It's fitting that A Bigger Bang is the first Rolling Stones studio album since 1986's Dirty Work to bear the band's image on the cover. No doubt the Stones put a lot of work into the albums between, but that was part of the trouble: It sounded like they were working, whether trying to will themselves back to full power with Steel Wheels, cycle through classic Stones sounds with Voodoo Lounge, or chase after new ones on Bridges To Babylon. On A Bigger Bang, on the other hand, they just get down to the business of being The Stones, and sounding like those guys on the cover (plus one long-serving unofficial member). It's the best effort The Rolling Stones have produced in quite a while.
There was really no reason to expect things to turn out this well. Mick Jagger's pretentious solo album Goddess In The Doorway and dull contributions to the Alfie soundtrack all suggested that old age had finally caught up with him. His bandmates, however, seem to have other ideas, namely making a proper Stones album. On A Bigger Bang. everyone sounds relaxed and committed to turning out memorable music, from the kickoff track "Rough Justice" to the Keith Richards-sung sendoff "Infamy." Jagger sounds like he's drawing on real heartbreak—not just songs about heartbreak—on the swelling weepie "Streets Of Love" and "Biggest Mistake." There's fire in "Let Me Down Slow" and venom in the poison love letter "Sweet Neo Con." (Jagger insists it's not about the Bush administration, which would totally explain those Halliburton references.) Jagger, Richards, and Don Was cloak it all in no-nonsense production, and it all works.
That's not to say that they've made a great album. In the end, A Bigger Bang is just another footnote to the glory days, and nothing here is going to dislodge "Jumpin' Jack Flash." But it sounds like they're trying again, not just putting out excuses to tour, and at this stage in the game, that's all they really need to do. A Bigger Bang blasts away some of the band's tarnish and burnishes its legend.