DIRTY WORK

Pre-production:
January 11-19, 1985: Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, France
January 23-February 28, 1985: Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, France

Recorded:
April 5-June 17, 1985: Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, France
July 16-August 17, 1985: RPM Studios, New York City

Overdubbed & mixed:
September 10-October 15, 1985: RPM Studios, New York City
November 19-December 5, 1985: Right Track Studios, New York City

Producers: Steve Lillywhite & The Glimmer Twins
Chief engineer: Dave Jerden
Released: March 1986
Original label: Rolling Stones Records (on CBS)



Contributing musicians: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Ron Wood, Chuck Leavell, Bobby Womack, Ian Stewart, Don Covay, Ivan Neville, Anton Fig, Steve Jordan, Jimmy Page, Alan Rogan, Charley Drayton, Philippe Saisse, Dan Collette, John Regan, Marku Ribas, Tom Waits, Jimmy Cliff, Patti Scialfa, Janice Pendarvis, Dollette McDonald, Beverly D'Angelo.

One Hit (to the Body)
Fight
Harlem Shuffle
Hold Back
Too Rude
Winning Ugly
Back to Zero
Dirty Work
Had It with You
Sleep Tonight
 
 
 
 
 


CREATION


Dirty Work was the most troubled period of our entire voyage. You can tell that because I've got four songs on the record - which is a clear sign that Keith and Mick's songwriting engine was not functioning properly. Things were getting increasingly worse between them, especially around the recording sessions for the album... On Undercover I had been more or less in the hands of Mick, who would come in with his skeleton of a song, which we would then work with. On Dirty Work it was very different - Keith and I were very tight. Although this period was a bad one for the band, it turned out to be great for Keith and myself. It was a time when I got married to Jo, and Keith was one of my two best men - Charlie was the other one. I was renting a house in Chiswick, where I had a piano and guitars, and Keith and I spent a lot of time hanging out there, working on songs for Dirty Work, designing and planning and zeroing in on the riffs for the album.

- Ron Wood, 2003


As a matter of fact, I think Mick's album was released on or near the same day we started. So in the early stages, we didn't see a lot of him. Ronnie and I had been working for a solid year on riffs, parts and things, you know, we just keep right on going. Ronnie and I can hardly talk to each other; we just tell each other jokes and keep right on playing.

- Keith Richards, 1985


I've written a lot of stuff. I've always got tunes. Keith's got a lot of tunes.

- Mick Jagger, January 1985


Mick had virtually used up his entire output of stuff for his solo album. Then, because of the time of its release conciding with the start of the Stones' recording sessions, and THAT coinciding with...Ronnie and I working together and having a whole load of stuff as a result, I just went ahead and got the band worked up on the stuff I'd written.

- Keith Richards, October 1985


I would think that at least half the album will be Jagger/Richards/Wood. There's no doubt about it, manily because Mick was very busy on his own - which is his lookout.

- Keith Richards, October 1985


(On the) Dirty Work album, Mick and Keith were at a low writing ebb, and they gladly accepted my songs.

- Ron Wood, 1998


It started off kind of slow but that's because we hadn't played together for a while, and we live in different countries. So, it's like, Hello, mate! What's you been doing? How's the wife? How's the kids? Oh, the kid passed some test at school, you know, you get all that jive. And then you just sit around and jam for 3 weeks or something, play a lot of early blues and '50s stuff, Eddie Cochran, Muddy Waters blues. You just play anything that comes into anybody's head. And you just JAM and get your chops back in. And then you start laying down rough ideas for songs. And then you just go through those and then you slowly pick out and play odd demos more and more and more...

- Bill Wyman, 1985


The great thing about Ronnie and me is that we really don't stop working. We're pretty much around the corner from each other all the time, and he LOVES playing. So we've made a point in the last year or two - this is what I mean, we did our last tour THREE YEARS ago - of going around to each other's place 2 or 3 nights a week and play. That way, we've kept the playing and the ideas flowing, so that there's much more CONTINUITY in the things we're doing. At least that's what I feel: we didn't just arrive cold turkey to start this record. The only difference was changing from acoustic to electric. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to the POWER of an electric guitar, especially full blast in the studio.

- Keith Richards, 1985


(It')s very nice to be back with the familiar faces, back to all the jokes you have and the grooves and tunes you can say Let's do that one! There's hundreds of tunes that the band can play. So that's nice... There's a certain kind of tension at the beginning of any recording session, even if it's the Stones. How's it going to work out? Until you get something under your belt you're a little nervous. But the demos were pretty good. I like having good demos. It makes the band say, Fuck that - we can do better than that garbage! Even though the players on the demos might have been really good. You don't always tell the band who they are. That sounds really good, Mick! Who's that?Oh... just some guys - when it's really some star drummer who dropped by.

