The Rolling Stones were never what one would call a ‘Summer of Love’ sort of band. The bleakness of “Paint It Black” and put down of “Get Off of My Cloud” were hardly destined to be become hippie themes. But when The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper in 1967, everything changed. Concept albums were suddenly the latest ambition, no doubt thanks to certain mind altering substances. However The Stones were always an R&B band at heart, so the notion of them ever pulling off a psychedelic masterpiece would have appeared ridiculous at best. However that is exactly what they strove for, on Their Satanic Majesties Request, a record even the band itself looks back on with disdain.
Eight months in the making, Satanic Majesties has precious few quality songs, and plenty of extraneous ephemera. If The Stones were wanting to create their very own Piper At The gates Of Dawn they failed miserably, even if it did peak at number 3 in the UK and number 2 in the US.
The Eastern-flavoured “Sing This All Together”, despite the impressive production, doesn’t really go anywhere, although there are some moments of brilliance during the guitar break. “Citadel” sounds more like some sort of psychedelic piss-take than an actual real song. On “In Another Land” Brian Jones gets to explore his increasing interest in musical exotica, although by this point the mushrooms have obviously kicked in resulting in a serious lack of melodic focus. More convincing is “2000 Man”, and while not exactly flawless, it’s the kind of song The Kinks could have handled better. Side one ends with the abysmal “Sing This All Together (See What Happens)”, all ‘let’s drop acid in the forest and pretend that we’re elves’ along with a heavy dose of Syd Barrett. As an acid backdrop it almost works, but as The Stones it’s rubbish.
On side two the band come up with a winner, on “She’s A Rainbow”, a minor Baroque-pop masterpiece, it is easily the best song on the album, even if it does lack much of the grit of their earlier singles such as “Satisfaction” and “Mother’s Little Helper”. “The Lantern” has Jagger and Richards putting on their best Ray Davies impersonation, although the guitar playing contains some of Keith’s finest of the record. “Gomper” has them hanging out with Ravi Shankar and is one of those tunes that ought to have remained on the cutting room floor. Not even George Harrison was quite this tedious.
The effects laden “2000 Light Years from Home” has plenty of interstellar organ a la Pink Floyd, but little else to recommend it. And what can be said about “On With the Show” other than to warn the listener to proceed with a great deal of caution.
If The Stones were attempting to come across as musical innovators they needn’t have bothered, because they had already well and truly proved themselves as purveyors of the blues-rock tradition and would continue to do so over the next several years so long as they steered clear of Pepper-esque frivolities and remained true to their roots. Which is exactly what they would do on their next album, Beggars Banquet. English whimsy simply wasn’t their forte and Jagger and Richards were certainly no Lennon and McCartney (who apparently helped out on backing vocals). Even Keith Richards has gone on record as saying Their Satanic Majesties Request was “a load of crap”. The 3-D album cover is a psychotropic hoot by the way, and worth the expense alone even if much of the music isn’t.