So yesterday’s entry was a little phoned-in, I feel. I knew this was going to happen, because I knew taking on this project that I wasn’t always going to give 100% in my writing, no matter how much I love the album (and I do love that album). Today, I am feeling not any more journalistic, so I decided on a different approach. I put my Zune on shuffle and the first album it came across that piqued my interest, without actually reading the songs as they came by, would be the album I would listen to. I know for a fact that it would happen soon, because I now have over 9300 songs on the Zune and a total of 7200 plays in total. Anyway, as soon as I got to a very strange but compelling song indeed, I whipped the player out of my pocket and saw this:
So today, using only Wikipedia’s citation-needed-packed entry on this album for fact-checking, I am going to be giving a first time run playthrough on this album.
Track one: One Hit (To The Body)
Ok, this track isn’t so bad so far, we’ve got sloppy electric guitars, kind of boring drums with an emphasis on the irregular bass hit (I guess the drums are punching you in the body). The guitar was apparently done by Jimmy Page, so uhh nice job there, I guess he needed someone to play guitars for at this point in the 80’s. You can tell just from the cover and from the way the vocals are reverbed that this is definitely 1986, and imagine this, the album was a bit of a flop!
Holy moley, the vocals just started. This sounds less like the soulful, bad-boy Mick Jagger that sang his heart out in 1969 on the wonderful Let It Bleed. It actually sounds like he didn’t have a microphone, and just screamed all his vocals right into the needle while the records were being scratched. Citation is needed on this, but Wikipedia says it’s a bit rough.
I’d tell you what this song is about, but my only synopsis so far is that it’s about Mick being punched in the body and trying to sing about it whilst vomiting. Nice guitar solos, though.
Track two: Fight
Whoah, as soon as the beat turns on you can tell that this is vile 80’s music. Somehow, the vocals have gotten even worse, too, as if Mick was singing through an oscillating fan. The chord progression is very typical bluesy-rock with that glitzy 80’s reverbed drum and flaccid bass tone. It’s not really “bad”, it just sounds more “contrived” (that means “bad”), as if they’re trying to quickly recreate their popular sound at gunpoint or something. Thankfully it’s only 3 minutes.
Track Three: Harlem Shuffle
This is apparently the first single off the album, and is a cover that Keith Richards discovered, presumably while travelling in outer space. It’s a single, all right, since the only discernable part of the song is where they’re like “Do the harlem shuffle!” The other parts are a mess of chord changes and uninteresting bits that really don’t bother capturing the imagination or anything. I do like the presence of a really deep, almost timpani-sounding drum on the upbeats, but that is not enough to save a song, particularly one that hit #5 on the charts. Why couldn’t Michael Jackson have taken away all the rights to THIS music?
Track Four: Hold Back
Oh no here are those 80’s drums again, only this time they’ve been mixed all the way to the front, so that machinery-sounding snare drum hits you right between the eyes. You may wish for the rest of the band to save you from this oppressive beat, but the guitars are too busy fighting with each other, and Mick’s voice has raised pitch to where it sounds like he’s been transformed by voodoo to a 3 foot tall Tom Waits. I swear to you he isn’t singing in English anymore, unless it’s like homeless people English.
Track Five: Too Rude
Well at least this a change. The drums are being played somewhere in the echo of the Grand Canyon, and there’s some kind of reggae thing going on with the bass. The vocals are not rough at all, just kind of weird. It’s a strange track, everything has so much reverb on it you’d think you were hearing it from inside an empty tank.
Track Six: Winning Ugly
Well we’re opening with a bassline, which is promising. WHOAH nevermind, this track has those 80’s good-feeling-synthy strings, you know the ones. It’s the kind of sound that makes you think about wearing clothes like the ones in that image above. Oh wow, those keyboards are torture. Mick is back to singing like he’s gargling battery acid. This song doesn’t stray very far from that one chord they’ve got going, until about 3 minutes in when the thing goes a little nuts with the random chord changes, and then we hit a kind of “standard guitar solo no. 2″ and back to where we were. Holy man is this track still going? How long has it been… only 4 minutes? Wow, we’ve only got like a minute left, thankfully.
Track Seven: Back To Zero
Ha ha ha so now we’ve got funk and clavichord along with undistorted funk guitar and a standard non-funk beat. I must have gotten used to the vocals by now, because I barely even noticed that Mick Jagger sounds like he’s singing in some kind of shower-bathtub thing. There is this crescendo about 2 1/2 minutes in that makes no musical sense except that the instruments are playing seemingly random notes as Mick builds up to a WOOOO that reminds me much of Michael Jackson. I’m so glad I wasn’t into rock music in 1986, this is not my kind of music, clearly.
Track Eight: Dirty Work
All right, the title track! It’s, well, still 80’s-sounding, but it’s got that kind of fast-paced 80’s sound that is not so bad. The guitars are all kind of plastic-sounding, and the beat is again being played in the middle of Death Valley so by the time the echoes catch up you are already listening to another song. Mick might be getting tired of singing in general by this time, so he’s more or less going “BEH BEH BO GRRRR BETTY” by now, with about as much gargle as you can muster. Strangely enough, however, eventually some perfectly ungargly vocals come in and start talking some jittery reverb nonsense about 3 minutes in and then a WOOOOO again and then the “regular” vocals come back in.
Track Nine: Had It With You
Ok here’s the song my shuffle picked that intrigued me so. The guitar tone is so strange, it almost sounds like a distorted keyboard, but it isn’t. The drums are also free of reverb, which is a welcome “thank you Jesus” kind of moment I’ll tell you. The vocals are still hopeless, but now we’ve got harmonica and a saxophone to kind of distract from it. Speaking of, though the “I Had It With You” message might be Mick talking about Keith Richards, since they were apparently fighting a lot at this point (citation needed), but really this song reflects my true feelings about this album, and there are two more tracks to go! JOY!
Track Ten: Sleep Tonight
Some wonderful little cheesy piano comes in to welcome this track in, and some people going “woo” in the background and impersonating cats. Kind of strange, but then the over-reverbed drums come in and make you think this is going to be a Celine Dion track. Sounds like Keith Richards is singing this one, presumably in a heroin-induced stupor, as he does that kind of Bob Dylan-esque drone in his singing. Also the instruments try to do interesting weird things with the timing, but it all sounds really messy, like Charlie Watts is trying to hit a mouse that landed on his drums while playing, and the rest of the band just kind of follows along. I can’t believe this song is 5 minutes long, I ran out of things to say about it like 2 minutes ago. It definitely suffers from “too many damn choruses” syndrome like so many songs from the 80’s onward.
Track Eleven: Key To The Highway
The best song on the album! It’s just a piano playing a ragtime blues number for 34 seconds. Apparenly this was a tribute to their keyboardist/pianist Ian Stewart, who had died just after this album was issued. Man, what a way to go. Still, the man had a great legacy with the Stones, and I’m sure his tickling of the ivories had bought the band many pounds of fresh cut long grain heroin with which their minds were turned into the kind of pulp that would allow an album like this to happen. So, while I appreciate the sentiment in dedicating the final track to Ian Stewart’s legacy, a much better favor would have been done by taking his parts out of the album entirely.
Oh I’m just being mean. This wasn’t a very good album, but was not as “80’s-tastic” as others I’ve heard, but given that this is the same band that gave us Let It Bleed, Aftermath, and so many other great albums, it really begs the question, why do we consider it a good thing that the Stones have endured for so many decades?
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