What does it sound like?:
Let It Bleed was a turning point for The Rolling Stones. Their original musical leader, Brian Jones, made his last, albeit minor, contributions to an album and his replacement, Mick Taylor, contributed for the first time on just two of the tracks. Keith Richards had stepped up his game on Beggars Banquet but he redoubled his efforts for the follow up. He is the only Stone to play on all nine songs, solidifying his reputation as one of the versatile and imaginative Rock guitarists of his generation in the process and Let It Bleed as his finest work.
On the whole, it follows the template of its predecessor but Let It Bleed is far more than a transitional album or a Beggars Banquet part two. During 1969, The Beatles were in their bubble, busy obsessing over themselves, whereas The Stones captured the zeitgeist on an album full of dread and the threat of violence, not to mention all the sex and the drugs. Released with just one month of the decade to go, the day before Meredith Hunter was murdered at Altamont and just as the Manson Family were arrested, it sounded like a funeral bell for the sixties.
The opening song, Gimme Shelter, a heady concoction of sex and death, starts creepily with Keith’s carefully picked guitar lines but, soon, the rhythm section grooves up a storm and Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton duet, irresistibly drawn together in the face of hellfire and brimstone coming their way. Gimme Shelter is the most electrifying opening track of any album in Rock, taut, muscular, disciplined. It casts a long doomy shadow across the whole album which never quite reaches its incredibly high standard.
At the other end of the spectrum, You Can’t Always Get What You Want throws the kitchen sink at an attempt to muster some joy and hope, French horn, haughty London Bach choir and all. The exhilarating melody and wonderful arrangement, owing a lot to Jack Nizsche, are subverted by downcast lyrics concerning drugs and prostitution. The sixties party may be over but it’s impossible not to feel the spirits lift as the celestial choir carries the long coda towards the album’s conclusion.
In between, Love In Vain proves The Stones retain a genuine sensitivity for the blues even without Brian and a busking, hillbilly version of Honky Tonk Women is wild and untamed. Live With Me points to the future, as it features both Bobby Keys’ saxophone and Mick Taylor’s fluid guitar for the first time. Keith provides the remarkable bass riff driving its tongue-in-cheek debauchery to even greater levels of bravado. The title track re-envisions the notion of free love as pornography and wraps it in jolly musical finery. There is nothing ambiguous about Midnight Rambler. Though Mick’s Ned Kelly murderous/rapist growls are somewhat unconvincing, Keith’s guitar carries more than enough menace. You Got The Silver seems out of place, like a buttercup on a dishevelled grave. A sweet, almost innocent love song, Glyn Johns accidentally erased Mick’s vocal, leaving a solo Keith to deliver it with impressive confidence and feel. Monkey Man is a showcase for Nicky Hopkins on piano, Jimmy Miller’s production skills and Mick’s squeals. Overall, Let It Bleed’s peaks are more than favourably comparable with the albums it is sandwiched between but, as a whole, it doesn’t quite maintain their consistency.
Fifty years on, Rob Ludwig has done his usual fantastic job remastering the stereo. It’s so good, it feels like a remix. Keith’s bending of strings sounds magical and Charlie’s kit appears more complete. Monkey Man is the biggest winner, its bells and whistles becoming quite spellbinding.
The single CD and vinyl will be readily available. However, it’s the deluxe package that will raise eyebrows. Bear in mind that The Stones do not own their Decca recordings. There are two vinyl LPs, stereo and mono versions of the album, two SACDs, again stereo and mono, a 7″ mono single of Honky Tonk Women/You Can’t Always Get What You Want in a picture sleeve, an eighty page hard-backed book, three 12″x12″ replica lithographs of the artwork and a huge poster, all retailing at well over a hundred pounds. No figurines, sadly. SACDs are an interesting choice, considering Blu-Ray equipment is more commonplace and there is no option for a mono CD. The mono remaster does sound good but it is still a remaster of a stereo fold-down. No doubt there are enough Stones fanatics to buy them all, but the thinking behind the big box is strikingly illogical.
Let It Bleed is an iconic Rock album, one of The Stones best, which is now available as an excellent Rob Ludwig remaster and a bizarre 50th Anniversary Deluxe package. The Decca Rolling Stones reissues continue to fascinate and amaze.
What does it all *mean*?
The Rolling Stones have been a money making machine since 1971. There is no reason to believe the tills won’t continue to ring with this 50th Anniversary edition.
Goes well with…
A SACD player, a turntable, a large bank account and an obsession with The Stones.
1st. November 2019
Might suit people who like…
Rock Music. The single disc version is a Rock essential.