To Richards, this is also the first Stones album in some time — more years than he cares to count, anyway — that the Stones have worked and played like a band, not just an institution. "To not just sound like the Stones," he says, "but be them. Like I told Mick, 'You gotta play a lot of harp.' Because with the Stones, that was one of the original instruments. And his phrasing is so uncanny on the harp. If that can roll over onto the vocals . . .
"After all," Richards notes, cackling, "it's just pushing air out of your mouth."
Voodoo Lounge is certainly grounded in the tried and true: classic Richards guitar crank, Jagger's rubbery yowling, Wood's sweet and salty maneuvers on pedal steel and slide guitars. But it also rattles with a spirit of deviant inspiration and rhythmic chance that is much more Between the Buttons and Let It Bleed than Tattoo You. For every able-bodied bow to Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street archetypes, such as "Love Is Strong" and "You Got Me Rocking," there are taut, smartly tailored left turns like the slinky, T. Rex-ish auto-erotica of "Brand New Car" and the tense, customized R&B mood flips of "Baby Break It Down."
Sure, you've heard it before. "The Stones are back, they're rockin'." And you've been burned — by Black and Blue, Emotional Rescue and the overmanicured pop and groove filler that marred even strong outings like Dirty Work and Steel Wheels. But Voodoo Lounge is an album that the Stones were pressed to make, one that would argue hard and loud for their defiant longevity. It had to be the album that answered, once and for all, the nagging rock & roll question of the '90s: After three decades in the fray, now minus Bill Wyman, with a median age of almost 51, why do the Stones still fucking bother?
Because, as Watts bluntly puts it, "it's still a very good band when it's going." Which isn't all that often. But to Jagger, that's not a problem. It's a kind of strength.
"You can't get off on it the whole time," he argues. "It's like you can't be fucking the whole time. Because it spoils it for the times when you really want to do it. You have to work yourself up to the moment when you really give yourself up to the feeling. That's what being in a band is all about, whether it's been together 30 years or three weeks."
"We're out on this limb all on our own — nobody's kept it together this long," Richards declares with a mixture of pride and, he readily concedes, a bit of fear. "It's like one of those old maps where there are dragons, and it says End of The World. Where is it? You don't know. You're supposed to fall off here.
"We have no road maps, no way of knowing how to deal with this," he insists. "But everyone wanted to do it. 'We can still show 'em a trick or two. And learn a trick or two in the process.' I'm very proud of the career, as long as it's gone. Still, it's the old story — who's gonna get off of this bus while you're still feeling good about it?"
Bill Wyman didn't feel good about it anymore. It was as simple as that. At a band meeting following the last dates on the '89-'90 Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour, Wyman informed the other Stones in no uncertain terms that he had had enough. The others didn't believe him.
Jagger recalls his own reaction quite clearly: Wyman's just tired, not serious. "I said, 'Oh, Bill, if we say we're going back out on the road tomorrow for another year, I can understand that. But we're not even going to record for another 18 months. Relax. Think about it.'" Wyman never changed his mind. He didn't even sign the new Virgin deal, according to Jagger.
"I was not really surprised," Jagger says now. "He was so adamant. But I think Keith felt a bit rejected."
The word Richards uses is devastated. "I was ready to kill Bill Wyman," he says, laughing but with a hint of steam still coming out of his ears. "How dare you? Nobody leaves. Especially from that end of the band.
"I kind of appreciated Bill in a way, later," Richards then says a little more generously. "He was being true to himself. He really didn't want to do it. And it was a chance to put a new engine in down there."
Have you ever wondered what it's like to audition for the Rolling Stones? It's quite simple, really. You play the hits.
"You come in," confirms Jagger, "play 'Brown Sugar,' 'Satisfaction,' all that crap." And that's what the Stones did last summer in New York City for an entire week, four auditions a day, then again later in the year at Ron Wood's home studio, in Ireland. In addition to Darryl Jones — whom Jagger had seen play with Sting and whom Richards had met through his X-Pensive Wino cohorts Steve Jordan and Charley Drayton — the Stones checked out about 20 top players, including Living Colour's Doug Wimbish, NRBQ's Joey Spampinato, Pino Palladino and even a woman, Tracy Wormworth.
Jones eventually made it through the whole drill; he plays on every song on the new album except "Brand New Car" (which features Richards on bass). "I tried not to get too attached to the outcome," Jones remarks calmly. "After we did the record, Mick said he thought I did a good job, and Keith said he'd like to have me hang around again. But I didn't really get the word, officially, on the tour until a couple of months ago."
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