The Rolling Stones - Their Satanic Majesties Request

by Steve Ricciutti Rating:5 Release Date:2017-09-22

This month, ABKCO is releasing the 50th Anniversary re-mastered edition of The Rolling Stones’ problematic album Their Satanic Majesties Request. It’s worth noting from the start that there are no treasures from the vaults to be found, no live tracks or previously unheard songs. This set includes only re-masters of the original mono and stereo versions of the albums. It is not something the band is offering, but rather something that their old record label is marketing, with the full celebratory treatment. Included in the pricey package are two (one stereo, one mono) 180 gram vinyl records, two Super Audio Compact Discs (SACD), a twenty-page booklet, original fold out art, and other photos from the album cover shoot.

Given these vault shortcomings, it still merits a listen if only because the stereo versions are aural orgasms, which perhaps may make it worth your while. Indeed, if there is one album in the band’s oeuvre that would best showcase the process of enhancement; it’s this one, the album wherein they embraced their inner Pink Floyd. In just one song, the popular “She’s A Rainbow,” the changes are breathtaking. The trilling string sound at the beginning, like a hummingbird’s buzzing wings, is gloriously more audible in stereo, as is the slight bending riff in the middle that dips in ever so briefly and is gone. Through it all, Jagger’s voice, at it’s pop-star best, sounds lovely and strong. The stereo treatment is a triumph. Truly, each song is vastly improved, free of the compacting crush of mono.

Splitting the instrumental wires into their individual strands, yet keeping the structure of the song intact, the transformation to stereo is an explosion of sounds best heard through a good set of speakers or a nice set of headphones to get the full effect. Maybe even find some LSD and get the complete experience. Perhaps most convincingly, this new version of Their Satanic Majesties Request begs you, while enjoying the richer, more expanded sound, to at least try and comprehend what the band was after, even if they came up frustratingly short.

One of my favorite things about my favorite band is that, for the most, they knew their limitations, they knew what they were good at, and they stuck to it. When they moved too far from their sweet spot, however, they had a tendency to produce inconsistent works that highlighted their flaws. Of the Jagger/Richards dynamic, Keith is typically the stubborn one, trying his best to keep things rooted in the blues. Jagger, on the other hand, always has his wetted finger in the air, picking up the location of the wind. In 1967, the breeze was blowing straight from Timothy Leary’s lab.

The band’s second work in that magical mystery year, the most experimental one of their career, has long been dissected for flaws and interpretation. Stories differ on how friction started between the band and their manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham, but in the end, the band found itself, for better or worse, totally in charge of their affairs during the making of the record, including producing this album. Complicating matters, 1967 was a year fraught with drug busts and court appearances for the band. Factor in the band taking LSD with more regularity than usual (they were tripping during the album cover shoot and Richards claims to not remember anything at all about the sessions), and you get an album that has the acidic scent of distraction and decadence. As Jagger put it, “There's a lot of rubbish on Satanic Majesties. Just too much time on our hands, too many drugs, no producer…” Keith has concurred, albeit more bluntly, by calling it “a load of crap.”

The failures of this particular acid test are Bill Wyman’s “In Another Land,” a track which pairs the chamber music sound of a harpsichord with vocals apparently sung underwater, and the inexplicable second rendition of “Sing This All Together.” As if the opening version wasn’t bad enough, a syrupy rip-off of “All You Need is Love,” revisiting it (and adding the parenthetical “See What Happens”) was compelling evidence that sober minds were not at the helm. Seven minutes of noodling about before Jagger sings the chorus, do not merit inclusion on the album, especially considering there were two other, better songs, “We Love You” and “Dandelion,” recorded at the same time, yet released as an A/B single ahead of the album. That’s a missed opportunity. Toss in the Stones-do-McCartney closer “On With The Show,” and you have a third of the tracks that are pretty much rubbish.

It’s not all bad, however. The remaining numbers are certainly passable. “Gomper” has an Eastern flavor and some Byrd’s inspired 12-string work, making the case that all the experimentation wasn’t a failure. “She’s a Rainbow” remains the highlight, a perfect piece of psych-pop, and “Citadel,” “The Lantern,” “2000 Man,” and “2,000 Light Years From Home” show evidence of embracing the fashion as well as hinting at the acoustic blues they would hone to perfection soon enough, while righting the ship.

In the big picture, Their Satanic Majesties Request was just one of the five studio albums the band released in the four years that closed out the sixties, most of which retain their status as some of the band’s finest work. It would therefore be ridiculous to expect it all to be stellar. Despite it all however, Their Satanic Majesties Request still contains a handful of fair-to-good songs that simply couldn’t claw their way out from under the critical burial this album received. With the stereo re-mastering, it might be time to dig them up.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars