Album: The Rolling Stones

A Bigger Bang, VIRGIN
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The Independent Culture

So it's with a certain trepidation that I welcome A Bigger Bang as, yes, better than one might expect; a lot better, in fact - good enough to put on instead of reaching for the band's former glories again. Let's put it this way: if albums were still only 10 or 12 tracks long, and all the fat was trimmed from the 16 here, the result might well be fit to stand alongside Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers. Which is about as good as it gets.

The opening "Rough Justice" serves notice of their intentions with a classic Keith Richards raunch-riff in the vein of "Brown Sugar", while Jagger reflects on "animal attraction" with all the charm and elegance befitting a sixtysomething reprobate. "Once upon a time I was your little rooster," he leers, "now I'm just one of your cocksss!", drawing out the sibilant like a schoolboy sniggering at his own cheek. One's first reaction is amused exasperation, a weary shake of the head, but then you think, well, isn't that exactly what he's there for? The second time around, you're singing along, your inner schoolkid awakened.

A few tracks later, he's slaying you in a different way with the haunting new single "Streets of Love", which features Mick's most affecting delivery in decades, and a hum-along falsetto hook which, once under your skin, won't easily be dislodged. It's just one in a series of songs which characterise him as the regretful or reproachful victim of love, taken to the cleaners by women more devious and manipulative than himself, unlikely as that may seem. Meanwhile Keith has gone back to the basics which served him so well three or four decades ago, distilling the essence of rock'n'roll to just two or three judiciously chosen chords, played with his own distinctive swagger-sway panache. And, whether it's due to his getting through chemotherapy, or simply a desire to get back in the saddle after a longer-than-usual hiatus, Charlie's on storming form throughout A Bigger Bang, powering songs like "It Won't Take Long" and the irresistible funk-rock juggernaut "Rain Fall Down".

Mick also plays some sizzling slide-guitar licks on the hallucinatory blues "Back Of My Hand" ("I see dreams, I see visions/ Images I don't understand/ I see Goya's paranoias/ I can read it like the back of my hand"), and his blues-harp work there and on the political broadside "Sweet Neo Con" has bite and piquancy.