Disclaimer: Those looking for a brief description of the album will find what their looking for in the "Review Body" section. The section titled "Track Reviews" is meant only for those who want to read detailed descriptions of the songs, and they do not constitute the essence of this review. Lastly and most importantly, this review is probably not written by the point of view of a Rolling Stones fan.)
Overall Score: 3/5
Best song: “Too Tough” maybe
Worst song: “All the Way Down”
I've said previously in my reviews that The Rolling Stones were incapable of sucking. Substandard material yes, but the state of totally sucking was something that had thankfully evaded them until this point. It is my sad duty to report that Undercover is the first moment in their discography where I have to start backtracking that statement a little bit. The Rolling Stones are now starting to suck. Big time. To be sure, this album is very good when you compare it to Kiss' Animalize, but we don't want to compare The Rolling Stones to Kiss! The Rolling Stones' brand name represented nothing but quality throughout their lengthy career, and this is where they started to disappoint. That said, it shouldn't be a big surprise to any of us, since this album was made in the 1980s, and the '80s sucked for pretty much every pop star from the '60s. There weren't many survivors.
My first complaint about this album is the production absolutely BLOWS. I mean, the only two songs here that sound halfway decent are the boogie woogie “She Was Hot” and the Euro-dance “Too Much Blood.” The decent production on “She Was Hot” was probably just a fluke, but the latter can be explained by the fact that they were messing around with drum machines. Drum machine songs are clean and slick by design! Other than those, there's one word that can describe all these songs: “CLUTTERY.” There's just a lot of unneeded noise all throughout this, and it's almost enough to drive me nuts.“Undercover of the Night” is one of the better songs, for sure, and it has a nice dance groove, but I really hate that murky, echoey guitar sound they bring in occasionally. Truth be told, the effect I'm complaining about is just a small part of an otherwise fun song, but it just rubs me the wrong way.
Geez, all these songs seem to rub me the wrong each in their own unique ways. “Tie You Up (The Pain of Love)” has another catchy dance groove and it's marginally fun, but Mick's vocals are weird and they're muffled by the instrumentation! Although muffling the lyrics was probably more of a good thing in this case, since the lyrics are so disgusting. (Read the song title again... Yeah, it's about exactly what you think it's about.) The Keith-led “Wanna Hold You” is a really confusing song that doesn't seem to be able to get much of a foothold on anything. It's fast-paced and consists basically of a single hook being repeated over and over again... In other words, it's a retread of “Little T&A” except nowhere near as good! “Feel On Baby” is even more confused than that one, and it seems rooted in reggae. I'll give it full points for being weird, which I usually appreciate more than songs that are normal, but at the same time, it never captures me. Two minutes into the thing, and I just want to turn it away.
By the time the riff-rocker “Too Tough” comes about in the final third of this album, it brings with it a very welcome feeling. It's a Rolling Stones riff rocker! Never mind that it blatantly steals their own “Jumpin' Jack Flash,” it's fun to listen to! But even that song isn't immune to their tendency of over-cluttering these things... Did they really need all those guitars? I mean, in parts, it sounds like all of their guitarists overdubbed themselves twice on it. That really ruins the feeling! “All the Way Down” is really bizarre and not in the good way. It sounds like it started out as a perfectly tight and decent riff-rocker, but somehow Jagger got the notion that he had to half-rap over it. It doesn't work. Making it even worse are these strange, strange, strange interlude sections they come up with. There's no other way to describe them than just plain FREAKY! They seem to come out of nowhere and smack you around just for listening to them. If I was going to pick a low point of this disappointing Rolling Stones album, it's gonna be that song.
My feelings about Undercover aren't too unusual. It's either this album or Dirty Work that's considered their worst of all time. Naturally a worst album for The Rolling Stones would be the best album for Madonna—it's all relative you see. And you've probably noted that this review has been uncommonly negative for something that scored a whole 3! I guess that's why I need a scoring system! But here's what disturbs me: I'm beginning to think that I'd actually rather listen to Madonna's True Blue than this. Considering that True Blue blows, this doesn't bode well for The Rolling Stones. Not one little bit.
... Madonna ... Why do I talk about her so much? I'm obsessed, obviously. ... I've got to say that it's pretty hilarious that she keeps on trying to adopt African babies. Her legal woes would probably be lessened if she kidnapped them. I'm not kidding.
Undercover Of the Night B+
This isn't a very substantial sort of song... If I was to make an 8-CD compilation of the great Rolling Stones songs, I doubt there would be room for this... But it's a very fun sort of Euro club-dance song with a snappy electronic beat and an appropriately goofy lead performance from Jagger. (I'm not sure I care for that synthesizer that fades in and out, though... It just rubs me the wrong way.) It's missing quite a lot compared to their disco excursion from Some Girls, but it's still fun.
She Was Hot A-
This is a nice boogie-woogie-type song with some good crunchy guitar and a pretty dang catchy hook. But despite all this technical goodness, I'm still wondering where the hell all that good Rolling Stones magic went! It's hard to describe it... Do you know how songs just seem to leap out of the speakers at you and puts you in the middle of some freaky '60s cartoon? (What? That doesn't happen to you?) This song doesn't do that to me. It's a snappy song and it's good to dance to, but it doesn't have that otherworldly quality about it. It's like The Stones were just going through the motions, or something. Good song, but it's a very weak A-.
