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their best since _____
Voodoo Lounge (Virgin)
The Rolling Stones
By Allen Howie
Whenever the Stones knock out a good album, it's always tempting to call
it their best effort since . . . (fill in the name of your favorite Stones record -
usually Exile On Main Street or Some Girls).
Well, whatever you think the band's high water mark is, Voodoo Lounge is their best effort since then. For proof, though, you have to bump past the first couple of tracks, the "Honky Tonk Women" groove of "Love Is Strong" and the big "Bitch" beat of "You Got Me Running," both of which are by-the-numbers Stones.
Past that point, the good stuff kicks in, beginning with the elastic rhythm of "Sparks Will Fly." Keith Richards hauls out that wonderfully ragged voice for "The Worst," a perfect honky tonk ballad with some surprisingly sweet pedal steel courtesy of Ronnie Wood. Not to be outdone, Mick turns in a ballad of his own, the delicate, folkish chamber pop of "New Faces."
And the hits just keep on coming: the low-key rumble of "Moon Is Up," the hushed heartache of "Out of Tears," the gutter grind of "I Go Wild," the salacious prowl of "Brand New Car," and the converted Latin rhythm of "Sweethearts Together." Richards is his usual steely self, Jagger's singing is fluid and inspired, drummer Charlie Watts is still the only guy who can play like Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood alternates between torque and technique, and new kid Darryl Jones fills retired bassman Bill Wyman's sizable shoes without batting an eye. Stir in superb playing from guest Chuck Leavell on piano, harpsichord and harmonium, and you've got a near-perfect combination.
"Suck on the Jugular" overcomes its title with a funky workout that finds Mick serving up some tasty wah-wah guitar and icy harmonica. "Blinded by Rainbows" and the unsettling "Thru and Thru," the latter sung by Richards, are as pretty a pair of ballads as the boys have recorded, separated on the album by the bloodless "Baby Break It Down." Sadly, the record rolls to a close with the tepid boogie of "Mean Disposition."
Still, eleven strong songs out of fifteen is a pretty tough batting average, suggesting that, with Voodoo Lounge, the Rolling Stones have tapped back into their muse.