Dirty Work

The Rolling Stones

Columbia Records, 1986


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Back in the mid-'80s, there were some people who honestly believed that the Rolling Stones were past their prime and years past when they should have retired.

Of course, this was long before works of excellence like Bridges To Babylon, which prove that Mick Jagger and crew can still kick it with the best. But digging back a bit in the Pierce Memorial Archives (long-time readers understand the name), one could understand why the critics were having a field day with the Stones.

Two words: Dirty Work. And while it has one or two semi-decent moments to it, it often turns brutal.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Just from the lead-off single "Harlem Shuffle," you could tell that this album was in serious trouble. Granted, it was a change in direction from the all-out rock and roll that the Stones had tried to do on albums like Undercover and Emotional Rescue, but it just wasn't the greatest direction that the band could have moved in. Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts sound downright uncomfortable on this track. (Though it's been years since I saw the video, the Fritz The Cat-like cartoons that went with the video didn't help matters much.)

The other single, "One Hit (To The Body)", holds the most promise on the whole album, but even this is tainted by the overall sound and feel of the album. A rocker in all senses of the term, Jagger gets a chance to sway like a rooster on this one, but it hardly serves as a showcase for the rest of his bandmates.

Even the two songs that Richards sings on Dirty Work, "Too Rude" and "Sleep Tonight", fall flat. The former is a poor attempt at reggae-flavored rock; the latter drags on far too long.

Of course, one would think that the Rolling Stones couldn't go wrong on straight-out rock, right? Wrong. Cuts like "Fight," "Had It With You" and the title track not only sound like they could have been outtakes from the Tattoo You sessions, but they hardly qualify as the Stones's best songwriting efforts. The sound on "Had It With You" is atrocious; I can't make out one note that Wyman plays. (Part of the blame here goes on co-producer Steve Lillywhite.)

After experiencing an album like Dirty Work, it's easy to understand why one would think that the Stones were through. Even the moments of brilliance on Steel Wheels three years later wouldn't totally erase the doubts that some people had. The sad fact is, Dirty Work is the one job that should have been left unfinished.

Oh, well, there is at least one bright spot - the band didn't release a live album of the shows supporting this disaster.

Rating: D

User Rating: C


Five things...

First off, Charlie Watts was in the throes of addiction, therefore Steve Jordan, Anton Fig and even Ron Wood filled in on drums and percussion. There wasn't going to be a tour because Watts was in no shape to tour and Jagger knew it. One of the few times Jagger's been correct and the rest of the group's been wrong.

Secondly, you can't hear Bill Wyman on "Had It With You" because Wyman wasn't there. In fact, nobody's playing bass, not Keith, not Woody, not Ivan Neville, not John Regan. Woody plays rhythm sax, however.

Third, "Tattoo You" was itself an outtakes album, with only "Heaven" and "Neighbours" not having been overhauled from a previous album.

Fourth, how can a review of "Dirty Work" not mention the great lead work of Jimmy Page on "One Hit"? Granted, it's a bit buried (that's something to blame on Lillywhite and the Glimmer Twins), but it's such a great part, truly the work of a guitar god.

"Dirty Work" is by far the worst Stones album, but I'd rather listen to it than the howl of a colobus.

© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.