The Rolling Stones
Band Rating: 5

  • England's Newest Hitmakers
  • 12x5
  • The Rolling Stones, Now!
  • Out Of Our Heads
  • December's Children (And Everybody's)
  • Aftermath
  • Between The Buttons
  • Flowers
  • Their Satanic Majesties' Request
  • Beggar's Banquet
  • Let It Bleed
  • Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!
  • Sticky Fingers
  • Exile On Main St.
  • Goat's Head Soup
  • It's Only Rock'N'Roll
  • Metamorphosis
  • Black And Blue
  • Some Girls
  • Emotional Rescue
  • Tattoo You
  • Undercover
  • Dirty Work
  • Steel Wheels
  • Voodoo Lounge
  • Bridges To Babylon
  • No Security
  • Live Licks
  • A Bigger Bang
  • Rarities 1971-2003

    England's Newest Hitmakers (1964)
    Page Rating: 7
    Overall Rating: 12

    On their first outing the Stones had yet to assume the role of creative giants in the rock industry, hence their debut only contains a single track attributed to the legendary Jagger/Richards duo, a charming pop number entitled Tell Me. The rest of the material is largely composed of fifties rock, blues and Motown standards, bereft of any stellar original tracks.

    Fortunately these evergreen classics are performed extremely well, with a tight rhythm section, masterful guitarwork and Jagger's signature vocals. This makes for a tremendously entertaining listen, albeit one with only a modicum of depth to it. The Stones became far more than a highly professional rock outfit, thus this diminutive debut (only slightly more than thirty minutes in length) can't hope to capture the enormous heights the band would attain once Jagger and Richards evolved into proficient songwriters.

    This gripe aside, there's little to fault the album with. There's a menacing undercurrent to the songs, a phenomenon that's especially evident during tracks like the old blues standard I'm A King Bee, a true highlight on the album featuring excellent stinging guitar licks courtesy of Brian Jones. The band had already forged a unique sound for themselves that they expertly apply to these tracks, a dark and dangerous atmosphere that helps differentiate them from most of their contemporaries.

    The band truly makes these covers their own, with ample instrumental chops and impressive aggressive energy with which to usurp these songs from their composers and convert them into their own style. The renditions depicted on this album are amongst the best these songs were ever performed, with great instrumental prowess and a part of the Stones spirit infused into each track.

    In all England's Newest Hitmakers is a highly auspicious debut, an immensely entertaining set of covers with one original to point a way to the future. Overall it's a somewhat slight release, far too short with a severe dearth of Jagger/Richards compositions, but this doesn't prevent it from being a highly enjoyable album that already contains an injection of the Stones magic.

    12x5 (1964)
    Page Rating: 6
    Overall Rating: 11

    12x5 is ostensibly more of the same, with a few key disparities that prevent it from reaching the heights of its predecessor. It's still an enormous amount of fun, but its deficiencies somewhat mar the proceedings compared to the highly consistent debut album.

    In an effort to appeal to a broader, more mainstream audience many of the rough edges found on England's Newest Hitmakers have been smoothed over; coupled with a song selection that veers heavily in a poppy direction, this amounts to an album with a greater emphasis on pop over the rock, blues and r & b that dominated their previous album.

    Unfortunately pop was not the group's forte at this stage in their development, and tracks like Under The Boardwalk clash so heavily with the image of the group that they become cringe inducing.

    Elsewhere the originals are highly underwhelming, three lackluster compositions that have yet to betray the group's future genius. None of them are even on par with Tell Me from their first outing, painting a grim portrait of their future that thankfully never came to pass.

    Fortunately the album also contains some very strong tracks that are at least on the same level as the highlights from ENH. Time Is On My Side deservingly became one of the band's signature anthems, while Susie Q, despite seeming somewhat slight when compared to Creedence Clearwater Revival's extremely lengthy version, is still a great slice of basic, axiomatic rock and roll.

    Elsewhere Around And Around is another impressive Chuck Berry cover, while Confessin' The Blues is an inspired blues romp.

    While undeniably flawed and certainly a weaker product than the band's debut, 12x5 is still a very entertaining album, containing moments of early brilliance from a band that would proceed to ascend to the very top of the rock and roll pantheon. While the paradigm shift toward pop was somewhat misguided and the band had yet to truly hone their songwriting skills into something meaningful, the group still played excellent rock and roll, and in the end that's what really matters.

    The Rolling Stones, Now! (1965)
    Page Rating: 7
    Overall Rating: 12

    After their brief flirtation with mainstream pop the band promptly reverted to the style assumed on their debut, resulting in a complete return to form for the group. That's not to say that the album is devoid of pop, merely that the balance of the LP has shifted in favor of the group's more customary rock and r & b, with the pop interludes being more in the vein of the band's usual style, accordingly making them sound more organic and natural in this context, thus failing to clash with the rest of the material as anomalies like Under The Boardwalk had on its predecessor.

    From the swampy rocker Down Home Girl to the blues workout Little Red Rooster the band's performances are topnotch, with a track selection that perfectly complements the group's strengths.

    Another welcome change is that the album's four originals are far superior to the somewhat pedestrian compositions the band penned for 12x5. In particular Heart Of Stone is the first true classic composed by the Jagger/Richards partnership, an extremely catchy ballad that derives its essence from contemporary Motown. The band was likewise growing more ambitious in the music department, with their original closer Surprise, Surprise containing a rather complex song structure for the time.

    The album's hardly perfect, with tracks like the Bo Diddley staple Mona (I Need You Baby) being a tad tedious, but on the whole the album is quite entertaining, with a plethora of strong covers and a rapidly improving aptitude for songwriting being exhibited by Jagger and Richards. There aren't yet any timeless riffs conjured by Richards or fabulous original melodies lurking amidst the tracks, but Mick and Keith were steadily improving as songwriters, with tracks like Heart Of Stone displaying the roots of the melodic genius the Jagger/Richards collaboration possessed.

    While some fans may be irked by the continued proliferation of covers, the caliber of the performances more than merits their inclusion; while the Stones remain well beloved primarily for their original material, it's undeniable that they were quite proficient in the realm of covers as well. Thus fans of the later Stones should find much to love in the band's embryonic years as well; this album finds the group beginning the transition from their formative years to their classic period, a transition that would grow more pronounced on the subsequent album.

    While I too much prefer their classic work the early albums should not be neglected, as they provide plenty of entertainment in the form of tight, brilliantly performed covers and occasional early self-composed gems that predict the band's future songwriting triumphs. The Rolling Stones, Now! matches this description perfectly, with covers that equal the highlights of ENH and originals that far surpass the compositions Jagger and Richards penned for the previous two albums, rendering it as essential for fans as their mutually strong debut.

    Out Of Our Heads (1965)
    Page Rating: 7
    Overall Rating: 12

    Just three tracks in it becomes abundantly clear that Jagger and Richards have progressed immeasurably as songwriters since their last outing. This is where the listener encounters The Last Time, a great pop song driven forward by a stellar riff.

    Elsewhere on the album the band's most famous track, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction appears, with an even better riff and biting lyrics satirizing the commercial culture.

    As a testament to the versatility of the duo as songwriters Play With Fire, The Last Time's b-side, sounds nothing like the previously mentioned riff-fests, a menacing number featuring ominous lyrics and a penetrative acoustic arrangement.

    While lesser compared to these immortal classics, The Spider And The Fly is still a strong track, boasting a catchy melody and a typical Stones sensibility that coats it in the band's irresistible charm.

    Unfortunately, when taken in the context of the band's songwriting growth some of the covers seem far less compelling. While Mercy, Mercy and Hitch Hike open the album on a strong note, tracks like That's How Strong My Love Is and Cry To Me feel rather pedestrian, poor choices for covers that don't mesh well with the band's sound. The group had reached a point where their originals completely overshadowed their covers, which rendered the proliferation of covers on the album most regrettable.

    With a good portion (around half) of the album devoted to uninspired covers the album is incapable of reaching the musical heights it aspires to. The band was overdue to take the next step and eschew covers all together, and accordingly their failure to do so greatly mars the quality of the album. The better the originals are the more the covers feel superfluous in comparison with them, ergo much of the album is spent simply waiting for the next original track.

    The continued reliance on covers wouldn't be such a problem if the tracks were on par with the better material from ENH and The Rolling Stones, Now!, but sadly as the caliber of their originals improved the quality of the covers was inversely affected, as the qualitative level of most of the covers (save tracks like the aforementioned Mercy, Mercy and Hitch Hike) has greatly deteriorated.

