"Brown Sugar:" It begins with some magical raunch chords on the right channel. In the tradition of great guitar intros ("All Day and All of the Night," "Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown," and "Satisfaction" itself) it transfixes you: instant recognition, instant connection. Suddenly the electric guitar is joined by an acoustic guitar on the left channel, an acoustic that is merely strumming the chords that the electric is spitting out with such fury. It washes over the electric to no apparent purpose, stripping it momentarily... Read More
of its authority and intensity. and so, in the first 15 seconds of the albums first cut we are presented with its major conflict: driving, intense, wide-open rock versus a controlled and manipulative musical conception determined to fill every whole and touch every base.
As soon as the voices come on, the acoustic recedes into inaudibility: on "Brown Sugar" wide open rock wins by a hair, but it is a hollow victory. Opening cuts on Stones albums have always been special, fro the early ones - "Not Fade Away," "Round and Round," and "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love: - with their promise of rock and roll to come, to the tour de force openings of the later albums - "Symphony for the Devil" and "Gimme Shelter" - which served as overwhelming entrances into a more complex musical world view.
At their best these opening cuts were statements of themes that transcended both the theme itself and the music that was to follow. As I listened to "Sticky Fingers," for the first time I thought "Brown Sugar" was good, but not that good. I certainly hoped it wasn't the best thing on the album. As it turns out, there are a few moments that surpass it but it still sets the tone for the album perfectly: middle-level Rolling Stones competence. The lowpoints aren't that low, but the high points, with one exception, aren't that high.
As to the performance itself, the chords, harmony, and song are powerful stuff. The instrumentation however, is too diffuse, occasionally undermining the vocals instead of supporting them. But when Richards joins Jagger for the last chorus they finally make it home free.
"Sway:" Vaguely reminiscent of "Stray Cat Blues" but not nearly so powerful. The sound is characteristic Rolling Stones messiness enhanced by the unusual degree of separation in the mix. Charlie Watts bashes away with the smirking abandon that made him such a delight on songs like "Get Off My Cloud" and "All Sold Out." But unlike early Stones messiness, "Sway" lacks intensity. It never reaches a goal because it doesn't seem to have one. Rather, it remains a series of riffs whose lack of content is obscured by prolonged and indifferent guitar semi-solos and a fine string arrangement that suddenly enters towards the end.
"Wild Horses:" A good song with lots of good things in it that doesn't quite come off. The acoustic 12-string stands out over everything else in the arrangement - perhaps a littl