Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet (1968)

(The cover of the Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet that the band wanted to use.) 
Leave it to the Rolling Stones to make the decline and fall of civilization sound cool.
Beggars Banquet is nothing short of a depiction of the dark side of the sixties dream.  The Stones' seventh studio album is fraught with images of sexual debauchery, deteriorating social mores, and anarchy, all brought to life by stinging guitars from Keith Richards and (to a lesser extent) Brian Jones and the steady crisp rhythm section of Bill Wyman on bass and Charlie Watts on drums.  The music explores the deepest recesses of American blues and explores unvarnished country sounds as well.  Topping all this off is Mick Jagger's incendiary, exaggerated vocals, with Mick teasing listeners with his elongated, lustful phrasing and his deep insincerity.
The album begins not with a vocal or an instrument but with a yelp, as the Stones go into "Sympathy For the Devil," a tease by the devil himself to get his listeners to admit aiding and abetting in his crimes against humanity as a sultry samba groove envelops the stereo spectrum.  Beggars Banquet proceeds with images of diminished dreams and voracious lust, from the slow, downbeat "No Expectations" and the somewhat light-hearted, country-tinged lament "Dear Doctor" (a song about a betrayal that, ironically, saves a man from having to get married) to the perversity of the steaming blues number "Parachute Woman" and the salacious "Stray Cat Blues," the latter a nasty, guitar-charged song appropriate a teenage sexual partner who gives as good as she gets.  The depictions of a young girl as a biting, scratching alley cat brought the pre-Altamont Stones as close to the edge as they could possibly go without falling over.
Dave Marsh identified the theme of Beggars Banquet as a vision of terrifying dissolution, and the music matches the Stones' vision.  But more importantly; so do the lyrics; the Stones not only acknowledge mores and morals falling apart, they revel in it.  The blatant chutzpah of the words and the sharp music complement each other and make the record all the more intriguing and exciting.  Jagger and Richards present a world where outcasts and misfits either enjoy the ride to the bottom or fight a losing battle to weather the storms, especially in "Jigsaw Puzzle," with its images of gangsters and bums on the edges of society with the Stones themselves while elderly ladies fight the law and the law not only wins, it takes no prisoners.  The strident guitar on "Street Fighting Man" is a call to arms, but the words openly question whether taking to the streets is any realistic solution to . . . what?  What are we rebelling against?  Beggars Banquet closes with "Salt Of the Earth," an ironic celebration of the lower classes that rock stars like the Rolling Stones can only pretend to relate to . . . and pretend to care about.  In a world where everyone is left to their own devices but are slaves to their own base interests, no one is exempt from damnation - not even the Stones.  And the Stones were brilliant in pointing that out.
Sadly, Brian Jones was a victim of the Stones' own vision. He died a few months after this LP's release.
(The cover the Stones were forced to use by their record company.  The cover the Stones wanted has since been used.)  
(I'll be back with more record reviews later.)

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