramarital problems weren’t the only explanation—clearly, their music had become substandard. Since the explosive brilliance of Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed and Exile on Main Street, Jagger-Richards & Co. seemed to have lost the raunch and toughness that made them the most influential rock band of the ’60s and early ’70s. Black & Blue in 1976 and last year’s Love You Live barely maintained their hold on the hearts and turntables of rock fans. Doubters questioned if the Stones could shake their image of mid-30s dissipation.
With this album and their current typically eccentric tour, the Stones have shown they are not really moss-covered yet. Some Girls is their most original and intriguing release since Exile. Which is to suggest that the group’s signatures—Jagger’s soulful vocal contortions, Richards’ ripping, searing rhythm chords and a pulverizing drum-bass assault by Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman—are as forceful as ever. The material, though, has shifted and now covers a slightly satirical range over disco motifs, country and pure exhilarating blues-rock. It hardly matters that the Stones appear in conscientiously enigmatic guise—as drag queens—on the album cover, or that When the Whip Comes Down is apparently about sexual perversion (“boy on 53rd Street…learnin’ a trade…learnin’ the ropes”) or, finally, that the lyrics are obscured by the music. In the end these cerebrations assume a significance meaningful only to archivists. Is Mick really singing about Bianca and the disco crowd in Miss You or Some Girls? Is the talking C/W cut Far Away Eyes a Nashville Bible Belt send-up? Who cares? The glory of the Stones’ music lies chiefly in the fury of their rock—and on a cut like Respectable, the words just become part of the percussive power. When they pare down their production, the Stones reemerge as the most exciting rock force around.