    The band hadn't yet perfected their original songwriting either, hence tracks like the mediocre One More Try, hinting that even had they released an album solely (or at least primarily) composed of originals it may not have fared well either.

    Ultimately Out Of Our Heads is a frustrating experience, with both the greatest and weakest of the Stones' achievements coexisting with one another. Its originals anticipate a golden age for the band to come, while the covers represent a past that the group has transcended beyond yet remains mired in. Due to the inclusion of classics like (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction and The Last Time the album, regardless of any deficiencies elsewhere, is quite strong, but the band had yet to make the next step that would take them toward greatness, making Out Of Our Heads a transitional effort at best.

    December's Children (And Everybody's) (1965)
    Page Rating: 5
    Overall Rating: 10

    On their fifth outing the band's formula has grown increasingly stale (making it fortunate that this was their final album that adhered to this structure and style). The covers, for the most part, are far too generic and predictable while most of the original tracks are too primitive to amount to much.

    Thus it's not surprising that two of the highlights of the LP are tracks that break away from this tired mold and offer something different, namely the live renditions of Route 66 and I'm Moving On. While the melodies are somewhat obstructed by the ubiquitous cacophony of screaming girls, a certain live energy is infused into these tracks that greatly ameliorates their power, making for an intense, highly enjoyable listen.

    Not all of the original tracks are lackluster either. The album contains at least two Jagger/Richards penned classics, the sloppy rocker Get Off Of My Cloud and the pretty ballad As Tears Go By. While some of the other originals are either poorly written (such as The Singer Not The Song) or simply too rudimentary (such as I'm Free), these two tracks rise above the effluvia that surrounds them and provide ample reason for owning this album.

    Unfortunately there's little else to recommend this album on the basis of. Most of the covers are simply either too familiar or ill suited to the band. It's almost as if the group had exhausted their supply of eligible covers, leaving only incompatible songs or redundancies. The energy of a live treatment manages to salvage Route 66 and I'm Moving On, but the others, while competently performed, lack the spark and inspiration that animated the stronger covers of the group's past.

    In all December's Children (And Everybody's) is a severe disappointment, the band's weakest outing to this point. While far from bad and still at least moderately entertaining, the album's simply weak by the group's high standards, composed primarily of lesser covers and originals. While it's worthwhile for Get Off Of My Cloud and As Tears Go By alone, most of the rest of the material feels like filler, making for an inconsistent and frustrating listen.

    Aftermath (1966)
    Page Rating: 8
    Overall Rating: 13

    Aftermath was a tremendous breakthrough for the band, their first album that was wholly devoid of covers and thus, unsurprisingly, easily their best outing to date. Jagger and Richards had evolved into brilliant songwriters, with the tracks being nearly universally strong, from the tenebrous, nearly proto-Goth rocker Paint It Black to the comically over the top character assassination of Stupid Girl to the blatantly misogynistic Under My Thumb to the elegant, anachronistic Tudorian style ballad Lady Jane.

    The album is hardly perfect, with the sadistically overextended closing jam Going Home constituting a sonic ordeal of irritating vocals and a boredom inducing dearth of progression, but aside from this tedious misstep the album is bereft of filler, loaded with hook-filled, expertly written tracks.

    The songs are nearly uniformly catchy and well constructed, indicative of the tremendous growth of Jagger and Richards as songwriters. While the majority of the tracks are of lesser quality compared to numbers like the crepuscular anthem Paint It Black, they're still far too strong to be overshadowed by that caliginous classic, filled with clever hooks and strong melodies.

    Tracks like Doncha Bother Me and High And Dry are more than a tad basic, but their simplicity itself lends them a kind of charm and even compounds their catchiness and memorability. At this stage in their career the Stones were synonymous with a kind of sloppy rock flavor that didn't demand complexity to enhance their songs.

    Despite these occasionally simplistic tendencies Aftermath depicts the band at their most adventurous and experimental, bringing instruments like sitars and dulcimers into the mix as opposed to exclusively relying on the traditional instrumentation they were accustomed to. Likewise the album is more stylistically diverse than ever before, with tracks like the Tudor influenced antiquated ballad Lady Jane sounding like nothing the band had ever attempted before yet still coexisting alongside basic rockers and pop excursions. Of course not all of the band's ambitious interludes were successful, hence the disaster of the aforementioned closer Going Home, but for the most part their experimentation was a tremendous asset on the album.

    In all Aftermath was a huge step forward for the band, the end of the era of predominantly cover-filled releases and the beginning of an epoch of brilliant songwriting and massive creativity. The songwriting is consistently strong, the band performs better than ever and creative touches like the inclusion of sitars and dulcimers serve to further augment the tracks. Making an album solely composed of originals was a huge risk for the band, a gambit that thankfully was eminently successful.

    Between The Buttons (1967)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 14

    Having already applied their newfound aptitude for brilliant songwriting to the world of roots rock on their previous outing, the duo of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards brought their impressive facility for generating unforgettable hooks to the next natural target, the realm of pop. Given their penchant for composing amazingly catchy melodies the pop genre was an ideal match for them, enabling their gift for songwriting to further grow and expand.

    The band betray some of their more prominent influences on the album, dabbling in Kinks-style Britpop and music hall, while Jagger, both in lyrics and vocal delivery, emulates Zimmerman on the Dylanesque Who's Been Sleeping Here? This is hardly an act of plagiarism, however, as the band thoroughly makes the elements they borrow their own, as each track is unmistakably the work of the Stones.

    The album is utterly bereft of filler, a procession of excellent pop song after excellent pop song. The most widely known tracks on the album are the uber catchy Let's Spend The Night Together and the gorgeous ballad Ruby Tuesday, but each song has something to offer, boasting a plethora of hooks and memorable melodies.

    The band continues to experiment with their instrumentation, this time employing a Mellotron on Ruby Tuesday to good effect. This adventurous nature permeates the whole album, as even the act of composing an LP nearly exclusively composed of pop songs was a risk in and of itself for a band more associated with roots rock.

    On the whole Between The Buttons is an excellent album, depicting Jagger and Richards in brilliant form as songwriters, crafting an immaculate series of pop gems. The album is often ignored due to its dearth of more typical Stones songs, but this is an egregious error as the album ranks amongst the band's best. The melodies are uniformly strong and the performances tight, with the band displaying their versatility by tackling the genre of pop as adeptly as they had that of rock on prior outings. While the band will forever be thought of as a rock band, this flirtation with the genre of pop should not be overlooked, as it's a true testament to Jagger and Richards' songwriting genius.

    Flowers (1967)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 14

    There were myriad disparities between the American and British editions of early Stones works, thus the record company decided that they could educe some extra cash from fans if they compiled all of the tracks omitted from the American versions and released them as a new album.

    Unfortunately this previously unreleased material was of an insufficient quantity to constitute a full LP; ergo there's a modicum of crossover between Flowers and prior American editions, this overlap manifesting itself in the form of Lady Jane from Aftermath and Let's Spend The Night Together and Ruby Tuesday from Between The Buttons.

    Frustrating as these redundancies are, Flowers is an excellent album, another foray into the realm of pop for the group. It contains a plethora of Stones classics, from the cynical yet catchy Mother's Little Helper to one of the band's best ballads Out Of Time.

    While it likewise contains My Girl, an ill suited cover for the group whose very existence is fundamentally perturbing on some deep primal level, all of the originals are extremely well written, a collection of pop gems all boasting catchy hooks and memorable melodies. The band had a true flair for the pop genre, as this brilliant song cycle is a testament to.

    Many say that this album shouldn't exist, as it's little more than a ploy to exploit fans by extorting some extra cash from them for songs that never should have been excluded from American releases in the first place, and while I'm in concurrence on that particular matter there's no denying that the album does exist and that it is an excellent album, another pop classic by a group not normally associated with pop.

    In all, the album's right to exist notwithstanding, Flowers is a great album, filled with creative and catchy melodies and enough hooks to sustain several albums' worth of tracks. Aside from the cringe inducing cover of My Girl and the irritation of superfluous repetition from prior American releases every song on the album is strong, a parade of pop gems that are indispensable for any Stones fan. Rather than bemoaning the approach that the record company took with these songs one should simply enjoy Flowers for what it is, a timeless pop masterpiece that should appeal to both pop lovers and diehard fans of the Stones.

    Their Satanic Majesties' Request (1967)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 14

    Their Satanic Majesties' Request is the band's oft vilified foray into the realm of psychedelia. The decision to jump on the psychedelic bandwagon was a rather belated one, a fact that likely exacerbated the amount of unjust derision this album evoked from critics and Stones fans alike.