- Mick Jagger, January 1985


Mick didn't seem to be enthused at the beginning. He just wasn't himself. We'd be saying, What's on Mick's mind? He'd be sitting there reading a paper or something and we wanted to rip it out of his hands and say, Get up here! That's all he needed, was a little kick and a little bit of support from the band. At first there were a few cold silences when we got together, but he got into the flow of it and he pulled his weight real well.

- Ron Wood, 1986


We messed around for weeks because Mick was still buggering around with his solo album instead of working with us. He would fly back to London in the middle of it which, I might add, is a thing that nobody else has ever done, because when it's Stones work, everybody drops solo projects. It kind of caused a bit of resentment in the band.

- Bill Wyman, 1985


The Rolling Stones will probably use a producer again at some point, but to produce a band like the Stones isn't easy. There's not that many guys who can really do a good job. A lot of guys who call themselves producers are really engineers. A producer, to me, is someone who has the authority to change an arrangement, a tempo. A lot of these guys are really just engineers who want to be called producers on the label. They don't have the authority to turn around and say, Hey, Mick, that's a bunch of shit, like Nile (Rodgers) or Bill (Laswell) would.

- Mick Jagger, January 1985


We were always on call. Ian Stewart would call up and say Well, it's time. Keith has just gotten up. So we knew we had two hours. We'd get up and go eat. But usually by the time we got the studio it was pretty late. Midnight would be a normal call. Sometimes it was later. Then we would work until whenever. Sometimes it was a couple of days before we left.

- Dave Jerden


Mick and I suddenly realized that it had been a long time since we'd had a real outside influence in the studio helping produce records - ever since Jimmy Miller left in 1973, really. Mick and I talked about it. We had Dave Jerden - Bill Laswell (who co-produced 6 songs on Mick's solo album She's The Boss)'s guy - engineering. He and Steve Lillywhite turned out to be an incredible team. The first day Steve walked into the studio, I said, Maybe you don't want to be the meat in this sandwich. But he handled every aspect superbly. It was very interesting to watch him build up respect from the band. It didn't take him very long to establish his credentials. He didn't jump up and down. We might do a great take and he'd say, Okay, that's it. None of this raving about, which would have been embarrassing for everybody. He was very cool. It didn't take long before everybody was going Yup (mimics nodding and winking). Surprisingly enough, we were LISTENING to this young kid!

- Keith Richards, February 1986


Steve Lillywhite, who had been working with Peter Gabriel, U2 and Simple Minds, came in on that album as the co-producer. That was essentially the result of some of Mick's investigations: he is always on the lookout for a new producer and a new angle to develop the band's sound for whichever decade we happen to be in. Using Steve was a Mick move and, as it happened, it turned out to be a good one... I think that Keith eventually took his hat off to Mick for bringing Steve into the frame, because he's still a good friend - although it's funny that we never actually worked with him again.

- Ron Wood, 2003


This is the first time since Goats Head Soup, since Jimmy Miller left us, that Mick and I have worked with another producer. We'd always thought we'd do two or three albums by ourselves and then get somebody else in, because you CAN'T be on two sides of the glass continually; and suddenly we realized it'd been TEN YEARS (laughs) we'd beeen sitting there saying we really should bring somebody else in... Having an outside opinion helps too, because it can get really incestuous at times, trying to produce yourself after five or six albums. Again, you can't really go LOOKING for somebody and find them; they just turn up. Steve virtually just turned up in Paris for a couple of days when we'd already been cutting for a couple of months. Then he called when he got back to London and said, Yeah, I think I'd like to do it.

- Keith Richards, October 1985


They'd done about 3 months in Paris when they got me in. I started in May. When I got there 75% of the songs had been written. A few more came out after I got there. I think I brought them together and played on the strength of the what the band has. After a few weeks working with people you find out who does their best work when. I found that all of them were pretty good early on: first, second or third take. It was really a case of keeping the early ones and remembering where all the good bits were. It got a bit crazy, so you had to log things in your mind. The sessions were always based on work and jamming. It wasn't as if everyone stopped if one of them wasn't there. They'd always be playing. If Mick wasn't there, Keith might sing. If Charlie wasn't there, Ronnie might do some drums.

