Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fact sheet: Goats Head Soup

"Goats Head Soup", the Rolling Stones' 11th studio album, was recorded in Byron Lee's Dynamic Sound Studios in Kingston, Jamaica (November-December, 1972), and got released on August 31, 1973. Critics deliberated, veering from reserved praise to weary disappointment, but in his review on Allmusic author Stephen Thomas Erlewine puts the record in some fine perspective: "Sliding out of perhaps the greatest winning streak in rock history, the Rolling Stones slipped into decadence and rock star excess with "Goats Head Soup", their sequel to "Exile On Main St.".

This is where the Stones' image began to eclipse their accomplishments, as Mick Jagger ascended to jet-setting celebrity and Keith Richards slowly sunk deeper into addiction, and it's possible hearing them moving in both directions on Goats Head Soup, at times in the same song. As Mick Jagger plays the devil (or dances with Mr. D, as he likes to say), the sex and sleaze quotient is increased, all of it underpinned by some genuinely affecting heartbreak, highlighted by 'Angie', one of three ballads on the album (the other ones being 'Coming Down Again' and 'Winter'). This may not be as downright funky, freaky, and fantastic as "Exile", yet the extra layer of gloss brings out the enunciated lyrics, added strings, wah-wah guitars, explicit sex, and violence, making it all seem trippily decadent.

If it doesn't seem like there's a surplus of classics here, all the songs work well, illustrating just how far they've traveled in their songcraft, as well as their exceptional talent as a band - they make this all sound really easy and darkly alluring, even when the sex'n'satanism seems a little silly. To top it all of, they cap off this utterly excessive album with 'Star Star', a nasty Chuck Berry rip that grooves on its own mean vulgarity - its real title is "Starfucker," if you need any clarification, and even though they got nastier (the entirety of "Undercover", for instance), they never again made something this dirty or nasty. And, it never feels more at home than it does at the end of this excessive record".

Ian Stewart played piano on two tracks, the aforementioned 'Star Star' and the blues and boogie tinged 'Silver Train', a song first worked on during "Sticky/Exile" sessions in 1970. Other members of the keyboard department on "Goats Head Soup" were familiar names: Nicky Hopkins (piano on 6 tracks) and Billy Preston (clavinet on '100 Years Ago' and 'Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)').

Suggested further reading:
Mark Blake, Strange Brew (album review), Mojo Special Edition, 2003.
David Cavanagh, Goats Head Soup, The Ultimate Music Guide (from the makers of Uncut)
James Hector, The Complete Guide To The Music Of The Rolling Stones, Omnibus Press, 1995.

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