The Rolling Stones, Merle Haggard

The conventional wisdom on A Bigger Bang is that it finds the Rolling Stones getting back in touch with their scrappy band-in-a-room roots, that they're once again making the kind of no-frills rock that originally seduced the world while the Beatles were busy charming parents and variety-show hosts. But this so-called refocusing isn't actually what makes Bang worth hearing. Sure, it's a kick to hear Mick and Keef get down and dirty in short, sharp numbers like "Rough Justice" and "Let Me Down Slow," which rock harder than plenty of stuff by such Stones acolytes as Jet or the Datsuns. But as committed to tape by grizzled studio pro Don Was, roots-rock don Jack Joseph Puig and reformed alt-noisenik Dave Sardy, Bang is just as shiny and produced as anything from the Stones' disco era (revisited on Bang in the excellently pervy "Rain Fall Down"). The notion that Bang is a lo-fi Stones record because it's got loud guitars is more than naïve; it misses the point of the Stones' existence at this late date, which, honestly, is just high-priced spectacle. If A Bigger Bang--and the elaborately staged live show that hits Dallas this week--convinces us that the Stones have gotten back to where they once belonged, that just shows how good they still are at fooling us.
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Mikael Wood