With all the talk about the reissue of The Rolling Stones classic album Exile On Main Street, I’ve felt compelled to put on some Stones over the last few weeks. What I gravitated to wasn’t what I’d consider an obvious pick. I didn’t throw on Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, or Tattoo You. Instead, the album that I pulled out of my comprehensive Rolling Stones collection was far from old. Considering Voodoo Lounge was released just 16 years ago, in the world of the Stones this album is almost a toddler.
It was the summer of 1994, 5 years since the Stones had released their comeback album Steel Wheels, the longest the band had gone at the time without releasing a new album. In the ensuing years, bassist Bill Wyman had quit the band, his place taken by former Miles Davis cohort Darryl Jones, who would contribute to the sessions after being for the gig by Charlie Watts. Producing the new album was Don Was, whose greatest contribution would be pushing the Stones away from utilizing the sounds of the time. No synthesizers, no drum machines, no rapping (they’d wait for 1997’s Bridges To Babylon to try that out). Instead, using Exile On Main Street as a template, Was steered the Stones towards a more classicist sound, a decision that Mick Jagger would come to later criticise, since the last thing the frontman ever wanted was to be considered a nostalgia act.
While the opening one-two punch of “Love Is Strong” and “You Got Me Rocking” were as solid as any classic album openers in the bands cannon, at the time of Voodoo Lounge’s release, I was far from impressed. I just felt like the album dragged on and on. 15 songs and over an hour long seemed just too long. I don’t recall making it though a full listen very often, though I must have since when I put it on for a listen I remembered far more of the songs than I thought I would have.
Listening to Voodoo Lounge the other night, I actually discovered how timeless the album actually is. Don Was was right on when he kept the Stones (read Mick Jagger) from utilizing any sounds that would date the album. Sure, the singles sound great (to be honest, I don’t think the Stones have ever released a bad single; even “Harlem Shuffle” has its charm), but a lot of the album tracks throughout are just as strong. “The Worst” is far from it, a great country-tinged Keith vocal and pedal steel contribution from Ronnie Wood. “Sweethearts Together” follows in the same vein, and is a sweet duet between The Glimmer Twins. “Out Of Tears” is another classic Stones ballad that deserves more regard, while “I Go Wild” has a salacious Mick vocal full of swagger.
If there’s any real problem with Voodoo Lounge that I discovered with this most recent reappraisal is that it still goes on for a few songs too long. Songs like “Brand New Car” and “Suck On The Jugular” are filler, but harmless. However, had the band elected to cut those tracks along with album closer “Mean Disposition” and simply ended with one of the finest moments that the band had produced in 15 years, I think the perception of Voodoo Lounge would have been a little different for both myself and other Stones fans. In fact, on this recent listen, when Keith Richards magnificent “Thru and Thru” came to a close I was tempted to shut off the album before the final track played. It’s the song that I (along with Tony Soprano, I’d wager) think really is the final and possibly finest moment of Voodoo Lounge.
Is Voodoo Lounge as good as the best Rolling Stones album of the 60’s or 70’s? Not really. However, it’s certainly better on a whole than anything they did in the 80’s post Tattoo You (I doubt anyone raves about Dirty Work or Steel Wheels). Not only does Voodoo Lounge have a timeless quality to it that I was pleased to discover after all these years, it also makes a case that the Rolling Stones were still crafting great additions to their catalogue well into their fourth decade.