    The vitriolic reception this LP has received is a true pity, as the album is actually quite strong, containing a number of psychedelic classics with only a modicum of filler. Of the two especially reviled tracks, Sing This All Together (See What Happens), despite its status as a sound collage, actually remains somewhat interesting for its lengthy duration, being salvaged by the fact that it features actual music as opposed to merely random sonic effluvia, while the album closer On With The Show is pleasant enough that it shouldn't be the recipient of critical bile that it is. Neither song is amongst the best efforts on the album, but they're still far better than the abominations they're often portrayed as.

    The true classics can be found elsewhere on the disc, from the glorious pop of She's A Rainbow to 2000 Light Years From Home, a track that recalls the aural astral explorations found in early Pink Floyd albums. Other highlights include the beautiful The Lantern, the great riff rocker citadel which is embellished by a wide array of disparate psychedelic sound effects and Bill Wyman's sole addition to the band's canon, the charming In Another Land, on which he delivers encoded vocals to compensate for his lack of singing capabilities.

    Thus the album is an underrated classic; while its psychedelic aspects could be construed as being rather dated, the songwriting prevails, as Jagger and Richard conjure myriad hooks and strong melodies to accompany the songs' psychedelic overtones. Their Satanic Majesties' Request is simply a very strong set of songs, a collection of tracks boasting high quality melodies that are further enhanced rather than marred by their psychedelic gimmicks. Said gimmicks never obstruct the hooks or dilute the melodies, they simply augment the charm of an already excellent album. Whether or not they're dated the psychedelic components are quite entertaining, helping to differentiate the album from anything else in the band's discography, leaving a very unique Stones listening experience.

    Beggar's Banquet (1968)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 15

    While the Stones had proven that they could achieve a mastery over whatever form they applied themselves to, be it pop, psychedelia or blues, their forte was and would always remain rock and roll. Thus it's unsurprising that their long awaited return to this genre would be their greatest album yet, as well as one of the greatest musical achievements of all time in the realm of rock.

    The quality of the album is evident from its first track, Sympathy For The Devil, which may very well be my favorite Stones song of all time (the other candidate being Gimmie Shelter from the subsequent album). An epic satanic anthem wherein Jagger assumes the role of Lucifer, the song is distinguished by both an incredible melody and some of the best lyrics to be found in any Stones song. Richards contributes an excellent solo that would subsequently be improved upon by Mick Taylor in a live setting on Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out while Jagger delivers one of his greatest vocal performances yet.

    While nothing on the album matches Sympathy For The Devil qualitatively the remaining tracks are uniformly excellent, from the menacing celebration of statutory rape Stray Cat Blues to the immortal classic Street Fighting Man to Jagger's second attempt at a Dylanesque narrative the beautifully written Jig-Saw Puzzle.

    It's not only the more hard rocking songs that rule, however. From the touching ballad No Expectations (which features one of Jagger's most convincingly sincere vocal deliveries) to the humorous anecdotal Dear Doctor the softer side of the album is very strong and perfectly complements the harder numbers.

    In all Beggar's Banquet is the first true masterpiece by the Stones. Albums like Aftermath, Between The Buttons, Flowers and Their Satanic Majesties' Request are all extremely good and indicative of the band's versatility and songwriting genius, but Beggar's Banquet manages to eclipse them by being the first case wherein the Stones truly do what they do best. It's also the beginning of one of the best qualitative streaks in rock and roll history, commencing the golden age of the Rolling Stones.

    Let It Bleed (1969)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 15

    By this time Brian Jones was ostensibly out of the group, leaving Keith Richards with the bulk of the guitarwork and leaving the group in the unenviable position of following up their best album to this point without one of their founding members and primary creative forces.

    Let It Bleed emulates Beggar's Banquet with regard to the track sequencing, adhering to the structure of its predecessor, but aside from this it's wholly its own album, with few correlations between the two albums save qualitative ones.

    Let It Bleed is an eminently worthy successor to the genius of Beggar's Banquet, boasting another set of extraordinary rock songs. Jagger and Richards remain at their creative peak, penning incredible melodies and providing great performances despite the absence of Jones.

    It helps that, like Beggar's Banquet, the album opens with one of the greatest songs of all time, the tenebrous, atmospheric masterpiece Gimmie Shelter. The track is truly brilliant, managing to be both overtly and viscerally unsettling, containing a haunting melody that will never leave your psyche. Everything, from the instrumental arrangement to the storm imitating sound effects to the shiver inducing guest vocals gel together brilliantly, making for one of those rare perfect rock songs.

    Gimmie Shelter is hardly the only classic on here, however. From the rocker Monkey Man (which boasts one of the greatest riffs of all time) to the timeless You Can't Always Get What You Want to the sleazy hard rock of Live With Me to the menacing depiction of a serial killer Midnight Rambler, the album is filled with classics.

    On the other end of the stylistic spectrum the soft songs are brilliant as well, from the beautiful cover of Love In Vain to the first ever Richards-sung track You Got The Silver.

    In all Let It Bleed is on the same level as its processor, joining it not only as one of the greatest Stones albums but one of the best albums of all time. The album's not only bereft of filler, but nearly every song could be said to achieve the status of classic. Let It Bleed was derived from the Stones' golden age, a streak of quality that would continue on after this album.

    Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! (1970)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 15

    Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out is widely regarded as one of the greatest live albums of all time, and it's easy to see why; nearly no albums (save a few notable exceptions like the Who's Live At Leeds) are able to capture the gruff majesty and infectious, primal energy of a great concert the way Get Yer Ya-Ya's out can.

    The timing of the album was ideal, not only because it was recorded in the midst of the Stones' peak period but because Mick Taylor, the group's most technically proficient lead guitarist, had just joined the ranks of the Stones. His solos throughout the album are simply breathtaking, particularly his incredible guitar workout on Sympathy For The Devil.

    The set list for the album is likewise excellent. Sympathy For The Devil is present in its satanic glory; while this rendition is certainly inferior to the studio cut, it's sufficiently different from the original that it's a great song in its own right. Elsewhere Midnight Rambler does manage to surpass the already brilliant original, with a harder edge that manages to compound the ominous nature of the song's studio incarnation.

    Jumping Jack Flash is the perfect opener, starting off the album with a surge of pure rock and roll energy. Love In Vain is as beautiful as ever, while Stray Cat Blues, despite being stripped of its fangs and thus diluted in this variation, still manages to sound great in this environment.

    Live With Me receives a welcomely gruffer arrangement, Honky Tonk Women is extremely conducive to the live treatment and Street Fighting Man closes the album on a high note, while the covers, Carol and Little Queenie, both come off quite well in this context.

    Ultimately Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out depicts the Stones at their live zenith, with the group in top form, Taylor proving his incredible live chops and a song selection that takes full advantage of the live setting. The Stones could seemingly do no wrong at this stage in their careers, and thus their greatest live album falls squarely in the middle of their four greatest studio outings.

    Needless to say, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out is indispensable for any Stones fans, one of the greatest live albums of all time from one of the greatest rock outfits of all time. Nearly every track is improved upon, and those that aren't are sufficiently different from their prior incarnations that they can work well as independent songs. The live feel is translated perfectly through the medium of the album, making for an incredible listening experience.

    Sticky Fingers (1971)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 15

    One would imagine that it's a somewhat daunting task to follow up albums of the caliber of Beggar's Banquet and Let It Bleed, yet the Stones somehow manage to make it seem as though they do it with ease. Still in the midst of their creative peak, the group seemingly effortlessly conjures up yet another brilliant set of songs, tracks of the same quality as those of its predecessors.

    Sticky Fingers manages to be even raunchier than its predecessors (which is something that should be self-evident given the album title), with the new era permitting the Stones to employ language that would have been taboo on their prior outings. This greater lyrical freedom enables them to be as sexually overt as they want, and the Stones take full advantage of that fact, perhaps trying to prove that the group wasn't too old-fashioned to make the jump into the seventies.

    The album opens with an instant adrenaline rush in the form of the fan favorite riff rocker Brown Sugar, an immortal classic despite its somewhat troubling lyrics (a side-effect of the aforementioned new lyrical freedom). The track is absolutely relentless in its energy, the perfect surge of excitement to open an album of the nature of Sticky Fingers.

    Brown Sugar is followed up by the bleak, moody rocker Sway, a track that's quite touching in its desperation. Then the album's second most famous song arrives in the form of Wild Horses, one of the group's best and most moving ballads.

