The Rolling Stones are constantly changing but beneath the changes they remain the most formal of rock bands. Their successive releases have been continuous extensions of their approach, not radical redefinitions, as has so often been the case with the Beatles. The Stones are constantly being reborn, but somehow the baby always looks like its parents….
Since [the] beginning the Stones have tried their hands at a lot of things: arrogance, satire, social commentary, "psychedelia," lewdness, love songs, you name it. Each phase seemed to flow naturally from the one that preceded it and none of their phases ever really changed their identity as a band. In every album but one it seemed to me that they managed to feel the pulse of what was happening now and what was about to happen. For example, "Satisfaction," that classic of the rock and roll age, both expressed the feelings of a moment and foreshadowed what was about to unfold: the elevation of rock and roll to the primary cultural means of communication among the young. There we were in the early summer of 1965 with folk music dead and nothing really exciting going on. And then there were the Stones sneering at the emptiness of what so many people saw all around them, not telling you to do anything about it, but letting you know that they feel it too. The music, with its incessant, repetitious, pounding guitar and drums, and that tension filled voice, was so permeated with violence that just listening to it was cathartic. (p. 11)
The Rolling Stones are violence. Their music penetrates the raw nerve endings of their listeners and finds its way into the groove marked "release of frustration." Their violence has always been a surrogate for the larger violence their audience is so obviously capable of.
On Beggar's Banquet the Stones try to come to terms with violence more explicitly than before and in so doing are forced to take up the subject of politics. The result is the most sophisticated and meaningful statement we can expect to hear concerning the two themes—violence and politics—that will probably dominate the rock of 1969….
Beggar's Banquet is not a polemic or manifesto. It doesn't advocate anything. It is a reflection of what goes on at the Stones house, with a few pictures of the house itself thrown in for good measure. Part of what that house looks like has to do with what it's surrounded by and the most startling songs on the album are the ones that deal with the Stones environment: "Salt of the Earth," "Street Fighting Man," and "Sympathy for the Devil." Each is characterized lyrically by a schizoid ambiguity. The Stones are cognizant of the explosions of youthful energy that are going on all around them. They recognize the violence inherent in these struggles. They see them as movements for fundamental change and are deeply sympathetic. Yet they are too cynical to really go along themselves. After all, they are rock and roll musicians, not politicians, and London is such a "sleepy town."
(The entire section is 1255 words.)