The devil gets a bad rap. He’s regularly given the onus of being a sick, evil bastard; we attribute people’s shitty behavior to his influence. But, when you think about Satan, he doesn’t make you do anything. He just adds the right measure of sweet to the taste of sin. That’s the chief appeal of the Rolling Stones’ music, including Beggars Banquet: sin ain’t so bad, all you need is company, a bottle of scotch, and a little voice whispering in your ear “Why not?” But, “Sympathy for the Devil” notwithstanding, in the final analysis, this album bores me.
The Stones do whatever they feel like doing. Their id drives them to sing the blues, watch the shit hit the fan, and leave before the consequences spread. Their original songs are often not just musically compelling, but intensely literate and conscious. Those qualities are best embodied on tracks like “Sympathy for the Devil” which is an overt nod to Bulgakov’s Masterpiece The Master & Margarita, or “Street Fighting Man” which is an astute examination of the struggle of the lower class, all while mired in a mix of open-D Tuned guitars from Keith Richards, and tanpura, chimes, and other random instrumentation from Brian Jones.
But for every intensely original track they write, there are five fucking blues covers that bore me shitless. I’ve forgotten “No Expectations” and “Dear Doctor” every single time I’ve listened to them. That’s not to knock the blues, though. Indeed, blues music can make powerful statements in three verses, six words, and two chord changes. But that’s not where the Stones shine; and the mere adequacy of those tracks, drain the album of the tension and dread which sit in songs like “Jigsaw Puzzle” and “Salt of the Earth.” The result is something characteristic of the Stones as a group. They’re unholy; they let their dark side lead them. Fuck love; embrace lust. Let’s make God sympathize with the devil. It’s their greatest strength, and greatest weakness.
The Stones do whatever they feel like doing. Their id drives them to sing the blues, watch the shit hit the fan, and leave before the consequences spread.
It’s like HBO’s The Sopranos. That show lives for the drug-like highs of ecstasy and wanton chaos that make gangster suburbia beautiful and disturbing as Tony fights for his soul. But for each one of those highs, there are those forgettable lows that do nothing and result in frustration and boredom. The sum is not greater than its parts. And, like The Sopranos that artistic subtraction weakens the whole.
I oppose everything this album stands for. I’m consistent; I love; I restrain; I indulge lightly but not regularly. I’m for the Beatles; I’m for The Wire.
That said, I do have sympathy, yes I do.
Until I go down to St. Petersburg.