    After Wild Horses comes Can't You Hear Me Knocking, a track that starts off as a hyper catchy rocker and segues into a stellar jam featuring terrific Mick Taylor solos and excellent interplay between the band members.

    This is followed by the album's gruff cover of You Gotta Move, which leads to the ferocious rocker Bitch (which contains the best riff on the album). The subsequent track, I Got The Blues, is oft derided as being bland and tedious, but in reality it features sufficiently strong vocals from Jagger punctuated by sharp, penetrative organ passages that it manages to be entertaining as well.

    Then comes the haunting, nightmarish Sister Morphine, a harrowing tale of drug addiction conveyed through the medium of an account of an overdose. The track is incredibly potent, brilliantly capturing the horror of its subject matter while remaining strong from a musical perspective as well.

    Dead Flowers is a highly entertaining foray into the realm of country, while the beautiful Moonlight Mile is the perfect closer to a brilliant album.

    Overall Sticky Fingers is a top tier Stones album, bereft of filler and filled with immortal classics. Jagger and Richards' songwriting is uniformly excellent, adhering to the incredibly high standards the group had established over the course of their last few albums. Coupled with Taylor's exceptional guitarwork this makes for a truly great album, a worthy successor to Beggar's Banquet and Let It Bleed.

    Exile On Main St. (1972)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 15

    Exile On Main St. is often regarded as something akin to the bible of roots rock; while this designation implies a stylistically uniform album, this is far from the case, as the group tackles myriad genres over the course of this double album, from rock to blues to country to soul to gospel (while admittedly remaining confined in these styles to the roots rock dynamic). This diversity is most welcome, as it prevents the album from growing monotonous over the course of its hour plus runtime.

    A double album constitutes a fitting conclusion to the Stones' streak of peak quality albums, and it's natural that a group in its absolute prime with several monumental successes under their belt would want to attempt an ambitious project in this vein. While double albums can often be self-indulgent, masturbatory exercises for a group with an inflated sense of self-importance, they can also be true masterpieces, visionary efforts filled with excellent songs that amount to profound musical statements. Fortunately Exile On Main St. falls into the latter category, a true classic that embodies a side of the Stones.

    The album is often lambasted for containing too much filler and length padding, with tracks like I Just Want To See His Face in particular being the recipient of boundless critical bile and derision, but I'd tend to disagree; I find the aforementioned track to be entertaining in its context as something radically different from the Stones' norm, a pleasant breather after the powerful hard rock of Ventilator Blues. Furthermore, I'd say that I don't really find any track on the album worthy of the 'filler' epithet, as even the weaker songs are placed in such a way that they contribute to the album in a positive fashion.

    The album is filled with Stones classics, from the rocking opener Rocks Off to the already mentioned Ventilator Blues (which is unusually heavy for a Stones song) to the fast and furious Rip This Joint to the pretty country of Sweet Virginia to the album's most beloved track, the catchy anthem Tumbling Dice. Happy is another Richards-sung track, an entertaining rocker that he proves vocally well suited for, while the rockers Soul Survivor and All Down The Line sport great Richards-penned riffs. Shine A Light is quite beautiful and touching, bleeding earnestness in a way that's rare for the Stones, while Loving Cup likewise boasts a beautiful melody.

    Ultimately Exile On Main St. is eminently worthy of the praise it tends to receive, another true masterpiece from the Stones. While its emphasis on roots rock causes the album to fail to capture certain sides of the band this is never a problem, as the styles depicted are done so well as to render the band's unexhibited facets superfluous in this context. The album's focus on a single side of the Stones helps present the album as a unified, cohesive whole, nearly a concept album, a role that works well for a double album of this nature. While it's frustrating when critics utilize this album to reductively label the Stones a mere roots rock outfit, on Exile On Main St. that role suits the band perfectly, with material so strong that that side of the group is all that's necessary.

    Goat's Head Soup (1973)
    Page Rating: 6
    Overall Rating: 11

    Goat's Head Soup is widely disparaged by critics and fans alike, and this is quite understandable; after conditioning their listeners to expect masterpiece after masterpiece, receiving an album that's merely 'good' is bound to be a crushing disappointment.

    Perhaps due to a fear of creative stagnation the band tries something new here, and while this is most commendable it doesn't always lead to positive results. From the voodoo elements integrated into the comically over the top (yet redeemed by a strong riff) rocker Dancing With Mr. D. to the bombastic epic approach taken with Winter the band is admirable in its attempts at experimentation, but sadly most of the melodies aren't sufficiently strong to sustain these adventurous interludes; the results are never tedious, but neither are they always especially good.

    The album certainly has its share of strong tracks, however; from the rocker Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) to the world weary nostalgia of 100 Years Ago (which segues into a brilliant if abruptly terminated wah-wah pedal enhanced guitar workout by Taylor), there are a number of quality offerings on the LP; they merely appear somewhat limited after the heights scaled on their previous outings.

    The album's most famous track is Angie, a decent ballad that unfortunately lacks anything, either melodically or lyrically, to make it especially compelling. Elsewhere Richards delivers the prototype for nearly all of his subsequent tracks wherein he provides the vocals, Coming Down Again, which contains the blueprints for every bland, melodyless track he'd perform in the future. These tracks are intended to be moving due to their minimalist, emotionally transparent nature, but inevitably they simply feel monotonous instead.

    Songs like the crude rocker Starfucker merely serve to illustrate the band's inability to provide material of the caliber that fans had become accustomed to over the course of the last few albums. It's not bad by any means, but a dearth of hooks irrevocably consign it to the inescapable limbo of decent but unspectacular songs that are destined to be imminently forgotten even after a few listens.

    The album is far from bad; even the tracks that I've derided over the course of the review don't constitute anything worse than inoffensive filler, while many of the songs are quite enjoyable. It's merely a huge, devastating plunge after the brilliance of the group's last few albums, lacking the impeccable songwriting and craftsmanship that made them so strong. There are simply too few strong melodies on the album, making it the worst Stones album to this point after the mediocre December's Children (And Everybody's). There's nothing wrong with the Stones' willingness to experiment, nor would I attribute the album's weaknesses to the musical risks taken; rather, the band lacked the excellent songwriting necessary for the foundation of any musical enterprise. The Stones seem melodically spent on this album, a natural but regrettable side effect of too many years at the top.

    It's Only Rock'N'Roll (1974)
    Page Rating: 5
    Overall Rating: 10

    After the dismal critical reception that Goat's Head Soup received, the Stones were desperate to restore themselves in the eyes of the record buying public. Attributing the dearth of success that Goat's Head Soup achieved to its more experimental aspects, the band decided that the remedy to this dilemma was to release a quintessential Stones album.

    Unfortunately it appears that the Stones no longer knew what a quintessential Stones album was. While It's Only Rock'N'Roll is indeed a pure, straightforward rock album, it's also highly generic, with songwriting that fails to meet the high standards the Stones had set for themselves in the past.

    While highly flawed, Goat's Head Soup at least managed to engender a degree of personality into the proceedings through the medium of its more experimental flourishes. It's Only Rock'N'Roll, on the other hand, is generic to the point of an utter lack of individuality, with songwriting that does little to salvage the experience.

    Fortunately the overall album is not without merit. If You Can't Rock Me is highly generic but at least entertaining, with a fast pace and a catchy riff, while the title track is a minor classic in its own right, an anthemic celebration of rock and roll in the vein of the Who's Long Live Rock.

    The track that truly redeems the album, however, is the closer, the tenebrous rocker Fingerprint File. Featuring a pervasive dark, moody atmosphere, a brilliant bassline from Wyman, a terrific vocal workout from Jagger and some excellent wah-wah guitar solos from Taylor, the track is a true classic, an ode to paranoia and the progressive violation of privacy.

    Unfortunately few other tracks fare that well. While one would naturally look to the Stones' only reggae track on the album, Luxury, for some stylistic diversity, its writing and arrangement make it sound more like a generic rocker than authentic reggae material.

    Elsewhere the band covers Ain't Too Proud To Beg, apparently forgetting that they'd already ascertained on their early outings that the band's incompatible with the Motown style.

    Ballads like Till The Next Goodbye are criminally tedious, utterly bland and generic while devoid of any redeeming qualities, while Dance Little Sister is the rock equivalent of that particular scenario.

