Notwithstanding the overall legacy and excellent musicianship of the Rolling Stones, it can be a bit of a chore to like all of their recordings.
The Beatles produced very few clunkers (Mr. Moonlight is one of very few examples), and the Beach Boys have had their ups and downs — I particularly dislike their attempts in the 1980s to sound "contemporary" and to include grating sax solos on several of their songs. I can barely listen to their 1985 The Beach Boys album.
With the Rolling Stones, the cycle was like this — crude but effective, to anthemic, to finally writing most of their own material, to over-indulgent (Their Satanic Majesty's Request) to the best band in the world (the single Jumping Jack Flash straight through to Exile On Main Street) to a slump inspired by laziness and heroin (on the part of Keith Richards) on Goat's Head Soup, to efforts over the next 45 years to recapture their old glory.
Sometimes they came close (Some Girls) and other times they tried to do so while sounding contemporary (Dirty Work) with meagre results.
The Stones' 1974 album, It's Only Rock 'n Roll, was the first of these attempts to at least sound energetic after the torpor of Goat's Head Soup. Throughout much of that album, Mick Jagger's vocals sound lazy, and with the exception of Charlie Watts, the musicians (especially Keith) sounded half-asleep. Even the rockers sounded somewhat uninspired.
I remember the first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide absolutely trashing Goat's Head Soup, and determining that It's Only Rock 'n Roll was "the Stones as we know them," but with lots of filler.
What the album really should be seen as an attempt to emulate the energy of the past, but it sounds kind of forced, as if Jagger is sending the message,"look, I really can bark out lyrics and sound fully awake."
The album itself, song by song, is not bad at all and a bit of a mixed bag.
• If You Can't Rock Me: This song, above all, sounds like an almost desperate attempt to show that the Rolling Stones were still vital, with some hopped-up energy, but it seems a bit contrived. The tone of Jagger's voice on parts of the song sounds like Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files when he would whine about something.
• Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Another attempt at past glory, this time a return to the Stones doing cover versions. A good effort, but the Temptations' version is loads better.
• It's Only Rock 'N Roll (But I Like It): Actually, a pretty good encapsulation of the decadence of rock music in the 1970s, with lascivious vocals and sleazy exhaled breaths by Jagger. The video for this song is kind of funny.
• Till the Next Goodbye — Almost as lazy as the ballads on Goat's Head Soup.
• Time Waits For No One — The highlight of the entire album. Jagger's vocals and lyrics are a little flamboyant, but I could listen to Mick Taylor's guitar playing on this one over and over again. Has the feel of an epic song.
• Luxury — Jagger uses a reggae accent on this issue. Decadent sounding as well, but funny.
• Dance Little Sister — This is probably the song the Rolling Stone Record Guide was referring to when it said the LP had filler, but I actually like this one. The track seems to begin a few seconds into the song, and it sounds like everything could fall apart at any second, which adds a sense of genuine excitement. It's repetitive, though.
• If You Really Want to Be My Friend — This is said to be a highlight, but I find it a bit boring and forced.
• Short and Curlies: This one could be seen by some as more filler, but I find it nicely ribald and funny, and the Stones as I like them.
• Fingerprint File — An interesting attempt at funk, but Jagger sounds a bit indistinct as on Goat's, and it goes on too long.
Next time: Jan and Dean's Batman.