Tie You Up (The Pain of Love) B-
Yeah... You don't even have to have a particularly perverted mind to figure it out. This song is about what you think it's about! Even Jebediah the Amish kid knows! ...... Lyrics aside, this isn't a terrible '80s dance song as far as those sorts of songs go. They come up with a marginally catchy groove. I just wish it was more infectious or something. This is pretty weak for The Stones. Jagger's singing is so muffled by the instrumentation that you can't understand these disgusting lyrics without reading them! (OK... read them... I dares you... They made Tipper Gore brain break.)
Wanna Hold You C+
I've normally been a proponent of the idea that Mick Jagger is about 1000 times better as a lead singer than Keith Richards, but Mick has been so freaking spaced out throughout this whole disc that Jagger and Richards are pretty much equal now. ...But it almost doesn't matter, because I really don't care much for this song. It's a spiritual descendant of “Little T&A” from Tattoo You in that it consists only of one short hook that gets repeated forever and ever. The difference is that this hook isn't very good, and the production is a lot murkier. ...God, the production is something I should have mentioned in the other songs. The production is smell-city.
Feel On Baby C+
God... If you want ultimate proof that this album represents the utter nadir of The Rolling Stones, you needn't look much further than this confused mess. I mean, it's not *bad*, but you get the feeling that these guys were starting to completely lose it. It's based on a reggae groove, but the instrumentation layered onto it, such as a whining harmonica and strange synth-drums, make this into a really bizarre concoction. Sometimes The Stones' bizarre creations work wonders, but this song seems like it's about three minutes too long, and never gets out of this dreadful lull that it puts you in. ...Yeesh!
Too Much Blood B+
Yeah, while they were going to write cheapish '80s pop songs, they'd might as well just go all out and be utterly unapologizing at it. It sounds like Charlie Watts was briefly replaced with a scab drum machine for this one, and the funk guitars and horns do exactly what you think they should do. Jagger's vocals are pretty funny in this one... he occasionally stops singing and screaming to deliver a rap, which he supposedly made up on the spot. Very silly and enjoyable.
Pretty Beat Up B-
Not so much *bad* this time as it is utterly dull. Based on another simple dance groove and a marginally likable hook, but it fails to make an impression on me. I mean, if I was in the dancing mood, I would want to dance to it I suppose, but not even like “Dance, Pt. 1” made me want to dance. I like that squeaky saxophone solo, though!
Too Tough A-
Hey, this is more like it! When all else fails, bring back the riff-rockers! That would be my motto, anyway, if I was the Rolling Stones. Alright, the riff is pretty much the same thing as “Jumpin' Jack Flash,” but who cares? It's the Rolling Stones performing a memorable rock 'n' roll song! The production still seems a bit icky, though. It seems like this song ought to have sounded crisper and rawer... Not too sure why they had to make this sound so cluttery.
All the Way Down C
Awww... Here's another very confused sounding song, and that's a shame because the guitars sound like they're playing something that might have made a pretty tight and crisp song otherwise. Spoiled once again by the production, and, more importantly, Mick Jagger's weird singing... It's like he was trying to half rap with it... Bluh. It doesn't work. And making it all worse is inserting in these awkward spaced-out bits right where they are the most confusing. I was already scratching my head over the singing performance, but this is just freaky.
It Must Be Hell B-
This is another song that's OK, but it just doesn't catch fire. It's really disheartening to hear something like this since even Mick Jagger's belches seemed to catch fire only five years previous to this. But this riff rocker is just a big old clunky nothing. The glam riff doesn't have any power to it, and Jagger's ultra-layered vocals seem strange and, once again, cluttered. “Clutter” seems to have been a general problem with this whole album! Whoever thought that was a good idea deserves a good kick in the pants!
The Rolling Stones dishes out their first true disappointment in their catalog. It has its moments, but it's almost not even worth it.
Read More Rolling Stones Reviews By Starcollector!
England's Newest Hitmakers (1964) | 12 X 5 (1964) | The Rolling Stones Now! (1965) | Out of Our Heads (1965) | December's Children (And Everybody's) (1965) | Aftermath (1966) | Between the Buttons (1967) | Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967) | Beggar's Banquet (1968) | Let it Bleed (1969) | Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out (1970) | Sticky Fingers (1971) | Exile on Main St. (1972) | Goats Head Soup (1973) | It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (1974) | Metamorphosis (1975) | Black and Blue (1976) | Love You Live (1977) | Some Girls (1978) | Emotional Rescue (1980) | Tattoo You (1981) | Undercover (1983) | Dirty Work (1986) | Steel Wheels (1989) | Flashpoint (1991) | Voodoo Lounge (1994) | Stripped (1995) | Bridges to Babylon (1997) | No Security (1998) | Live Licks (2004) | A Bigger Bang (2005) | Rarities 1971-2003 (2005) | Shine a Light (2008)
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