    Ultimately, while somewhat redeemed by one excellent and several pretty good tracks, It's Only Rock'N'Roll is a decidedly lesser outing from the band, riddled with filler and lacking in the songwriting department. This is exacerbated by its dearth of diversity, which lends the album a monotonous feel. The group's decision to focus on a single facet of themselves was a deeply misguided one; there was far, far more to the Stones than generic rock and roll, and thus this album is a poor representation of the band.

    Metamorphosis (1975)
    Page Rating: 5
    Overall Rating: 10

    It's become almost a rite of passage for every major group to put out an outtakes/rarities collection at some point in their careers. Thus it was inevitable for the Stones (or rather their erstwhile manager Allen Klein) to release an album along the lines of Metamorphosis, compiling a number of obscure pre-1971 recordings derived from the group's extensive vault.

    Unfortunately, Metamorphosis shares the same liability that afflicts most releases of this nature, namely that the majority of the tracks were excised for good reason. Granted there certainly are a handful of forgotten gems to be found here, but they're generally submerged in a sea of padding and filler.

    The album does not get off to an auspicious start, with the opener being a misguided butchery of the classic Stones ballad Out Of Time, featuring a horrendously incongruous and inappropriate orchestral arrangement. The album's other alternate take, another rendition of Heart Of Stone, is likewise consummately inferior to the more well known recording.

    Fortunately the remaining fourteen tracks are universally comprised of previously unheard material, which run the gamut from inoffensive filler to genuinely solid rarities. While the album features much more of the former than the latter, there are enough pleasant surprises to merit a listen for any Stones fan.

    The album is chronologically bifurcated into two distinct sections, music from the 1965-67 period and the 1968-69 period, with the material culled from the latter era proving, by and large, superior to the former one. Both sections feature both highlights and misfires, and while there're certainly more failures than triumphs depicted over the course of the album the failures are by and large inoffensive and at least somewhat intriguing for Stones aficionados.

    While Metamorphosis can easily be recommended to any Stones fanatic, in and of itself it's not an especially strong product. Viewing the album from a historical perspective makes it more than the sum of its parts, but there's still an egregious dearth of strong material making its value as a collection of songs somewhat lacking. There are enough forgotten gems and historical oddities to make the album moderately interesting, however, and it's certainly far from bad, rendering it a necessary listen for diehard Stones fans but an easily passable experience for more casual listeners.

    Black And Blue (1976)
    Page Rating: 8
    Overall Rating: 13

    Shortly after It's Only Rock'N'Roll Mick Taylor left the group, apparently having difficulty adapting to the life of a Rolling Stone; this departure inflicted a huge wound on the band as Taylor was the best guitarist in the history of the Stones, leaving a huge vacancy in his wake.

    It was apparent that a replacement was necessary, and thus the group launched their audition sessions, a serious of jams with a plethora of prospective candidates that are captured on this album.

    Ergo Black And Blue features myriad guitarists displaying their chops, from Harvey Mandel to Wayne Perkins to their eventual choice, the erstwhile Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood. Richards also assumes the role of lead guitarist at various points throughout the album, the first time he'd done so since Let It Bleed.

    The album's greatest asset is its diversity. While nearly each track is essentially an elaborate groove rather than a full fledged song, these jams are filtered through a multitude of genres, from rock (Hand Of Fate) to disco (Hot Stuff) to reggae (Cherry Oh Baby) to jazz (Melody) to adult contemporary (Fool To Cry). The band tackles each style deftly, once more proving that they're far more than a simple roots rock outfit.

    Each groove is impeccably performed, and it's a refreshing change of pace to hear the band clearly enjoying themselves in a relaxed setting rather than simply grinding away in a studio environment. Despite the casual feel the performances are flawless, with each musician displaying their innate instrumental gifts and inherent aptitude for improvisation.

    Each track is strong, from the catchy riff rocker Hand Of Fate to the deeply moving Memory Motel; many of the jams don't really go anywhere, but that's forgivable due to their status as grooves rather than more conventional songs. While the music can grow repetitive the grooves are so hypnotic that the listener will remain under their spell for the duration of each track.

    Overall Black And Blue is a very special album, a sequence of laid back jams by one of the greatest rock bands in music history. The diversity ensures that the experience never grows monotonous, while the parade of guest musicians keeps the album fresh. While it doesn't really yield any true classics it constitutes a highly enjoyable listen, an album that may be lightweight compared to more traditional Stones LPs but still manages to suck the listener in and keep them entertained for the duration of the album.

    Some Girls (1978)
    Page Rating: 7
    Overall Rating: 12

    Desperate to evade the irrevocable brand of 'rock dinosaurs,' the Stones decided to assimilate modern musical trends like punk and disco into their repertoire. This was a risky gambit, as the group chanced both appearing as pathetic old men engaged in the futile endeavor of trying to keep up with the times and alienating their longtime fan base. Fortunately for the group, Some Girls was both a critical and commercial success for the band, staving off dinosaur allegations for just awhile longer.

    The album itself is quite good, but it tends to be overrated by those enamored of the fact that the Stones were able to successfully translate their style into the modern era. As impressive a feat as this was, the album remains quite flawed, far from the immaculate masterpiece it's often portrayed as.

    For one thing, the rockers (such as When The Whip Comes Down, Lies and even the fan favorite Respectable) are filled with exhilarating punkish energy and sound quite good while they're on, but at the same time they lack musical depth, boasting only the most rudimentary signs of melodies. The Richards/Wood guitar interplay is terrific on them, but it only serves to entertain the listener while the song is playing, incapable of making the songs especially memorable once the power is switched off.

    Furthermore, the cover of Imagination sounds badly out of place on the album, hearkening back to the old days of cover filled albums only without the excitement that those LPs delivered.
    Meanwhile the title track has an extremely basic melody, and seems to exist solely to enable Jagger to sing his most offensive lyrics yet.

    The album does offer a handful of classics, however. Miss You is a brilliant foray into the realm of disco, easily eclipsing the best tracks of groups that operated primarily in that particular genre. It sports an excellent melody and great vocals from Jagger, crafting a song so impressive that it remained a stage favorite long after the disco movement was out of vogue.

    Elsewhere Beast Of Burden is the only emotionally accessible song on a slick, highly commercial album, providing the sole moving experience to be found on the LP.

    Shattered is another highlight, wherein Jagger raps lyrics about his experiences in New York City, delivering the best vocals on the album.

    Other tracks have merits as well, such as the amusing country send-up Far Away Eyes, but they're rather lighter fare, good for a laugh or two but ultimately wholly expendable.

    Overall Some Girls is a solid album. While I criticized the punk rockers, they're certainly very enjoyable while they're on, merely lacking the qualities necessary to make them enduring classics. The presence of tracks like Miss You, Beast Of Burden and Shattered ensures the album a solid rating, with none of the remaining tracks being offensive (save lyrically in the case of the title track). The entire album can be listened to and enjoyed all the way through, which is very high praise for a late period Stones album.

    The Stones had successfully transitioned into a new epoch, retaining enough of what made them great to deliver an entertaining listening experience.

    Emotional Rescue (1980)
    Page Rating: 3
    Overall Rating: 8

    Happy with the success of Some Girls, the band opted to attempt to recreate their punk/disco hybrid rather than heading in a new direction. This was an understandable choice, but one that lead to dismal results.

    The reason that Some Girls worked was that the band generally penned strong melodies to accompany their punk and disco excursions, from the brilliant vocal melody of Miss You to the irresistible rapping of Shattered. Unfortunately, the melodies on Emotional Rescue tend to be rather bland and tepid, with a pronounced dearth of memorable hooks or catchy melodies to sustain the listener's enjoyment or even attention.

    While many of the punk rockers on Some Girls suffered from a lack of memorable melodies, they were at least entertaining, fueled by an infectious energetic drive; on Emotional Rescue, they fail to even accomplish that feat, universally sounding derivative and uninspired.

    As for the disco elements, songs like the opener Dance (Pt. 1) fail to offer even a modicum of musical substance, simply providing an utterly empty listening experience that may be danceable but certainly isn't memorable.

    Even the title track, often cited as a highlight on the album, is simply grating, with Jagger adopting an irritating falsetto set to a melody that's rudimentary at best.

    While it's little more than a generic, by the books blues workout, Down In The Hole at least offers a reprieve from the armada of punk and disco knockoffs, which is enough to make it one of the high points of the album.

    The album's best track, however, is the somewhat goofy She's So Cold; while it may be rather slight, it's at least entertaining, which is more than could be said for the majority of the tracks on the LP.

