My initial impression of this album is that it was the younger, more immature brother of Let It Bleed. It had some good material, but was too preoccupied with being edgy and rowdy to achieve any kind of greatness.
I was sort of right. Sticky Fingers is not as good as Let It Bleed, but it’s a lot closer then I originally thought. Let It Bleed showcases the Stone’s “edge” through chilling songs about life-threatening storms, theme songs for murderers, creepily sleazy monologues, and a general feeling of danger. Sticky Fingers showcases the Stone’s “edge” with uptempo rockers about slave rape, or with titles like “Bitch.” I considered the latter more immature and less impressive. I suppose that’s still true, but what I didn’t remember was how self-aware and fun the album was about this immaturity. I still give the best album mark to Let It Bleed because of that meta-preference, but on a pure song-by-song level, I can’t decide which of the albums I like better.
It’s certainly a lot more pumped up then Bleed. “Brown Sugar” opens the album on an all-time high note for the Stone’s RAWK skills, with a wonderfully splintered main riff that drives the song forward in unnaturally catchy glory, assisted by a bouncy piano part and Jagger’s hammy vocals. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” pops and zings across its lengthy runtime, eventually breaking into some incredibly engaging jamming. “Bitch” plays around with its catchy riff on multiple instruments, and Jagger unreservedly throws himself into the silly lyrics. And those TRUMPETS! So much fun.
For the quintessential album by the quintessential rock and roll band, there’s an awful lot of softer songs here. They all work just as well as the rockers, sometimes better. After the gleefully off-kilter energy of “Brown Sugar”, the album diffuses with the lovely “Sway.” It has one of my favorite melodies on the album, waltzily swaying back and forth in a sense that borders on the titular, to say nothing of the ear-candy guitar work at the end. “Wild Horses” goes so far as to be gorgeous, almost elegant in a really rootsy, Stonesy way. It’s even legitimately emotional! Who gave the freakin’ STONES permission to dig in my gut? “I Got The Blues” is constantly underrated by just about every review I’ve read. It’s basically “You Gotta Move”, but with a much better melody and a wacky keyboard solo to break up the slowness of the guitars and Jagger’s vocals, the latter of which find a good spot between affecting and hilariously over-the-top. And yay for more trumpets!
The final three-song stretch in particular is one of my favorites on any album. “Sister Morphine” tells an engagingly unnerving story through the best lyrics on the album and creepily atmospheric guitars that recall some of the best moments on Let It Bleed. The country ballad “Dead Flowers”, inversely, is absolutely HILARIOUS (“Send me dead flowers at my wedding/And I won’t forget to put roses on your grave” is one of my all-time favorite lyrics), and drips with a sleazy tongue-in-cheek atmosphere (one that a lot of less self-aware country songs today could REALLY benefit from, I might add). It’d probably be the best song on the album if not for the bombastic closing ballad “Moonlight Mile.” The massive-sounding melody is my favorite on the album, the non-rootsy elements like strings and cymbals should feel out of place but somehow manage to meld perfectly with the down-and-dirty rock stuff, and Jagger puts on a rare smirk-free vocal performance. I haven’t sat down to definitively decide what my favorite Stones song is, but currently it’s a toss-up between this and “Gimme Shelter.”
The only song that doesn’t completely captivate me is “You Gotta Move”, which feels clumsy and awkward. That and the overall shock value approach are what keep me from giving Sticky Fingers the mark as the best Stones album, but there are a slew of irreplaceable songs on here. If you have any appreciation for interestingly flavored roots rock, you can’t go wrong with either of the Stone’s masterpieces.
Thematic Content: 3/5 My main issue, but bonus points for clever ideas like “Dead Flowers.”
Lyricism: 4/5 Likewise.
Diversity: 5/5 Yeah I know it’s all rootsy. Who cares? What other rootsy albums have strings and trumpets?
Resonance: 4/5 -1 for shock value that doesn’t amount to anything particularly good these days.
Experience: Gleefully gross but emotionally earnest teenagers DJ a barnyard dance. Also, they’re geniuses.
10+/10. Best Song: Moonlight Mile