54. The Rolling Stones — Their Satanic Majesties Request
This album, long drawing question marks and sneers from the taste historians of the 60’s, has recently been undergoing a critical reanalysis. Which is to say, I read some guys in Magnet say some positive things about it in a head-to-head discussion of Beatles and Stones albums. For a long time, it’s been detracted as a lame me-too response to Sgt. Pepper’s by people who can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t like Sgt. Pepper’s.
Well, meet that guy. I used to severely dislike the Beatles, partially for the irritating ubiquity of their nostalgia, mostly because I found them neutered. Yes, they wrote some great songs. They also wrote a lot of quite boring songs. And for being the Most Important Rock Band, they seemed, to this critic, to do precious little actual rocking. For every “Back in the USSR”, there’s three of “Dear Prudence” “Oh Blah Di, Oh Blah Da,” or “When I’m Sixty-Four”. Which are perfectly fine pop songs, but hardly rock n’ roll.
I’ve come around on them some. I like Rubber Soul and Revolver a good bit, and changed my mind on Abbey Road and Magical Mystery Tour. But I thought Sgt. Pepper portentously dull when I first heard it, and haven’t heard anything to change my mind. I’m a reasonable man, so if someone can explain to my why I should like “She’s Leaving Home” or “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” or any of the rest of it, I’m listening.
And my initial response to Satanic Majesties was much the same. It seemed like an obligatory infusion of pastel whimsy into an established pop format, that didn’t really have the guts to go full-psychedelic, like Pink Floyd or Cream. It sounded apologetic and off-center, like it knew it was supposed to be something else. I put “She’s a Rainbow” on a mix tape called Dumb Songs I Like and left it alone for years.
This winter, with the obligation to review it sitting around in my head, I gave it a few spins in the car, and was rather surprised by how much I dug what was coming out of the stereo. I mean, I always kinda like “2000 Light Years From Home” and the aformentioned “She’s a Rainbow” but “Citadel” and “In Another Land” in particular sounded oddly fresh. And the rest of it cohered a good deal better than I had first thought. So I am fully prepared to announce that I will actually start listening to this one more. There are moments when I will actually want it, not just to avoid feeling like I’m neglecting something I paid good money for back in college.
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