    Ultimately Emotional Rescue is a severe letdown after the reasonably strong Some Girls; with a profound dearth of melodic merit, it's the first Stones album that I'd call actively bad, lacking the brilliant songwriting and tight performances that characterize most of the band's work. It's still decent enough compared to lesser bands' output, but by the Stones standards it's simply abysmal, bereft of everything that made the group one of the greatest rock outfits of all time.

    Tattoo You (1981)
    Page Rating: 9
    Overall Rating: 14

    In the midst of their artistic doldrums the band managed to release a single masterwork before succumbing to their creative stagnation and recording several more misfires. The way the Stones managed this feat was by compiling a number of their best outtakes from previous sessions and crafting them into a new album, thus circumventing the below par songwriting Jagger and Richards had been engaging in.

    Despite the outtake based composition of the album, none of these tracks sound like the forgotten dregs of a recording session; on the contrary, this is one of the band's greatest sets of songs in quite some time, a series of topnotch cuts whose extraction from prior outings is positively mystifying.

    These outtakes span a rather extensive period of time; thus the listener is treated to another guest star dominated jam culled from the infamous new guitarist search called Slave, boasting a killer riff and brilliant solos, while some songs even date back to the Mick Taylor era, providing one final chance to hear his exceptional guitar work on a Stones album.

    As was the case with Stones classics along the lines of Beggar's Banquet and Sticky Fingers the album is musically compartmentalized into two sections, one consisting of the harder tracks and the subsequent one composed of softer material. This bifurcation works well, allowing each side of the band to be fully fleshed out.

    The album begins with what would become the Stones' signature concert opener Start Me Up, a great rocker with one of the group's best known riffs. Other rockers include the punkish Some Girls outtake Hang Fire, which manages to be catchier and have a tighter melody than the punk rockers that the group felt merited inclusion onto that particular album.

    Little T&A is another Richards-sung track, a consummately catchy sleazy rocker that proves that his rock tracks (such as Exile On Main St.'s Happy) are nearly always superior to his softer work wherein their emotional nature was their sole asset.

    Other offerings on the rock side include the aforementioned Slave, the violin punctuated Black Limousine and Richards' diatribe against his neighbors decrying the volume of his habits, appropriately enough entitled Neighbors.

    The softer side isn't quite as strong, but it's still devoid of any filler and certainly features some true classics. One definite highlight is the most experimental track in the Stones' canon, the fascinating Heaven, which sports electronically processed guitars and hypnotic encoded vocals. It's unlike anything else the Stones had ever attempted, and it's a monumental success at that, a track that's wholly unique yet still boasts a strong melody and a number of hooks.

    Elsewhere one finds the genuinely moving Waiting On A Friend, Jagger's final falsetto vocal treatment on Worried About You and the cynical Tops amongst other strong tracks.

    Ultimately Tattoo You is a tremendous surprise, a classic Stones album arriving long after one would believe a classic Stones album could be made. Featuring top tier songwriting and tight performances, the album is the group's final masterpiece, a rather impressive feat for an LP whose content is primarily derived from the band's vault.

    Undercover (1983)
    Page Rating: 4
    Overall Rating: 9

    It's a testament to the Stones' genius that even one of their trashiest, weakest, most pandering moments can still be moderately enjoyable. On Undercover the chthonic musical wasteland of the 80's, a realm that had claimed myriad groups, finally consumed the Stones, leaving them with a product with noxious production and poor (by the group's standards) songwriting.

    Despite this, however, the album contains a number of decent melodies, from the funk of the opener Undercover Of The Night to the gory anecdote Too Much Blood with clever brass embellishments. The inheritor to the goofiness of She's So Cold arises in the form of the somewhat enjoyable She Was Hot, while the rockers Pretty Beat Up and Too Tough are at least mildly catchy. It Must Be Hell would be decent enough were it not for the fact that it usurped its riff from Soul Survivor, while Tie You Up (The Pain Of Love) is about as enjoyable as a song about S & M can be (save a few exceptions like the Velvet Underground's classic Venus In Furs).

    One of the chief liabilities of the album is that it seems more concerned with shoving its ubiquitous raunchiness down the listener's throat than offering solid music. The band was as desperate to appear hip as ever, and somehow they felt the way to achieve cultural acceptance from a new generation would be to make their lyrics as crude and vulgar as possible, surmising that this would fashion a cool image for the group. Thus they go war overboard with their raunchiness, inflating it to levels that would be almost humorous were it not so pathetic.

    Ergo Undercover is the band's second truly bad offering, suffering from a dearth of strong songwriting and a surfeit of would-be-hip posturing from a group that refuses to accept their positions in the world of rock. The band had always been extremely raunchy, and often to excessive degrees as well, but it's only here that they allow it to obstruct their melodies.

    Undercover isn't awful by any means, and it does exhibit some decent melodies, but by the band's standards it's extremely weak, as the group comes dangerously close to descending into the realm of self-parody. The band focuses far too much on style over substance, creating an image for themselves that's far from what they intended.

    Dirty Work (1986)
    Page Rating: 2
    Overall Rating: 7

    There was discord in the ranks of the Stones, and it was from this tension and turmoil that Dirty Work was born.

    There was a profound antipathy between Richards and Jagger; the former thought that the latter was neglecting the group, devoting only a modicum of his attention to his responsibilities toward the band, and this accusation bred animosity on both sides. The result is a product wherein Jagger's apathy led toward lackluster vocals and a poor songwriting effort while Richards, in a futile endeavor, struggled to keep the album from collapsing.

    The album is primarily composed of ferocious, yet generic and nondescript, rockers, nearly universally suffering from a dearth of creative ideas and Jagger's poor performances. He barks and shouts rather than sing, and it's always apparent that he'd rather be doing something else with his time. Richards concocted several decent riffs, but with the bodies of the songs in shambles this effort did little to ameliorate the proceedings, especially in cases such as the headache-inducing Hold Back, which sports a solid riff but little else of redeeming value.

    The remainder of the material is no better than these sterile rockers. Richards' vocal spotlights are both rather poor, from the ridiculous reggae of Too Rude to his latest emotionally-driven-yet-bereft-of-a-tangible-melody track Sleep Tonight, which regrettably is the longest song on the album yet still feels longer than it is.

    Elsewhere Had It With You is simply a primitive boogie, competently handled yet thoroughly unspectacular but still one of the highlights of the album along with the decent rocker One Hit (To The Body) and the mildly entertaining cover of Harlem Shuffle. None of these tracks even approach the level of classic, rather falling into the lesser of two evils paradigm.

    Ultimately Dirty Work is distinguished by the dubious honor of being the band's absolute worst album. Most of the tracks are atrocious, while the superior material is only decent at best. Jagger sabotages the album with his noxious vocals and half-hearted effort, while Richards was incapable of salvaging the album, trying hard yet failing to offer anything of much merit as a songwriter. Thus with both of the primary creative forces in the band in far from top form the album was condemned to fail before the group even began recording, an unfortunate fate that the Stones were powerless to avert.

    Steel Wheels (1989)
    Page Rating: 6
    Overall Rating: 11

    Steel Wheels was the Stones' big comeback album, and it certainly is superior to the travesty that was Dirty Work in nearly every respect. The group was once again trying their hardest to produce something of true worth, while the personal schisms that had divided the group had all been mended.

    Most of the rockers are rather generic, but aside from Hold On To Your Hat (which sounds suspiciously like an outtake from the Dirty Work sessions) they're almost all quite enjoyable. Mixed Emotions boasts a catchy, poppy refrain while Rock And A Hard Place is the main highlight of the album, a great riff rocker with socially relevant lyrics.

    In another refreshing departure from their recent work, the album is quite diverse, containing an anachronistic and oft maligned psychedelic anthem called Continental Drift that's actually quite good and made all the stronger by its uniqueness when compared to the other tracks. Elsewhere Terrifying is a dark disco track with a surprisingly ominous atmosphere, perhaps the band's best foray into that particular genre since Miss You and certainly the least typical one.

    Unfortunately the ballads don't fare that well, sounding too bland, banal and pedestrian, but their inclusion is still welcome in the wake of an album that was wholly devoid of softer tracks.

    The biggest surprise with regards to the album's diversity was the presence of two Richards sung tracks that are amazingly both quite good. Can't Be Seen is an entertaining rocker, while Slipping Away is actually a pretty good ballad that contains a strong melody, a nice change of pace after his procession of songs that relied exclusively on their emotionality as opposed to any interesting musical ideas.

