Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 544
[The major conflict of Sticky Fingers is between] driving, intense, wide-open rock versus a controlled and manipulative musical conception determined to fill every whole and touch every base….
On "Brown Sugar" wide open rock wins by a hair, but it is a hollow victory. Opening cuts on Stones albums have always been special….
At their best [the] opening cuts were statements of themes that transcended both the theme itself and the music that was to follow. As I listened to Sticky Fingers for the first time I thought "Brown Sugar" was good, but not that good. I certainly hoped it wasn't the best thing on the album. As it turns out, there are a few moments that surpass it but it still sets the tone for the album perfectly: middle-level Rolling Stones competence. The lowpoints aren't that low, but the high points, with one exception aren't high….
[On] "Wild Horses" there is a point in which the only thing that will work is a good note, well sung, sustained and sufficient to stand on its own. It is not to be found. A musical attitude is not a replacement for a musical style and style is not a replacement for essential technique, which is what is missing here.
The longing of the lyrics coupled with its ultimate hope constitute as much of a theme as there is on this record. Typically (since Between the Buttons) the Stones' statement alternates between aggressive sexuality and warmer, more subtly erotic statements of emotional dependence and openness. The flirtation with social significance of the last two albums has been almost wholly abandoned in what appears to be something of a recommitment to more personal subject matter….
Sister Morphine: This was supposed to be stark, intense and realistic. Some hear it that way. I find it lyrically convincing, but labored to the point of being unlistenable musically. Perhaps that is part of the conception: obviously, a song about morphine should not be pleasant to hear. The question is, is the song unpleasant because it makes us uncomfortable emotionally, or simply because it is an awkward and unsuccessful attempt to depict reality through music?…
Moonlight Mile: From "Brown Sugar" we had to wait all the way to [the end] to get a masterpiece. The semi-oriental touch seems to heighten the song's intense expression of desire, which is the purest and most engaging emotion present on the record….
On Sticky Fingers, it doesn't really sound like [the Stones] are doing what they want to. Play "Brown Sugar" and then play any opening cut from the first five albums. The early ones are sloppy, messy, and vulgar. They are brash and almost ruthless in their energy. And they sound real. By comparison "Brown Sugar," for all of its formal correctness, is an artifice. Ultimately they sound detached from it, as they do from all but a few things on Sticky Fingers….
If Sticky Fingers suffers from any one thing it is its own self-defeating calculating nature. Its moments of openness and feeling are too few; its moments where I know I should be enjoying it but am not, too great.
Jon Landau, "Records: 'Sticky Fingers'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1971; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 84, June 10, 1971, p. 42.
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