Friday, 25 May 2018
The Rolling Stones - Undercover (1983)
Released November 1983
Recorded in Paris and New York City
This is so much an album of its era. The 1980s saw albums awash with synthesisers, synth drums and keyboard riffs. How this affected a band so intrinsically linked to guitar riffs is obvious here, not particularly well. However, the fact that the band tried to move with the times has to be respected, even though, at times, the trademark Stones sound is buried beneath synthesisers and automatic drums. If you have Charlie Watts, why use programmed drums? Nevertheless, some interesting rhythmic experiments can be found on the barnstorming title track, "Too Much Blood", "Tie You Up" and "Feel On Baby". The album's last four tracks also see a partial restoration of something of the Stones sound fans had come to expect. In many ways it is a very similar album to "Emotional Rescue", but slightly better due to the lack of any "embarrassing" tracks where The Stones forget their age. Not really anything truly wonderful on here, but no true duffers either.
As with 1980's "Emotional Rescue", this album has to be viewed in the context of when it was recorded. The cracks between Jagger and Richards that were beginning to show three years earlier are even more apparent here. It is pretty obvious whose tracks are whose.
"Undercover Of The Night" was a deserved hit single. Despite containing much of the dreaded synth drum sound, there are still some killer Stones riffs in this (relatively) rare political song. The song rocks from beginning to end and, if it has to bow to 80s production trends, it does so magnificently, still sounding good today. "the smell of sex, the smell of rubber" sets a tone for the rest of the album, lyrically. "She Was Hot" is an excellent rocker, underpinned by some boogie-woogie piano and some classic guitar work. Where the song is let a bit by a slightly lazy vocal in places it makes up for in energy and attack. Jagger's obsession with sex is expressed in many of this album's songs in language that is violent, uncaring and dominating. "Tie You Up (The Pain Of Love)" was maybe typical of the emotional detachment of the "me" generation 1980s. This is a mid-pace, insistent rocker - lyrically menacing and back by some grinding guitar and metronomic "proper" drums. One of the best on the album.
"Wanna Hold You" was the now seemingly-obligatory Keith-on-vocal track. Average chugger in the usual Keith style. Inoffensive but unremarkable. Just as obligatory as a Keith track would also seem to be a Keith-influenced reggae track. "Feel On Baby" was it here. Many critics have slated the inauthenticity of this track, but, as a reggae fan myself, I have to say it sounds pretty real to me, as far as white reggae goes. No doubt helped by the fact that Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare are on drums and bass. Not a bad song at all.
On the somewhat bizarre "Too Much Blood" Mick Jagger goes all horror film and rap on this odd track. A funky horn-dominated riff, similar to those used by David Bowie in his "Let's Dance" and "Tonight" albums from the same period eases off on two occasions to hear Jagger rapping firstly about a cannibalistic murder that took place in Japan and then asking his audience if they have seen the movie "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" - "'Orrible wasn't it?" he leers in his best "mockney". "Pretty Beat Up" was apparently more of a Ronnie Wood track, this was only added at the last minute. It is pretty standard stuff, a solid bluesy upbeat rhythm lifted by an excellent tenor saxophone part and a more typical Jagger vocal. "Too Tough" saw a trademark Stones riff opens this, one of the album's better tracks with some more dodgy sex-influenced lyrics about a woman whose demands for rough sex show her to be "too tough" even for Mick. A vocal that sounds like he means it, though.
"All The Way Down" had a title that leaves nothing to the imagination. Jagger reminisces about a girl he knew when he was twenty-one who "went all the way down". Marianne Faithfull? Musically, it is formulaic Stones - solid, guitar based one pace rock and trustworthy, unspectacular drums. "It Must Be Hell" saw another classic riff to introduce this quality track. It was used on "Exile's "Soul Survivor" and also on Michael Jackson's "Black Or White". A driving, urgent groove to this one. Good vocal too.