- Steve Lillywhite, 1986


Charlie's not a guy who really likes to tune his drums; he's a rhythm man. But Dave (Jerden) would tune his set every day, depending on what song we were doing - which was great.

- Keith Richards, 1985


In the end I tried to keep it as basic as I could, 'cause that was what fit the music. Why change something if you know when it's right it's good? Normally Charlie would be the happiest when he worked out his own groove. Sometimes I actually got him to play MORE cymbals, accent a few things more. He'd play them and look in the control room at me.

- Steve Lillywhite, 1986


Steve would encourage us, arrangement-wise, to put in a break. Whereas by ourselves we might try it once, say, It's too much goddamn trouble, and just steamroll through it. He'd encourage us to get it right. It's dynamics. When you don't use a producer those are the things you allow to escape. It's just too much trouble to play it and be in the control room listening to it. When you're leaping about doing two jobs at once, dynamics and arrangements are the first things that suffer...

- Keith Richards, February 1986


Speaking for myself, this is one of the best teams I've ever worked with, Dave Jerden and Steve. THEY haven't worked together before either, so that magical mixture, the chemistry behind the board, has been one of those things that comes along for the Stones once in a while, like with Miller for Beggars Banquet.

- Keith Richards, October 1985


When we were mixing in New York, Steve Lillywhite changed the speed in one song, sped it up a little bit, and it was hardly anything. Keith walked in and he just went ballistic. He goes Nobody, fucking nobody, fucks with the Rolling Stones! That tempo was cut at that speed and it stays at that speed!

- Dave Jerden, engineer


Keith had a baby in the middle of the sessions, and Charlie cut his hand opening a miniature bottle. We didn't think we could drum for some weeks. All the frustrated drummers in the band thought, Now's my chance! and rushed to the drum kit. Mick would keep a rhythm going, and Simon Kirke (of Bad Company) played a bit. But nothing he did was used on the album. No, Simon has been coming along to Stones sessions as a mate for years. If you recall, Charlie came home from Paris because he damaged his hand, and had to rest. When he got to the airport, the press jumped on this absurd story that he'd walked out on the sessions and wasn't going back. It had absolutely nothing to do with that.

- Bill Wyman, 1985


A few times Keith and I felt like killing people, but we picked up our guitars and wrote songs instead. That's how we came up with Fight, I've Had It with You and One Hit (to the Body). We've all been spared long jail sentences by being able to play our music.

- Ron Wood


I also still play a lot of bass (with the Stones) - four numbers on Dirty Work.

- Ron Wood, 1988


As far as who played what, it was largely a matter of first come, first serve. Bill came in, did some lovely bass work. I think Ronnie's on three of four tracks. He's sort of taking over Brian Jones' old job, which was just to flit around from instrument to isntrument and pick out the necessary thing.

- Keith Richards, October 1985


(A)part from Winning Ugly, (Keith) used his blonde '59 Tele almost all the way through.

- Alan Rogan, guitar technician


The record took a year to make, and it was hard. It wasn't an easy record to make. Mick and Keith were at loggerheads at times.

- Dave Jerden


(Mick and I) hardly got the chance to fucking fall out, he was there so infrequently! It was just Charlie, Ronnie and me trying to make a Stones record. It was very unprofessional of Mick. Very stupid.

- Keith Richards, 1988


I thought they were going to break up. They were having a lot of problems, a couple of the guys were stretched out, probably Charlie more than anybody at that time. They were working separately... The peacemaker that kept that group together, as far as I'm concerned, was Ronnie. He just had that extra spirit and life that it takes to be in a band. Plus he was younger, he had the energy, and he was willing to take the beating and be the fall guy for whatever that went down.

- Bobby Womack


I must say that while Mick wasn't there at the VERY beginning, he's done a great job on the lyrics, and a lot of the musical ideas that we had already built up, he changed 'em all around and did a lovely job on them.

- Keith Richards, October 1985


I think (Bobby Womack) gave Mick some advice on the vocals for a number of the other songs on Dirty Work - Back to Zero, Winning Ugly and One Hit, as well as Harlem Shuffle. Mick would ask me, Do you think Bobby would help me? and I'd say, He'd LOVE to.

- Ron Wood, 2003


I don't think there was really a lot of extra tension on this album. Maybe there were a couple of more incidents, mainly to do with the timing of Mick's solo album and so on, and Mick wasn't there very much at the beginning so there were a couple of misunderstandings. But nothing more than usual. It just seems everybody knows about our problems this time (laughs).

- Keith Richards, 1986


I... it's strange, 'cause I usually like to talk about an album I've just made, but with this, I just feel as though I don't want to say so much. It is Keith's album to a great extent. I mean, he wrote those songs because of Mick's solo commitments. I would definitely say it was a Keith Richards-inspired record. Mick did a little bit as well, but all you need to put about this is that it was a Keith Richards-inspired record.

- Steve Lillywhite, 1986


Let's put it like this. It's a Stones album. If I've had a little more to do with it and a little more control over this one, it's the same to me as the middle-70s when Mick would cover my ass when I was out of it. Because of the timing of Mick's solo album, he wasn't there as much as the rest of us in the beginning when the mood was getting set. In that sense, yes, I took over the job. The same way he would do if it happened to me. We cover each other's ass. We've done it very well for each other over the years.

- Keith Richards, October 1985


(W)ith Dirty Work, I built that to go on the road. It was like Some Girls. Deliberately structured so that every song could be played live, simply, easily. Then we finished the record and Mick suddenly said (Jagger impression) I ain't gahn on nah fakkin' rawd. So that was the plug pulled from under me.

- Keith Richards, August 1988


(Ian Stewart would) encourage me to carry on with Dirty Work, to get the record finished. He wasn't too happy with it, either. Making a Stones record had always been a breeze, a laugh. It had never been a hassle. But he was still there every night, never giving up.

- Keith Richards

 
 
 


APPRECIATION


I wanted to put out a real STONES album, which we always manage to do in odd periods. This was a real concentrated effort. We left a lot of good stuff, interesting stuff, in the can because everyone wanted to - if we could, if it could be done again - make a classic Stones record with certain themes that have recurred over the years, both musically and lyrically... The fact that everyone has been active has given this record much more of an edge, more of a defined FEEL as the Rolling Stones, because we didn't have to go in there and start from ground zero. It has a sort of coherence about it, more than anything since maybe Some Girls, for me.

- Keith Richards, October 1985


In most respects I'm happy with the album but it's not my album. It's OUR album. So there's obviously things I see differently. So does everybody. Of course I haven't been involved in the final decisions. It's always been like that with this band. In the old days, we were all there and got too many opinions. I mean, I would've liked more bass on this album. I would've mixed it differently. But it's not my album and Mick and Keith are the coproducers. That's the way they want it, that's the way the get it. But I genuinely like it, I'm just picking hairs. All my work was done in Paris in 5 or 6 months. I did come to New York in August to do some tidying up - editing 10-minute songs into 4-minute songs to the point where my original bass line was gone, so I had to redo it. From then on, Mick might come up with better lyrics and a song I knew in Paris as Dirty Dog might be released as Back in the USA or something. My job is as bass player. That's what I do. Also some synths maybe. But I don't mix, master, or choose the LP covers. If someone PUSHED themselves in situations like that, this band wouldn't be around any longer. It would have folded up 15 years ago. You can't have too many egos in the same band. You gotta just swallow your pride. We know who's who in this band, and it works well that way. We're all trying to make the best record. Besides, the songs really choose themselves. Out of 30 songs we record, the best 7 will just rise to the top. Then there's the narrow gray area, so we'll start saying, Oh, let's save this slow one when we need a slow one, 'cause we have too many here.

- Bill Wyman, February 1986


This is the first album in a new contract. We'd be IDIOTS (not to tour). It'd be the dumbest move in the world not to get behind it. We've got a good album here! Spent a year making it and putting our backs to the wall. Why toss it away?

- Keith Richards, February 1986


I think Dirty Work is a great record but, I mean, there are other things to do in life (besides go on tour).

- Mick Jagger, March 1986


Does it sound good, then?

- Charlie Watts, April 1986, not knowing
the album had been released


Dirty Work I built pretty much on the same idea as Some Girls, in that it was made with the absolute idea that it would go on the road. So when we finished the record and then... the POWERS THAT BE - let's put it like that (laughs) - decided suddenly they AIN'T gonna go on the road behind it, the team was left in the lurch. Because if you didn't follow it up with some roadwork, you'd only done 50 percent of the job. (The album didn't do all that well because) there was no promotion behind it. As it came out, everyone sort of said, Well, they've broken up or They're not gonna work. So you got a lot of negativity behind it.

- Keith Richards, 1988


The album wasn't that good. It was OKAY. It certainly wasn't a great Rolling Stones album. The feeling inside the band was very bad, too. The relationships were terrible. The health was diabolical. I wasn't in particularly good shape. The rest of the band, they couldn't walk across the Champs Elysées, much less go on the road.

