Comebacks are sometimes painful to watch, especially in the music business where such efforts are instantly analyzed. Reunions of the Byrds, Country Joe and the Fish and the Blues Project (to name just a few) provided a few exciting moments over the last few years, but commercially, they died with little trace. Now Peter, Paul and Mary are coming back (Merriweather Post Pavilion in August) and Frank Sinatra returns to the area this week (Tuesday, at the Capital Centre) and those comebacks still await new judgements.
This makes it nice to report successful comebacks. Last week, it was Bruce Springsteen (though the full jury is still out on his album). This week it's the Rolling Stones and Bob Marley and the Wailers.
The Stones' new album, "Some Girls," is the best sustained work the band has done in years. It contains their most powerful rock'n'roll since "Sticky Fingers," and easily eclipses anything they've recorded recently, save for a few sporadic high notes on "Exile on Main Street," "It's Only Rock and Roll" and "Black and Blue."
The major reason for the Stones' return to glory is the rediscovery of their older formulas. Despite the modern disco tempo of "Miss You" and the country tongue-in-cheek of "Far Away Eyes," "Some Girls" exhibits the menace of the early Rolling Stones. The power they displayed on the El Mocambo side of "Love You Live" is channeled here into a searing directional blast and there isn't a letup from top to bottom.
Another factor in the album's success is the full integration of guitarist Ron Wood. This is Wood's first complete studio album with the group, and his months of touring and intensive playing have made him a vital cog in the machine instead of a soloist in search of a niche.
Wood's interplay with fellow guitarist Keith Richards (Richard has added the "s" to his last name for all the credits on this album) is exceptional, most notably on the shotgun-paced "Shattered" and the more pleading "Before They Make Me Run" and "Beast of Burden."
Another revelation is Mick Jagger's ability to belt out the songs with his old fury. The king of bottom-line grit had recently abandoned a lot of his zip for the plaintiveness of pseudo-ballads like "Angie," "Fool to Cry" and "Memory Motel." But there is none of that here. Jagger whips non-stop through the record's 10 cuts (with the exception of "Far Away Eyes") and uses his acquired sentimentality in tandem with his earlier raunch. Overall, a pretty potent combination.
Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman are steadier then ever (with help from former Faces keyboardist Ian McLagen) and Wyman's bass drives tunes like "Lies," "When the Whip Comes Down" and title cut.
Another strong point is a moving, if cluttered, version of the Temptations' "Just My Imagination" that's almost as good as their earlier remake of the Temps' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg."
Not only are the Rolling Stones making music as exciting as ever, but the album jacket is one of the more interesting to hit record bins in some time. Photographs on the sleeve fill cutouts on the cover and the stamp that says "Contains the single 'Miss You'" in bold red type cryptically covers the faces of Judy Garland on one side of the sleeve and Marilyn Monroe on the other.
Biographical blurbs of the band members say things like "Mick Jagger - Probably the most successful woman in radio, Mick has been very close to marriage. She had the man, admitted she was very fond of him, but sadly sent him away - she couldn't bear to sacrifice her career." There is even a credit that reads: "Percussion, 1 Moroccan, 1 Jew, 1 Wasp."
Finally, there is the collector's joy at having three versions of "MIss You": the single - a hotter mix but missing Mel Collins' saxophone solo; the album cut that appears here; and an eight-minute disco version. Enough to make a Stones fan dance.
Reports from Paris are that when "Some Girls" was recorded, the bank laid down enough tracks to fill five or six albums. They now need only choose which songs should go on what future releases. If those other tunes are as good as these, and if their popularity remains unabated, the Rolling Stones could be back on top again for a few more years to come. As to popularity: The quintet just sold 55,000 tickets to a stadium concert in Anaheim in little over an hour, and their Thursday-night concert at the Warner here sold out in a little over two hours - at dawn Tuesday, no less.
Bob Marley and the Wailers, who will be inconcert Friday night at the Capital Centre, have survived an assassination attempt and - more recently - immigration problems in their attempt to return to the spotlight. Marley has toned down his efforts to convert the world to Rastafarianism and has heated up his music. His latest release, "Kaya," marks a return to lyricism and shows a surprising and refreshing reggae variety.
Probably the most improved aspect of the Wailers' sound on "Kaya" is the horn section (Vin Gordon, saxophone, and Glen Da Costa and David Madden, trumpets). Songs like "Easy Skanking" and "Sun Is Shining" allow the brass to inject an optimistic over-lay to the hypnotic reggae beat instead of punching through the anger the way they did on much oc "Exodus."
Julian (Junior) Marvin's lead guitar and Aston "Family Man" Barrett's Fender bass anchor the album and Marley himself sounds cheerful and relaxed.
When the Wailers are right, they put out crafted music with emotion and intensity, and their live performances are second to none. They sound right right now.