    Unfortunately, the album contains one more huge liability, namely that Richards decided to relegate Ronnie Wood to the bass alone, assuming full control of the lead guitar playing. Regrettably Richards' aptitude in this capacity had greatly deteriorated, resulting in a plethora of poor solos and guitar passages that mar the group's overall performances.

    Thus Steel Wheels reintroduces the properties that made the band great in the first place, namely strong songwriting and abundant diversity. It's certainly highly flawed, with weak ballads and some questionable guitar work from Richards, but it's undoubtedly the band's best album since Tattoo You, with a handful of strong songs and a nice dose of variety to prevent the album from growing monotonous (like its stylistically uniform predecessor). Most importantly it proved that the band was still capable of providing strong material, restoring their image in the minds of those scarred by their erratic eighties output.

    Voodoo Lounge (1994)
    Page Rating: 7
    Overall Rating: 12

    Voodoo Lounge is often cited as the album on which the band finally settled into old age, accepting their current positions in the world of rock and thus focusing more on the music than vain attempts to appear hip and with it. While Jagger was incapable of wholly abstaining from assimilating trendy contemporary elements (such as hopping aboard the grunge movement at a few points), there's indeed far less would-be hip posturing to be found on this album, with the band by and large sounding their age without trying to mask it over the course of the LP.

    It's thus little wonder that Voodoo Lounge is their best album in quite some time. While it certainly contains its share of filler, even these tracks tend to elicit at least a modicum of interest from the listener, such as their perplexing attempt to emulate a 16th century ballad on New Faces, while even Richards' latest installment in his series of intimate, melodyless padding features a strong riff at various points over the course of the song.

    The album contains a number of strong additions to the Stones canon, from the moody opener Love Is Strong to the stellar riff rocker You Got Me Rocking to the obscene but catchy Sparks Will Fly to the pseudo psychedelic Moon Is Up to their contribution to the grunge scene I Go Wild. The band is even successful with many of the ballads this time around, from the pretty Out Of Tears to the touching The Worst.

    Renewing another successful component from Steel Wheels the album features a fair amount of stylistic diversity, from the aforementioned New Faces to the blues workout Brand New Car to the primal funk of Suck On The Jugular. These genre experiments tend to turn out well, and ensure that the longer than average (over an hour) album never grows repetitive or stale.

    Overall Voodoo Lounge is a resounding success, the band's best installment in their discography since Tattoo You. By accepting their current status in contemporary popular culture the band is able to shed its futile pretensions toward hipness and instead focus on the music that suits them best as opposed to what makes them seem the most with it. Ergo the songwriting is strong and the performances tight without image conscious excursions into areas that ill become them to impede them.

    Bridges To Babylon (1997)
    Page Rating: 7
    Overall Rating: 12

    Whereas Voodoo Lounge is generally termed a Richards album, Bridges To Babylon is always cited as more of a Jagger project, which may account for the fact that the band negates all the progress they'd made toward settling into old age on their prior outing.

    Throughout the album, the group attempts to incorporate modern trends into the music, culminating in the noxious MTV friendly Anybody Seen My Baby. Needless to say the song became a huge hit, merely encouraging the band to proceed in their trend hopping direction.

    Fortunately, while the material may be geared toward pop culture acceptance, it's generally quite strong, especially for an outing so late in the band's life cycle. While there certainly is filler, manifesting itself in the form of the aforementioned Anybody Seen My Baby, another ballad entitled Always Suffering along with all three tracks sung by Richards, there's an abundance of solid to excellent tracks as well, from the dark rockers Flip The Switch and Out Of Control to the hyper catchy funk-rock of Gunface to the techno Might As Well Get Juiced to the sing along anthem Saint Of Me to the pretty ballad Already Over Me.

    On these tracks the caliber of the songwriting is quite strong, as even when the band emulates trend setting modern groups they manage to integrate these influences into their own style, resulting in very good (as well as diverse) music.

    Tracks like Flip The Switch are simply incredibly strong for a band so far past their prime; from its tenebrous atmosphere to its haunting riff to its relentless speed (Jagger claimed that the song was their fastest yet, though some opine that Rip This Joint has it beat in this regard) the number is a true classic, possibly their best rocker since Fingerprint File. Out Of Control also qualifies as a late period classic, sporting a menacing refrain and an impressive wah-wah pedal guitar workout. Gunface boasts several of the best vocal melodies on the albums while the experimental Might As Well Get Juiced is a prime example of an emulation of modern groups paying off. As for Saint Of Me, while it's generally overrated by fans (some cite it as one of the Stones' best tracks, while other call it a comparably strong sequel to Sympathy For The Devil, with both claims being utterly preposterous) it does feature a very catchy chorus and impressive verse melodies.

    Thus Bridges To Babylon is a tremendous success; while highly flawed in some respects it contains a number of very good late period Stones tracks, along with a pervasive dark atmosphere that can be quite alluring. While its filler can often be borderline atrocious, this is compensated for by the presence of several true Stones classics, leaving the album the best a Stones fan could hope for at this stage of the band's career.

    No Security (1998)
    Page Rating: 7
    Overall Rating: 12

    The Stones were infamous for releasing a greatly excessive number of live albums, almost reaching a point where for every new studio release there'd be a live one to help promote it. This bred a plethora of interchangeable live experiences cluttering the band's discography, redundant and superfluous in the extreme.

    Fortunately No Security manages to evade this fate by virtue of its brilliant track selection. By focusing on obscure tracks omitted from past live albums, old standards that had vanished from their stage set-list for quite some time and new songs off Bridges To Babylon that had yet to appear on one of their myriad live collections the band was able to craft a live album with only a modicum of overlap with its multitude of predecessors, ensuring a fresh experience as opposed to another dose of déjà vu.

    The album is also notable for the high caliber of the performances, with tight playing from all involved. Richards and Wood's interplay is as strong as ever, and the band seems more motivated than one would expect from a rock outfit engaging in yet another of countless tours.

    There is some filler, most notably Richards' obligatory vocal spotlight on Thief In The Night and the rather underwhelming cover of Corinna featuring a guest appearance by the Taj Mahal, but on the whole it's kept to a minimum, with nearly every track delivering a quality experience.

    The harder tracks rock with a mighty ferocity, from an energetic rendition of You Got Me Rocking to the adrenaline rush of Flip The Switch to a version of Live With Me on par with its Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out counterpart to an impressive run through of Respectable to the surprise return of The Last Time to their stage repertoire to an incarnation of Out Of Control that manages to surpass the original (thanks in part to a great jam inserted at the end).

    Elsewhere Gimmie Shelter, while obviously vastly inferior to the original, is presented in a fashion that far exceeds one's expectations for that particular track in a live context. Lisa Fischer does an admirable job of emulating Mary Clayton, while the band manages to sustain the tenebrous atmosphere of the song quite well.

    Memory Motel and Sister Morphine make surprise appearances, with the former sounding beautiful and featuring great guest vocals from Dave Matthews to duet with Jagger while the latter is just as haunting in a live environment as its original (which isn't to say that it's as good as the studio version, though it is quite strong).

    Saint Of Me comes off rather well, even if it is somewhat tedious to hear the audience chant the refrain for what seems like ages after the song is ostensibly over, while Waiting On A Friend is as touching as ever.

    Thus No Security is a shockingly impressive live document of the Bridges To Babylon tour. Its chief liabilities are that there is, as previously mentioned, some filler, along with the problem that, save Out Of Control, no song is superior to its studio original. Nonetheless the album is immensely enjoyable, boasting a great track selection that differentiates it from any prior live outing. Some truly great material is offered here, and performed well at that, so in the long run there's little to complain about.

    Live Licks (2004)
    Page Rating: 7
    Overall Rating: 12

    While the consensus amongst classic rock aficionados seems to be that The Who were the greatest live band of all time, The Rolling Stones will always be venerated in this department as well. In particular, Get Yer Ya-Yas out has attained a borderline sacrosanct status, and has had every conceivable accolade heaped on it over the years, ever revered even decades after its initial release.

    The Stones have indeed always had impressive live chops, cultivating an impressive reputation in the process, but they've also done much to tarnish the good will fostered by their adroit performances. Specifically, over the years the band has drastically oversaturated the market by releasing live album after live album, a seemingly endless parade of concert CDs that would bankrupt anyone either devoted or foolish enough to attempt to purchase them all.

    Thus one would expect yet another live release to be met with little save sneers of contempt and derision. Nearly any product of this nature would be looked upon as 'just another Stones live album,' the latest in an array of interchangeable recordings.