- Mick Jagger, 1989


(It's n)ot special.

- Mick Jagger, 1995

(The '80s was a d)ifficult period... There's a couple of good things on Dirty Work.

- Keith Richards, July 2002


Touring Dirty Work would have been a nightmare. It was a terrible period. Everyone was hating each other so much: there were so many disagreements. It was very petty; everyone was so out of their brains, and Charlie was in seriously bad shape. When the idea of touring came up, I said, I don't think it's gonna work. In retrospect I was 100% right. It would have been the worst Rolling Stones tour. Probably would have been the end of the band... (Charlie was doing drugs and drinking.) Keith the same. Me the same. Ronnie - I don't know what Ronnie was doing. We just got fed up with each other. You've got a relationship with musicians that depends on what you produce together. But when you don't produce, you get bad reactions - bands break up. You get difficult periods, and that was one of them.

- Mick Jagger, 1995
 

The important body of work, say from Beggars Banquet through to Exile. And then again Some Girls. I like Tattoo You very much and I like Dirty Work very much.

- Keith Richards, 1995, asked what are his favorites Stones albums
 
 


 


REVIEW EXCERPTS


The group's twin-guitar firepower hasn't sounded half as grungy or as lethal since Exile On Main Street. With the exception of a ballad, a reggae-style number and two funk tunes with big, booming bass parts courtesy of guitarist Wood, this is shaping up as an album of driving, uptempo rockers. It's all in a more contemporary vein than Stones purists are used to - there isn't one remotely Chuck berry riff to be heard anywhere, and the closest comparison might, in fact, be to Hüsker Dü. Stones associates are beginning to call the as yet untitled record Keith's Album because of the large amount of work Richards has put into the project...

- Robert Palmer, Rolling Stone, December 1985,
previewing the album


For rock to grow up doesn't mean it has to be pompous, tootless or cowardly and the Dirty Work-era Rolling Stones are none of those things.

- New Musical Express, 1986


I never thought I'd get off on a new Stones album this much again. After almost two decades on top, they seemed too convoluted to come out with such direct, hard-driving music, but it's folly to underestimate their survivorship, so I'm not surprised that they did. The sure thing was that they couldn't make me care about it - that no adjustment in the music or persona could jolt what they said or how they said it past my sensorium and into my soul. And I was wrong. Dirty Work is a bracing and even challenging record. It innovates without kowtowing to multiplatinum fashion or half-assed pretension. It's honest and makes you like it. It's only Rolling Stones, yet it breaks down their stifling insularity, as individuals and as an entity. Since the last time the Stones released a surprising record - Some Girls, eight years ago now, a third of their famous career out the window - the Stones have turned into exceptionally disgusting rock professionals. That doesn't mean it's been possible to dismiss them or their music - what's made them so disgusting is that you couldn't... There's nothing pathetic about the Stones. That's what's made them worth hating in the '80s...

In the end it's the production that will make or break this album critically, where it's sure to put off purists, skeptics, and snipers, and commercially, where it's almost sure to pull in trendies, children, and curiosity-seekers. Not that it isn't plenty basic, don't get me wrong. Based on riffs worked up by Ron and Keith before Jagger sullied his consciousness with them, the arrangements are the simplest on any Stones album since Some Girls if not Aftermath... This record is going to fuck the heads of the young chime addicts who think U2 and Big Country are guitar bands. It's clean and even modish, but until the side-closers it's utterly unpretty, and its momentum is pitiless. Jagger bullies up into a steady bellow that has all the power of Plant or Hagar and none of the histrionics.... (T)he second side is the prize. I give you Winning Ugly, Back to Zero, and Dirty Work, their meanest political statements in 15 years, and not for want of trying. These songs aren't about geopolitical contradictions. They're about oppressing and being oppressed... For once his lyrics aren't intricately ironic. They're impulsive and confused, almost jottings, two-faced by habit rather than design, the straightest reports he can offer from the top he's so lonely at...

All that's missing, in fact, is one identiriff classic, a Jumping Jack Flash or Tumbling Dice or Start Me Up that could define a summer and shove the tough stuff - Winning Ugly and Dirty Work are two of the most unpleasant songs anybody's going to write about the '80s - down America's throat. Identiriffs are Keith's department, and thus I'm not inclined to trumpet this artistic comeback as his vindication. Sure it's his recidivist guitar that makes Dirty Work hot, but if you'll pardon my saw, it Jagger's offhand input that makes it matter. We should be thankful the old reprobate didn't lavish much personal attention on it, that he just plugged into his Stones mode and spewed what he had to spew. Let him express himself elsewhere. The individual Rolling Stones can have their own disgusting lives and careers - I don't care. What I want is the Rolling Stones as an entity, an idea - that's mine and yours as much as theirs. And it's the Rolling Stones as an idea that Dirty Work vindicates.

