1001 albums you must die before you hear #6

1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear

#6- The Rolling Stones – Black And Blue (1976)

MATT KELLY continues his epic new series with his demolition of an album that even the most ardent fans of “The Stones” find hard to defend.

In which the Stones decamp to Germany to record a new album, but whoops! Somebody forgot to pack the songs.

Jagger’s expression on the cover says it all really.

Mick Taylor suddenly left the Stones shortly before sessions for the record were due to begin. A few reasons have been given, but one is that Taylor felt he was making significant contributions to compositions and then being denied writing credits. That would explain why, without his input, many of the songs here feel half-baked and directionless, especially if it’s true Taylor was replaced by Ronnie Wood because Keith liked hanging out with him rather than for reasons of musical excellence.

In fact, it may be charitable to call some of the material here “songs” – ‘Hot Stuff’ for example is a five-minute disco-rock intro for a song that never actually starts while Jagger turns into Sir Vampsalot. Intolerably shit, ‘Hot Stuff’ is a genuine struggle to sit through and it’s not even the worst thing on the album.

 

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‘Cherry Baby’ is an incredibly lame take on reggae which heralds in Jagger’s dreaded “accent era”, and is hollow and dull. Even the usually reliable Nicky Hopkins lets the side down with a comically banal organ part.

‘Hey Negrita’ is another non-song where Jagger’s aimless yelling clashes horribly with some badly mixed guitars and holy crap are these things long – eight tracks in 41 minutes. ‘Hey Negrita’ could have been no minutes long without losing anything, but instead runs to five. ‘Memory Motel’ has a good sweet song hiding inside it, but why is it seven minutes long?

The real horror of the record though is ‘Melody’. Five minutes that feels like five hours, this track takes a smokey nightclub jazz vibe and does nothing with it, alongside one of the worst vocal performances Jagger ever gave. The end of the song where Jagger just makes stupid noises is impossible to get through with a straight face.

It’s admirable that the Stones are diversifying by trying out these reggae, disco, jazz (etc) styles but they seem to put all their effort into recreating the style rather than writing a song to play with it.

However, Charlie Watts deserves credit – he’s having to do a lot of different things on this record and he does them very well. Even when the music sucks, he’s never the reason.

There are some saving graces. ‘Hand Of Fate’ is a satisfying under-rated rocker with some bite and wild closer ‘Crazy Mama’ is actually pretty great. I also like the delicate, blue-eyed soul of ‘Fool To Cry’, Hopkins coming through with some lovely piano and synthesizer work that ties everything together.

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