    If the Stones wanted to elude that fate they'd be forced to find something, anything, to differentiate their latest live album from its myriad predecessors. At this stage of their careers the hook could hardly be superior musicianship, as the band, while still skilled, is hardly apt to surpass or even match their performances of old. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that their latest live CD was released not as a complement for a new album but rather yet another greatest hits collection (entitled 40 Licks), making the group seem greedier than ever. If Live Licks were to succeed something had to be done, leaving a desperate band in dire need of some kind of gimmick.

    The Stones did find their gimmick, but it's a questionable one at that. Live Licks is bifurcated into two discs, one that's essentially a stereotypical 'greatest hits live' affair and another consisting of more obscure numbers. Many have decried this stratagem as yet more price-gouging from an ever greedy rock band, opining that the discs should have been released separately instead of together at a hefty price-tag. Their thinking is that disc one will only interest casual fans, while disc two will alienate that crowd in favor of catering exclusively to the already indoctrinated Stones faithful.

    This is certainly a valid point, but one that I don't know that I can concur with. While I obviously find the second disc to be the more intriguing of the two, I doubt that I'm the only one who wants the obscurities collection but still, every now and then, would enjoy listening to solid live renditions of Paint It Black or Satisfaction.

    More importantly, the performances offered on disc one are hardly the cursory efforts one would expect from a band who have been playing these exact same numbers for decades on end. The band never seem to be going through the motions, resulting in convincing and compelling performances. The tracks may not be radically removed from their past versions, but they're still professionally performed and, moreover, eminently enjoyable.

    The standout track on disc one is an impressive version of Gimme Shelter. Naturally, it is indeed inferior to the original, but it's basically the best live rendition of the song that one could ever hope to hear, and a decided improvement over past concert renditions (including the overexposed take from No Security).

    Of course the disc isn't immune to predictable live excesses. While You Can't Always Get What You Want is performed quite well (including some strong guitarwork and soloing from Ronnie Wood), it does include the inevitable 'crowd participation,' and personally I'd rather hear Jagger sing the refrain that a chorus of tone-deaf rock and roll groupies.

    Disc two, however, is the main attraction. Admittedly it's not as consistent as disc one, an inherent byproduct of following a typical 'greatest hits live' CD, but for Stones fans who've spent ages awaiting a live album that actually offers some surprises, the prospect of more obscure material alone is enough to merit a purchase.

    As far as inconsistency is concerned, it's the covers that are particularly erratic; this isn't to say that the originals are exempt, however, given the presence of odious offenders like the Richards-sung You Don't Have To Mean it.

    Fortunately, the disc also includes some content that will send hardcore fans into fits of ecstasy. The fan-favorite Monkey Man is present in all its glory, performed with just as much verve and gusto as the song demands, while an energetic run-through of Rocks Off gives a generally neglected classic the attention and exposure it so richly deserves.

    Beast Of Burden manages to sound just as tender and earnest as the original, a difficult feat to pull of in a live environment that's made possible by Jagger's superbly expressive vocals. Jagger is indeed in fine form throughout the entire album, though his falsetto during Worried About You, while competent, falls far short of his original performance.

    When The Whip Comes Down is yet another ferocious adrenaline rush, a tight rocker that benefits from the added live energy. The highlight of disc two, however, is a brilliant rendition of the Sticky Fingers-era classic Can't You Hear Me Knocking. Needless to say the jamming suffers from the lack of a guitarist of the caliber of Mick Taylor, but fortunately Wood and Richards step up to deliver some of their finest guitarwork in quite some time, while Jagger's harmonica solo is another high point in the song.

    Thus one's opinion of Live Licks will stem from one's reaction to the album's bipolar nature. Hardcore Stones fans will doubtlessly resent having to shell out extra cash for what's essentially, for them, an extraneous disc, while casual fans may not appreciate disc two the way a seasoned Stones fan would. Personally I enjoy both discs, and feel that, if he keeps an open mind, nearly any listener can as well.

    A Bigger Bang (2005)
    Page Rating: 6
    Overall Rating: 11

    A Bigger Bang hearkens back more toward the age of Voodoo Lounge than Bridges To Babylon, as the band has abandoned nearly all of its pretensions for appearing hip or with it; rather, like the majority of Voodoo Lounge, the group simply plays straightforward rock and roll, with only a modicum of experimentation applied to any of the tracks.

    Most of the tracks are somewhat generic, but still extremely enjoyable; the performances are tight and even when the songs are based on primitive, derivative riffs and basic, rudimentary melodies they manage to be completely captivating for their duration. They're not especially memorable, but while they're on they're immensely entertaining, with the rockers possessing a great, energetic drive and the ballads enough sincerity and care to come off quite well.

    There's nothing I would call bad on the album even if a few tracks are weaker than others, though there aren't really any exceptional classics that stand out from the pack either. Rather the album is extremely even, with a charming rock and roll vibe that permeates the entire LP.

    The songwriting on the rockers is rather predictable, but they're still good fun, from the riff rocker opener Rough Justice to the exhilarating Driving Too Fast to the funk rock of Rain Fall Down to the hyper catchy Look What The Cat Dragged In to the political commentary of Sweet Neocon.

    The ballads are mostly solid as well, with Richards not embarrassing himself and actual penning a couple of decent tracks for himself to sing. The strongest ballad on the album, however, is the haunting Laugh I Nearly Died, with great vocals from Jagger and an absorbing ominous atmosphere.

    Elsewhere there's a decent blues workout called Back Of My Hand to inject at least a slight degree of diversity into the mix, and while it's incredibly basic it's still entertaining.

    As is the entire album. While it's rather lightweight fare for the band it's completely engaging, with a parade of catchy rockers that may not rank up there with the Stones' best work but still deftly recreate the band's sound and a procession of ballads to complement the rougher side of the album.

    A Bigger Bang is far from a classic, lacking much in the way of imagination, diversity or creativity, but it captures the magic sound the band has and that's enough to transfigure rather simple rockers and ballads into an incredibly entertaining experience. The album doesn't yield any candidates for a Stones greatest hits compilation nor does it offer much that the listener will add to their mental jukebox for a prolonged period of time, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do, namely create an experience true to the Stones' essence, a task that it satisfactorily accomplishes over the course of the LP.

    Rarities 1971-2003 (2005)
    Page Rating: 4
    Overall Rating: 9

    Rarities 1971-2003 commits nearly every standard blunder for a rarities collection, with these mistakes most egregiously manifesting themselves in the forms of overlap with previous albums, overextended versions of classic tracks and live cuts that are vastly inferior to the originals.

    The tracks that don't conform to these descriptions tend not to fare much better, however, often falling under categories like generic blues and uninspired covers. There's a profound modicum of tracks that evade all the aforementioned pitfalls, and those that succeed in that endeavor hardly constitute timeless classics.

    It's inconceivable that after all these decades the Stones haven't managed to amass some strong material for their vaults, leaving one mystified by their track selection for this album. There are no stunning lost gems to be found here, and the Stones are depicted at far from their best.

    While the album was transparently a cheap cash-in meant to coincide with the renewed interest in the group induced by the release of their first studio outing in ages, A Bigger Bang, it still would have been nice if the band was willing to devote at least some degree of effort to crafting this rarities collection. As it stands, while the group and Starbucks (their partner in this particular crime) will undoubtedly turn a huge profit from this fan exploitation, the album itself is an embarrassment to the group, failing to adequately represent the group's level of talent.

    This is not to say that the album is actively bad; on the contrary, I wouldn't call a single track on the album 'bad' per se. What it is, however, is tedious and uninteresting, eighty minutes worth of second rate Stones fare. While not bad, the tracks fail to be compelling and there's little to engage the listener over the course of the album. It simply fails to be involving, with no great surprises or rewards for long time Stones fans.

    Amongst the best tracks are instances, such as in the case of live cuts Live With Me and Wild Horses, when the versions are identical to prior renditions, in this example said versions being on No Security and Stripped, respectively; this isn't to say that they're reminiscent of those renditions, they actually are the same versions altogether, a maneuver that's wholly unnecessary for a band that must have countless rarities in reserve for occasions such as this (this is also the case with Mannish Boy which is derived from Love You Live).

    While some of the other tracks at least convey the right feel for the band, they're far from classics and can easily be avoided without missing much. Such can be said for the entire album, a monumental disappointment for Stones fans and casual listeners alike. Overlap is unforgivable, to be sure, but what the album suffers from the most is simply poor track selection, as the album delivers an array of tracks that at best are decent, but usually qualify as average to mediocre.