The Rolling Stones’ eleventh studio album has long been seen as an acquired taste, plain fare compared to its immaculate predecessors: 1972’s Exile On Main St. and 1971’s Sticky Fingers. However, while it’s easy to see Goats Head Soup (its title inspired by a Jamaican aphrodisiac, apparently) as a missed opportunity – the band had decamped to Dynamic Sounds Studios in Kingston in late 1972, enthused by the possibilities of fusing rock with reggae – it retains a gritty charm of its own.
With Keith Richards mired in drug addiction and Mick Jagger revelling in his public image as a jet-setting Lothario, it’s the sound of a band establishing the stereotypes that remain with them to this day, with the whiff of sex, sleaze and violence ever-present.
A brand-new stereo mix and remastering brings these elements to the fore, adding a voodoo sizzle to Dancing With Mr. D, a strung-out desolation to Coming Down Again and a swampy majesty to Can You Hear The Music. But it’s the 10 bonus tracks – in particular the three previously unreleased ones – where things get really interesting. Criss Cross – familiar from bootlegs as Criss Cross Man – is a white-hot rocker in the All Down The Line mould, while All The Rage is equally spiky, Jagger sarcastically bawling ‘I want to be as cool as fuck!’ over a gnarly riff predating Respectable.
Scarlet, however, is something else altogether. Recorded at Island Studios in October 1974, with Jimmy Page on lead guitar, Ric Grech (formerly of Blind Faith and Family) on bass and Fairport Convention’s Bruce Rowland on drums, it’s funky as hell, with Keef’s machine-gun rhythm countered by Page’s liquid lead lines.
In terms of ‘lost’ Stones tracks, it’s not quite as good as 2010 discovery Plundered My Soul, but after 47 years in the vaults it has no right to still sound so fresh. But then, as the other out-takes – all previously unreleased mixes by producer Glyn Johns – prove, at this point the band’s creative juices were still in full flow, moving at will from slinky, proto-disco – an instrumental Heartbreaker – to the gospel-tinged honky-tonk of Hide Your Love. (The box set also includes Brussels Affair, a 15-track live recording from their autumn 1973 tour.)
Their creative studio peak might have (just) been behind them, but for a taste of the Stones at their down-and-dirtiest, Goats Head Soup will always be the dish of the day.