The Rolling Stones – Voodoo Lounge

Voodoo Lounge (1994)


1. Love Is Strong 2. You Got Me Rocking 3. Sparks Will Fly 4. The Worst 5. New Faces 6. Moon Is Up 7. Out Of Tears 8. I Go Wild 9. Brand New Car 10. Sweethearts Together 11. Suck On The Jugular 12. Blinded By Rainbows 13. Baby Break It Down 14. Thru And Thru 15. Mean Disposition


The Stones do grunge! Not really. But would it really surprise you if a Stones album released in 1994 featured Mick glowering on the cover in a plaid shirt and ripped jeans and a bunch of songs featuring him tearing up his vocal chords to ugly, detuned guitars? Mick had been shamelessly trend-hopping since at least 1978, so why not? You may protest and say Keith would never allow it, but if “Emotional Rescue” wound up on a Stones album, then methinks Mick can sneak anything past his old buddy.

Fortunately, however, we were spared the, um, distinct pleasure of hearing the Stones rip off Kurt Cobain. Instead, Mick decided to latch on to a different trend, and one that fit the Stones much more agreeably – that of the “rock dinosaur 90s rootsy comeback album.” Countless classic rockers attempted to atone for the sins they had invariably committed in the 80s by excising their heads from their asses, getting back to basics and making records that were less processed, more stripped down, and generally stronger than anything they’d done in years. Neil Young had Ragged Glory, Dylan had Time Out Of Mind, and the Stones had Voodoo Lounge – which not only served as their first even halfway decent album since Undercover, but also evidence that the Stones were in fact still alive and hadn’t been replaced by crass, moronic, idea-bereft pod people in 1985. And that after spending nearly a decade making hyper-processed crap fit for the toilet bowl, the Stones had finally gotten to a place where they could once again sound like the Rolling Stones playing music together in a room – all loose, rootsy, funky and free like the olden days. Sure, maybe they’d gotten a bit old and creaky to play like they did in ’72 or ’78, but, with their newfound focus, they could sure as hell still work it up as good or better than they did in ’73 (we’re all stoned and falling asleep) and ’75 (we’re all stoned, sloppy and lazy as we scamper around a giant inflatable penis). All the elements are there – Keith playing excellent guitar, lots of great slide and steel guitars from Ronnie, Charlie sounding better than ever and Mick singing way better than he had in years.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention Bill “I married a 13-year old. No, seriously. I’m a pedophile” Wyman. That’s because after 30 years of globe-trotting, debauchery, and occasional bass playing, he decided that he was so deathly afraid of flying that he couldn’t tour anymore. So he quit the band. Fucker. No one can lock in with Charlie like Bill, and the Stones’ groove supply has suffered ever since his departure. His replacement, Darryl Jones (who is not an official member, and who Charlie picked primarily because he had played with Miles Davis. Charlie’s still a jazzbo at heart) is a fine fellow and a good bass player. But it’s just not the same without Bill. However, I’d much rather hear four out of five Rolling Stones plus one scab play good Rolling Stones songs than have to sit through Bill plugging his way through Dirty Work ever again. Thankfully, Voodoo Lounge provides me that opportunity.

Of course, the boys aren’t breaking any new ground here. In theory, Voodoo doesn’t feature the band relying on shadows of past glories and reused sounds any less than Steel Wheels does. However, whereas Wheels amounted to the musical equivalent of dumpster diving, Voodoo runs thick with new, creative musical ideas – most of them just so happen to be ideas that fit well within musical paradigms that the Rolling Stones are known to kick ass at. And they don’t sound they’re desperately turning back the clock in order to sound young and grapple with a mid-life crisis. They actually sound like the 1994 Rolling Stones being comfortable with who they are in the present instead of the 1989 Rolling Stones trying to sound like the 1974 Rolling Stones trying to sound like the 1972 Rolling Stones. (The exception is the throwaway boogie rocker “Mean Disposition,” which, honest to god, sounds like it could’ve been on Out Of Our Heads. Time trip, dude). Mick is, of course, still afraid of getting old – it’s right there in “New Faces,” a fruity harpsichord ballad we haven’t heard the likes of since the halcyon days of Aftermath, where he sings about the younger generation coming up and supplanting his place in the spotlight. But, shit, it’s nothing new – he’s been singing about being an old man and watching “the children play” since “As Tears Go By.” Fortunately, at this point in time, he didn’t deem it necessary to play techno to prove to the world his resilient hipness and youthful spirit. Retro was “in” in 1994, and Ol’ Rubberlips was willing to go along with it.

Maybe the smartest thing Mick did to bolster the success of this album was letting Keith write most of it. Yeah, Mick gets a couple of his overweening “I make solo albums now!” moments in, but for once, they’re actually quite strong: “Out Of Tears” is perhaps the only one of his formulaic latter day relationship drama ballads I actually enjoy because he actually sounds sincere, while he gets his sneer going on the campy guitar orgy rocker “I Go Wild” more convincingly than he had in years. The anti-war ballad “Blinded By Rainbows” is nice musically as well, but the moronically contrived lyrics once again kill it for me (I dunno, I just think the phrase “semtex bomb” doesn’t really fit in the context of a pop song. Call me crazy).

Otherwise, Keith is the boss here for the first time since, shit, when? Exile? (Or, um, Dirty Work, I guess, but let’s just try to forget about that one for now). As a result, Voodoo is miles less hokey than anything we’d heard from the Stones in a while. It’s nice to hear them do a fast rocker again that’s stripped down, catchy and doesn’t sound like a punk rock or metal parody (“Sparks Will Fly”), for instance. There’s a real grit and sexiness to the brooding, bluesy “Love Is Strong” that sounds unmistakably like the Real Stones coming back to life, with Mick wailing on the harmonica and Keith and Ronnie reviving that “Miss You” half soloing/half rhythm style of telepathic riff trading. See, the Real Stones used to be able to write rock songs that could be played in front of 30,000 people without sounding like they were deliberately trying to, like they do here with “You Got Me Rocking,” whose instantly arena-ready “hey, hey” chorus has turned it into the only song the band has released since “Start Me Up” that has become a live staple for them. And if there’s any doubt to who exactly is behind all this, look no further for confirmation than Keith’s two excellent lead vocal songs. The only complaint that I can levy against “The Worst,” a gorgeous, understated gem of a straight country ballad with some terrific Okie harmonies between Mick and Keith, is that it’s too short. “Thru And Thru,” on the other hand, runs over six minutes, but its power is far from diluted – as slow, bluesy guitar arpeggios cede to a heavy, lumbering groove, Keith captures the feeling of being pissed off and lonely at 3 AM very powerfully.

The problem with Voodoo is that it’s too damn long, being a product of the height of the CD age and all. This begins to become evident around the final third of the album, when a series of decent, but not great songs begin to come one after another and don’t make very much of an impression. Granted, there’s only one song that completely blows – the shockingly limp-dicked Caribbean-lite strummer “Sweethearts Together,” which might be worse than anything on Steel Wheels even. But, come on boys, if you’re gonna make good music again, at least sequence the thing like you did in the old days, when you were limited by vinyl and didn’t even have the option of including a bunch of unnecessary filler songs on the album. But, man, after the previous 8 years, I’ll take what I can get. And a legitimately good Stones album is what I get with Voodoo Lounge.