At its simplest level the album deals with the psychosis of being in a rock 'n' roll band and having made it as a starand it does that better than the Who's opus devoted... Read More
exclusively to that subject, Quadrophenia.
At another level it uses the relationship between a band and its audience as a metaphor for the parasitic relations between a man and a woman. At still another, in the best tradition of rock 'n' roll, it convincingly flaunts its own raunchiness.
The first cut sets the tone of the album by reminding us of pop's ancient double-entendre: that the word rock refers both to music and to sex. "If You Can't Rock Me" sounds like it ought to be about sex. But it starts with, "The band's onstage and it's one of those nights." Only the chorus turns it back into the anticipated and angry fuck song.
Their "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" is still a lover's plea but there's an undercurrent of resentment directed at the listener. By now, you can't tell whether the Stones are singing about people who watch them or people they live with. That confusion is enhanced by the tightness with which the album's producers, the Glimmer Twins, have welded it to the title track.
The verses to "It's Only Rock 'n Roll" sound like an assault on the audience. "If I could stick a pen in my heart/I'd spill it all over the stage ..." It's only when they get to the bridge that their real target comes into focus: "Do you think that you're the only girl around/I'll bet you think that you're the only woman in town." They've fused their many resentments into a single vitriolic statement.
But the song is more than an attack. Jagger sounds like he hates, but he also sounds convincing, not ironic, when he belts out, "I know it's only rock 'n roll but I like it." How can he? Because, in addition to desperation, the song reflects both the strength and vulnerability of someone who has earned the right to ask Bob Dylan's question, "What else can you show me?"*
On the album's first three songs the band renews its claim to greatness. Instead of coming off like cynics they sound like they're still vulnerable, afraid, capable of being hurt and able to respond with aggressive energy. They've returned with a vengeance to the wildness of their early records and the fact that they are more self-conscious than ever about it doesn't detract from the album's impact.
*"It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" by Bob Dylan. ©1965, Warner Bros. Publishing Co.
The main focus of their aggressive instincts are, as has most often be