By now, the Rolling Stones have assumed something of the status of the blues in popular music a vital force beyond time and fashion. Undercover, their twenty-third album (not counting anthologies and outtakes), reassembles, in the manner of mature masters of every art, familiar elements into exciting new forms. It is a perfect candidate for inclusion in a cultural time capsule: should future generations wonder why the Stones endured so long at the very top of their field, this record offers just about every explanation. Here we... Read More
have the world's greatest rock & roll rhythm section putting out at maximum power; the reeling, roller-derby guitars at full roar; riffs that stick in the viscera, songs that seize the hips and even the heart; a singer who sounds serious again. Undercover
is rock & roll without apologies.
There is a moment early on in "Too Tough," a terrific song on the second side, that sums up all of the Stones' extraordinary powers. With the guitars locked into a headlong riff and Mick Jagger hoarsely berating the woman who "screwed me down with kindness" and "suffocating love," the track is already off to a hot start; but then Charlie Watts comes barreling in on tom-toms and boots the tune onto a whole new level of gut-punching brilliance. That the Stones are still capable of such exhilarating energy is cause enough for wondrous comment; that they are able to sustain such musical force over the course of an entire LP is rather astonishing. Undercover is the most impressive of the albums the group has released since its mid-Seventies career slump (the others being Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and 1981's remarkable Tattoo You) because, within the band's R&B-based limits, it is the most consistently and energetically inventive.
Although the hard-rock numbers that make up the bulk of the record have the Rolling Stones' stamp all over them, they are also distinguished by a heightened creative freshness that recalls their song-rich 1967 LP. Between the Buttons (from which such numbers as "Too Tough" and the sentimentally salacious "She Was Hot" could almost pass as outtakes). The raw vitality of the performances is matched by the thorniness of the lyrics, which glimmer with all the usual veiled allusions and inscrutable ambiguities.
When Jagger sings in "Tie You Up (the Pain of Love)" that "You get a rise from it Feel the hot come dripping on your thighs from it," and that "Women will die for it," you might conclude that he's just being provocative (or, alternatively, that he's still the pathetic sexist asshole you always figured him for). But the song isn't simply about male domination of women; it's about the omnisexual oppressiveness of romantic obsession. Similarly, the black woman at the center of "She Was Hot" turns out to have been more than just a great laythe simple sincerity of the singer's "I hope we meet again" adds a sudden emotional resonance t