Monday, July 17, 2023

Review: The Rolling Stones' 'Metamorphosis' Vinyl Reissue

Looking to take advantage of its vast library of vintage Stones tapes, ABKCO started planning an outtakes compilation in the mid-seventies. When Bill Wyman got wind of the project, he assembled his own list of songs he wanted released as Black Box, but Allen Klein supposedly balked at the lack of lucrative Jagger/Richards originals. He probably also wasn't crazy about Bill's reliance on live recordings and unfinished backing tracks. 

A deeper vault dig turned up the tracks that ended up on 1975's Metamorphosis. Of its sixteen tracks, only two are not Jagger/Richards songs: Chuck Berry's "Don't Lie to Me" (one of the few numbers Metamorphosis had in common with Wyman's Black Box) and Stevie Wonder's "I Don't Know Why" (credited on early issues of the record to Jagger, Richards, and oddly enough, Mick Taylor, who was serially denied credit for songs he actually co-composed). That should have upped the value of the collection for Stones collectors, but half of the comp's songs aren’t really Rolling Stones recordings at all; they’re demos of Jagger/Richards songs intended for other artists with Jagger supplying vocals and Richards apparently chipping in on guitar here and there. The other instruments on these demos were mostly provided by studio musicians under the Spectorian guidance of Andrew Loog Oldham

Several of the demos on Side A are fairly disposable. “Try a Little Harder” is much too cheery to be on a record with “Rolling Stones” printed on its cover, “Out of Time” is superfluous since it uses the exact same backing track as the one on Chris Farlowe's hit version, “Heart of Stone” is an overproduced spaying of the Stones’ lean version, and “Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind” is simply a bad song, and a badly sung one, too. But “I’d Much Rather Be with the Boys” is a neat girl-group pastiche, "Don't Lie to Me" is sloppy rock and roll fun, and “(Walkin’ Through the) Sleepy City” is a terrific piece of dreamy pop, its overproduction making it all the more magical. 

Metamorphosis earns its keep with Side B, which mostly consists of actual Stones recordings. There are some killer jams (“Jiving Sister Fanny”, “I’m Going Down”) and funky oddities (“Family”, starring Mick's blatant Dylan impersonation and disturbing lyric of severe familial dysfunction; a snarly demo of Jagger's Performance piece, “Memo from Turner”, that is the side’s one non-Stones track). Best of all is that version of Stevie Wonder’s “I Don’t Why”, one of the Stones’ very best covers, and a couple of outtakes better than some of the songs that ended up on the albums for which they were recorded: the Between the Buttons-era idyll “If You Let Me” and “Downtown Suzie”, an exhilarating Bill Wyman composition that really deserved a place on Beggars Banquet but probably didn't because Mick and Keith didn't want Bill thinking he was the next George HarrisonMetamorphosis may not be the Stones’ most timeless album, but its best songs make it an essential one.

Because of the nature of the recordings, Metamorphosis was never the best sounding Stones record. My old copy from '75 sounds a bit dull and near muffled. As the next installment of ABKCO's Stones reissue campaign, the latest vinyl version of Metamorphosis sounds a lot brighter, if a bit harsh at times on Side A. Interestingly, the best tracks sound the best with none of that harshness, and Side B sounds good all the way through. 

While some of the discs in the last round of releases I reviewed were cut too quietly, Metamorphosis sounds very comparable to the '75 original. Once again the vinyl is flat and well centered, with no crackle. There's only a slight bit of inner groove distortion on "I'm Going Down", which is another thing it has in common with my old copy. Unlike my oldie, the latest vinyl release of Metamorphosis includes the two countryish tracks trimmed from the original U.S. issue, "Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind" and the better "We're Wasting Time".

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