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The Rolling Stones' Goats Head Soup 2020 - old-time decadence revisited | reviews, news & interviews

The Rolling Stones' Goats Head Soup 2020 - old-time decadence revisited

The Rolling Stones' Goats Head Soup 2020 - old-time decadence revisited

A tasty 1970s Rolling Stones classic is revived with added ingredients

Back in the soup: the full vinyl deluxe boxed set

It’s been a decade, more or less, since The Rolling Stones opened up their From the Vaults series with The Brussels Affair, AKA Bedspring Symphony, taken from the 1973 European tour following the release of Goats Head Soup. It’s one of the most thrilling live sets any band ever released.

It’s been a decade, more or less, since The Rolling Stones opened up their From the Vaults series with The Brussels Affair, AKA Bedspring Symphony, taken from the 1973 European tour following the release of Goats Head Soup. It’s one of the most thrilling live sets any band ever released. And this at a period when it is hard to ascertain exactly how many times Keith Richards was arrested, crashed his car, set his place on fire, or had his blood changed. But together on stage, they blew the roof off and the doors out, embodying the very definition of rock n roll music at a time when the decadent and dissolute were equally ascendant with a richly seasoned dedication to deliver.

Since The Brussels Affair, we’ve had vault releases ranging from the Marquee Club in 1971 to the Phoenix Club in 2005, acclaimed expansions of Exile on Main Street, Some Girls and Sticky Fingers, and now the sticky, gooey, charred-edged rock n roll balladry of Goats Head Soup joins the pack. The Brussels Affair’s included in the 4CD boxed set, while the 2CD edition has an extra disc of demos, unreleased gems and alternative mixes from Glyn Johns, and the single disc gets you the original album, newly mixed by Giles Martin.

The new mixes retain the original album’s pungent atmosphereThis freshly revived Goat, at least on the digital stream distributed to reviewers, does have a clarity that the original didn’t trouble itself with. On my cassette version from the Seventies, the album’s soupiness and murk rose like vapours from steaming head of said goat, submerged in a vat of slurred vocals, wah-wah, slide, funky brass and unmistakable Stones riffery. Martin’s update doesn’t sound overly compressed. The bass and drums sound more in focus and upfront, as do the vocals. All in all, the new mixes retain the original album’s pungent atmosphere and emphasis on a dark glutinous whole rather than any chilly separation of parts.

Standard critical consensus is generally sneering of the Stones from this point on, regarding Goats Head as the beginning of a long downward slope into indulgence, mediocrity and irrelevance. It’s been a standard take for decades, and like most standard positions, it’s wide of the mark. Even the offcuts here – ‘Criss Cross Man’, ‘All The Rage’, and the semi-detached Stones cut with Jimmy Page, ‘Scarlet’, are tightly wound, filthy rock n rollers that any band would give their right arm for. The Stones let them hang for 48 years. They’re strong additions to the catalogue, with a slew of videos and remixes for 'Criss Cross' and 'Scarlet' to keep you entertained.

While ‘Criss Cross Man’ and ‘All the Rage’ (AKA ‘You Should Have Seen Her Ass’) are widely distributed bootlegs that many Stones fans will already know, the gems of this expanded set are the two instrumental run-throughs of ‘Dancing with Mr D’ and ‘Heartbreaker’, both radically different to the released versions. ‘D’ sounds like an early take, running on barrel-house piano, Keith’s acoustic guitar and Taylor’s slide weaving through the current of Watts and Wyman’s rhythmic flow, while Bobby Keys’ low brass lines smear an aural hot sauce over it all.

‘Heartbreaker’ is another acoustic guitar-led take, graced by sweetly jazz-tinged electric licks from Taylor, the song’s horn riff already in place, and the whole coming out as rich and deep as molasses, at once relaxed, funky and exploratory. As well as these two gems, there’s a thick, sticky, rolling take of ‘Hide Your Love’ that’s by some distance superior to the released version, and a fine solo piano version of ‘100 Years Ago’, with the Glimmer Twins sharing playing duties at different ends of the keyboard.

The three Glyn Johns remixes offer only minor differences to the released versions, though the double tracking of the opening riff on ‘Dancing With Mr D’ is a treat, and it’s here than one feels the gap of a missed opportunity, given that many more unfinished rockers were apparently recorded, and powerfully raucous alternative takes of ‘Silver Train’, for instance, bedeck many a lo-fi bootleg collection.

The 4CD boxed set comes with a copiously illustrated book of essays putting the band’s time in Jamaica in some perspective, chronicling the 1973 European and Antipodean tours, and telling the story behind the album’s striking cover art (the original, unused Hipgnosis centaur concept is eye-wateringly naff from this distance).

Goats Head Soup has often fingered as the beginning of the end of their golden age. Almost half a century on, this undersung destination in their catalogue retains concentrated power, if charred at the edges. It’s unreconstructed, unapologetic, the murky light and shade of its making and of its sound is still a potent, and hugely enjoyable experience. It’s of its time, for sure, but the energy the Stones channelled and focused back then is an energy that moves outside time, and is undiminished, even in our own really weird times.

@CummingTim

This undersung destination in their catalogue retains concentrated power, if charred at the edges

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