The Rolling Stones' Goats Head Soup - enter the wilderness years

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 February, 2015, 10:48pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 February, 2015, 5:18pm

Goats Head Soup
The Rolling Stones
Polydor

Many biographers see Goats Head Soup as the last album from The Rolling Stones' "golden age", an era that included the blistering late-1960s stomp of Beggars Banquet and the rambunctious brilliance of Sticky Fingers. But it would be more accurate to describe it as the first of the band's wilderness albums.

While it features some great tracks worthy of the band's impressive canon, including the hit single Angie, Goats Head Soup represents for many fans the album that set the Stones on a course of mediocrity from which they have yet to return.

Recorded in Jamaica - guitarist Keith Richards was pretty much banned from everywhere else because of his drug indiscretions - the album sees the band not so much resting on their laurels as throwing them aside for a comfy seat at rock's bloated top table.

While Richards has joined the revisionist clatter of recent years that's reappraised every awful 1970s dirge from The Eagles to the Bee Gees as amazing, even he originally decried the LP as "junkie music".

It's not that Goats Head Soup is bad, in itself. The tracks Star Star and Can You Hear the Music would have sat well even on Sticky Fingers, the album that truly showed the Stones' brilliance. It's just that it set no musical agenda. It did nothing new. And for a band that had spent the previous decade reinventing rock as a cultural force (as opposed to a force in business, which they seemed determined to become in the 1970s and '80s), that effectively said game over.

The Stones' creative death knell had been sounded a year before Goats Head Soup's release in 1973. The world tour that followed the release of the previous album, Exile on Main Street, entered rock folklore for its indulgence and brutal decadence. With giant inflatable phalluses, glitzy costume changes and backing singers, it marked the Stones' descent into Vegas show business hell: the world's biggest rock band had become a parody of themselves.

It's no surprise that the songs on Goats Head Soup, either written or conceived on that tour, sound so flaccid and bland. Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker) may have been a massive hit single, but it sounds disingenuous, Mick Jagger and company struggling to recapture the glory days of just a few years earlier. Dancing With Mister D may dally with death, but by this stage when The Rolling Stones were bloated by success and glory, it sounds forced and unthreatening.

Later albums would be marked by a depressing paucity of originality and bandwagon jumping, but it was Goats Head Soup that pushed The Rolling Stones down the slippery slope of irrelevance.