The phrase 'ill-advised' is always bandied about whenever critics cover this phase of the Stones' career, but what is more ill-advised - settling into a cosy cul-de-sac that a straitjacket label like 'The World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band' leads to, or being brave enough to transcend genres with a vision of pop music as a limitless vista of endless possibilities?
For me, the Stones were at their best when they escaped the confines of R&B and widened their musical horizons, something they were equipped to do with aplomb courtesy of Brian Jones' ability to play any instrument he picked up. Now that 'Pop' has become as much of a restrictive dead-end as any other label, the province of test-tube boy-bands churning out focus group-approved ballads so saccharine Pat Boone would have baulked at singing them, it's refreshing to revisit an era when Pop was actually a platform for invention, innovation and adventure; and despite their best efforts to subsequently distance themselves from it and find money-spinning solace in the repetition of The Riff, the Stones were once as sonically ambitious as the Beatles, as this album proves.
I first bought 'Satanic Majesties' on vinyl in the 80s - that poor-quality 'flexi' vinyl typical of the period and housed in a cheap cardboard sleeve that began to disintegrate within months. I mainly bought it for '2000 Light Years From Home' and that seemed to be the only track I ever played before flogging the LP along with a bunch of others at my local second-hand record shop. But giving the album a fresh hearing 25 years later has certainly been worthwhile. In many respects, it's a miracle the Stones managed to record anything in 1967, let alone a brave experiment like this one. Of course it will always languish in the shadow of 'Sgt. Pepper', but that's an unfair comparison for any record to suffer and 'Satanic Majesties' deserves better.
There are some unsung gems hidden away on this record - 'The Lantern', 'Citadel', '2000 Man' - as well as a couple of acknowledged classics like 'She's A Rainbow' and '2000 Light Years' - and even if the extended stoned jam of 'Sing This All Together (See What Happens)' is cited as an example of the band losing their way, is it any more rambling than 'Revolution No.9' or some of the Doors' lengthy noodlings from the same period?
I agree the inclusion of 'We Love You' would have been welcome, but with its distinctly London take on Psychedelia, 'Satanic Majesties' reminds the listener of the crucial difference between dropping acid in £sd England and dropping it in LBJ America - that Lewis Carroll was always more of an influence than Timothy Leary. If Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley and Carroll had collaborated on a musical project in the 1880s, perhaps it would have sounded closer to this than the Grateful Dead; and if you feel, like me, that the Stones lost something a good deal more than a blond guitarist when Brian Jones left the stage, this album is worth investing in as a luminous artefact from an age when pop music was an intoxicating recipe capable of containing any ingredients its fearless alchemists poured into the blender!