History has proven it unwise to jump to conclusions about Rolling Stones albums. At first Sticky Fingers seemed merely a statement of doper hipness on which the Stones (in Greil Marcus' elegant phrase) "rattled drugs as if they were maracas." But drugs wound up serving a figurative as well as a literal purpose and the album became broader and more ambiguous with each repeated listening.
At first, Exile on Main Street seemed a terrible disappointment, with its murky, mindless mixes and concentration on the trivial. Over time, it emerged as a masterful study in poetic vulgarity. And if neither of the albums had eventually grown on me thematically, the music would have finally won me over anyway.
Now Goat's Head Soup stands as the antithesis of Exile—the Stones never worry about contradicting themselves—and it is a wise move, for it would have been suicidal to carry Exile's conceits any further. Compared to the piling on of one raunchy number on top of another, Soup is a romantic work, with an unmistakable thread of life-affirming pragmatisms running through it. It is set apart not only from Exile, but every past Stones' LP, by its emphasis on the ballad. Its three key songs—"Angie," "Comin' Down Again," and "Winter"—are suffused with melancholy. But of the five rockers, only "Star Star" ("Starfucker") rings out with classic Stones sass. The others exist either more as changes of pace or as commentary on the album's larger mood, rather than as autonomous works.
And yet for all its differences, Soup sustains some significant continuities with its immediate predecessors. With all its rocker energy, it was the personal, subjective songs on Sticky Fingers, like "Wild Horses" and "Moonlight Mile," that finally lingered in my mind. And for all its thunder, Exile contained in whatever lyrics were audible, a very personal sense of weariness and confusion. (pp. 66-7)
[After the weak opener, "Dancin' With Mr. D.,"] Soup emerges as a consistent piece of work, even if its classic moments are confined to four songs. "100 Years Ago" is the album's real introduction and contains in equal portions the two basic strains of the album: the churning, repetitive R&B of the fast songs and the solemn melancholy of the ballads. In the song's linear structure, each element is consecutively isolated and focused on. The strains, like the album's songs, coexist without blending….
Between "Comin' Down Again" and "Angie" sits "Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)," a broadly drawn third-person narrative in dramatic juxtaposition to the songs surrounding it. It relates an incident of big-city violence hardly uncommon in the real world, but jarring in this context. It works as both thematic and stylistic counterpoint. The agony resulting from a failed love relationship is still ultimately affirmative, and it's relatively easy to bear compared to the agony incurred by some random violent act emanating from a stranger.
"Angie" will inevitably be the most durable and well-loved song on the album. There are several reasons for its significance…. But the key is in the tune itself, as emotionally complex as it is lyrically straightforward.
It contrasts the traditional view of romance (and its mystical principal of adoration), with the more recently conceived notion of pragmatism in relationships. The singer has a simultaneous and irreconcilable investment in both values, and they're at war within him. Haunted by Angie's image, he tells the mystic in him that the conditions for romance are still present. But reason patiently answers that despite their efforts, it won't work. It wins the struggle, but every so often the voice burns through the velvet lining.
The singer's lingering belief in mystery is manifested in brief moments of passion and in a sense of guilt that can't be rationalized. Thus, all his statements seem to come out questions and he asks them as much of himself as of Angie. The one stand he takes is shaky, indeed: "They can't say we never tried," is inevitably followed by the understood "Can they?"…
There are too many secondary songs on Goat's Head Soup to rate it an ultimate Rolling Stones album. The content-defying title expresses the group's uncertainty about its performance. But [the album is] among their most intimate and emotionally absorbing work. (p. 67)
Bud Scoppa, "Records: 'Goat's Head Soup'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1973; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 147, November 8, 1973, pp. 66-7.
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