“Start Me Up” is a goodie, even if I’m painfully aware while it’s happening that it’s just “Brown Sugar” (straight down to the tempo and setup) with handclaps added for good measure – the last great Stones song, sure.
The rest of the first side never comes close to touching it. They’re being so fucking obvious with their Stones-y sexuality, it’s off-putting: the switch from “You make a grown man cry” to “You make a dead man cum” (Really, guys? REALLY?) on “Start Me Up” to every lyric on Keith Richard’s sung “Little T&A,” “She’s my little rock & roll / Her tits and ass with soul” (Really, guys? REALLY?) (though this one has decent guitarwork keeping it afloat), to Mick Jagger grunting his way through “Neighbours” (which is just loud and nothing more). “Hang Fire” is a throwaway, and the only thing of note is that it sounds like Frank Black assimilated the hook into his own throwaway, “Hang Wire,” close to a decade later. “Slave” is the best track on the first side after “Start Me Up” though the hook is too bombastic and the song is too long for my tastes (I shudder to think of how the 6:34-long version on remasters plays like) (and I’m sure Nicky Hopkins would’ve done a better job than Billy Preston) (oh, and Pete Townsend sings backing vocals on this song, in one of those things that no one would’ve known unless they read it somewhere).
The Stones then pile all their ballads – which was never their strong suit because no one in the band had ever experienced an emotion that wasn’t brought on by sex or drugs – onto the second side “so the listener can choose the side according to their mood.” A horrific decision: the first side sounds like the full-of-filler fest that it is and the second side drags on for what feels like forever. Mick Jagger’s falsetto on “Worried About You” recalls the one on “Dear Doctor,” except that one was meant to be laughed at while “No Use in Crying” is just its guitar and vocal hooks. The two greatest draws are “Heaven,” a psychedelic wonder with restraint that Their Satanic Majesties Request could’ve used some of (though this one is more for the morning after while that album was more for the previous night), and closer “Waiting on a Friend” is the best track after “Start Me Up.” I reiterate that Nicky Hopkins was the best thing to ever happen to the Stones, but “Waiting on a Friend” owes its success to Sonny Rollins – some really beautiful sax work there (who had previously helped turn “Slave” into what it is and tried his best to turn “Neighbours” into something more).
I haven’t heard all of the Stones records after this one, but if this is the last good Stones record as people so often refer to it, then I’m not interested, and the album’s standing as the best 80s Stones record is simply because most of the songs were written in the 70s (and the songs that weren’t turn out to be the album’s suckiest – see “Neighbours”). So yeah, basically everything Mark Prindle said (I’ve highlighted the essential parts), “For some reason, a lot of people really like this album. I don’t quite understand why, but I’d wager it has something to do with “Start Me Up” – it is quite the album-opening crowd-pleaaaser. According to Mick, it was originally a reggae song, and all of the others were just old unfinished songs that they dug up and worked on for a little bit before recording. Hmmm. Figures. All I can say is that whoever thought it would be a good idea to split the album into a “fast side” and a “slow side” was a wee bit on the “dumb side.” But don’t worry! They only got worse from here!”
This is what people must think of when they say “the Stones were a singles band.” They had a ton of great albums, people, but Tattoo You ain’t one of them.