The Sticky Fingers album catches the Stones in transition

STICKY FINGERS: controversial and arguably career defining, yet atypical of the Rolling Stones. First time around, the 1971 album knocked The Beatles off number one, despite the noise surrounding the sizeable bulge in the unzippable jeans of the Andy Warhol-inspired cover. That iconic cover hid a blues-rock masterpiece.
These days, the reissue of a seminal album has become a standard part of the music industry’s repertoire. Sales are falling, why not enhance them with bestsellers endowed with enticing extras? When the content is so intriguing, why not indeed.
Sticky Fingers was never the brash, gnarling record that Rolling Stones fans had come to expect. When it first appeared, the lack of rock bite made the release a surprise and far from universally popular album, albeit one the Londoners were widely forgiven for.
It was written – slowly by Stones standards – in the aftermath of Brian Jones’ drowning and amid the murder allegations that surrounded his drug-fuelled demise.
Like many great albums, time provided context. Hit by circumstance and the resulting change of mood, Sticky Fingers redefined brilliantly an already iconic band.
The new Rolling Stones were poppier, yet indulged in lengthy, almost ad-libbed moments of guitar brilliance. Whilst doused in overtones of depression, sexual frustration and less than subtle drug references, they’d also edged towards pop.
The shine on the reissue is a simple, unintrusive remastering: this is still a flowing album, clawing together blues rock influences and considered life experience. It builds a beautiful whole around sublime singles and lyrical sharpness.
Of course, decades on, it’s the attached rarities that will excite fans.
The most essential is an alternative version of Brown Sugar. Instantly memorable, it adds Eric Clapton on crisp slide guitar, giving the track a looser feel. Fans might have come across the bootleg version before, but this tightened studio track is a brilliantly surreal remaking of a classic.
The extended rendition of Bitch has heavier edits still, with lyrical changes that include the omissions of Richards’ famous Pavlov’s Dog reference in favour of lines on loneliness and drug use. There’s an improvised version of Can’t You Hear Me Knocking in which you can almost feel the better known form of the track take shape, and a sublime acoustic cut of Wild Horses.
Splash out on the super deluxe version – an inevitable add on – and you get a 1971 live recording from Leeds, a book rammed with essays on the album’s recording and assorted posters and cover rarities to go with it.
A generation later, and with the world of pop music as openly sexualised as it is, Sticky Fingers doesn’t have the shock factor that its initial release offered, and familiarity has long since burnt the melodies of the likes of Brown Sugar and Sway into rock fans’ consciousness.
There’s not a lot here that really crosses the line from “revision” to “new”, but nevertheless it’s a polished new insight into an outstanding album. The glance into the collective minds and songwriting might of the Londoners is a worthy offering in its own right.