- Robert Christgau, Village Voice, April 1986


One Hit, a leaner, meaner, faster take on the Gimme Shelter riff, sets the tone here. Unlike Shelter it never threatens to tear loose from its moorings and launch into some roiling, run-way Götterdämmerung (hey, it's the 80s, remember?), but it do kick ass. Musically, Undercover's gangaphonic reverb bath reverts to more familiar, scrappy rock 'n' roll, centered on Keith and Ron's consciously dirty guitar work. Thematically, it's more about unconscious aggression... Why take any of this seriously? Maybe because Jagger sounds genuinely frustrated, torn, awkward, and yes, vulnerable (well, a little...), and if you don't think that's progress, go back and hear how he handled Midnight Rambler... And if Boy Id himself is willing to grapple with the implications of the shadow imagery he once merely mimicked and reflected, then I say good for him, and good for the band. Of course, as long it's only rock 'n' roll, we'll like it anyway. But don't you wonder what Hüsker Dü'll be doing twenty odd albums down the pike?

- Vic Garbarini, Musician, May 1986


The first time I heard Dirty Work from start to finish, I couldn't tell whether I'd end up liking the album or writing it off... You have to learn to hear a new Stones album for what it is rather than for what you expected it to be; after 20 years' worth of records, expectations are inevitable. After living for Dirty Work for a week or so, I like it a lot. On it the Stones do what they do best, and do it with drive and conviction. It's a driving, high-energy rock 'n' roll record, a dance record, awash in strangled moans and snarling guitars... Keith Richards' elemental guitar riffs have always been the band's backbone, though by now his playing is also tightly meshed with Ron Wood's. One reason Dirty Work works so well is that the two guitarists laid foundations for most of the songs before Watts and Wyman arrived and while Mick Jagger was recording and then promoting his solo album. When Jagger plays a major conceptual role in the planning of an album, he tends to be eclectic, even experimental; he doesn't want to be accused of Just Doing The Same Old Thing. The resulting albums sometimes sound a bit scattered, uneven - Undercover, for example. But Richards has a deeply felt, single-minded vision of what the Stones should sound like: that sound is supercharged, guitar-band rock 'n' roll with reggae, funk, and soul seasonings, as heard on Dirty Work...

EVERY tune changes textures and moods to underline or contrast with the lyrics, and each has its little sonic surprises. The dub-style mixing is subtly applied to rock 'n' roll, and the album as a whole is programmed for both continuity and dramatic impact... I've been wrong before, but so far this album sounds like a keeper from start to finish.

- Robert Palmer, Spin, May 1986


Do we ask too much of the Rolling Stones?... The Stones' music has sniffed at every trend from psychedella to disco, yet it's gone nowhere slowly; it's still basically the same warped Chicago blues they started with (especially on Dirty Work in Had It with You), plus a little reggae. Amid ups and downs, they've always known how to make a solid rock record in ways Mr. Mister or the Pet Shop Boys could never imagine. Yet every time the Stones get around to releasing an album, we expect them to do more – to take us by surprise, make us laugh and gawk, tell us what the hell is going on. Dirty Work does that, but only now and then; it's more like a product than a statement, although it's a little of both. With Winning Ugly and Dirty Work, this is the Stones album for the yuppie era, defining – and defying – the complacent nastiness of the mid-1980s as Gimme Shelter caught the crumbling hopes of the late Sixties and early Seventies. I wrap my conscience up, Jagger spits out on Winning Ugly. I wanna win that cup and get my money, baby; this tune won't be on the party tape at the business-school reunion. Dirty Work takes an extra ironic flip. Addressed to some hypothetical you who will sit on your ass till your work is done by someone else, the song runs, You're a user, I hate ya. Is the song about the audience that depends on the Stones for its sleaze quotient? About the record company? Or the Stones themselves, well-documented users of people and substances?...

Dirty Work could be better – more unified, less posed. But that's judging it against the Stones catalog. On its own terms, Dirty Work has its share of memorable moments... Unlike most of the hook-mad bands of the 1980s, the Stones assume their listeners can handle more than one guitar line at a time. You can take your pick: singing single notes in Sleep Tonight, reggae and blues and studioperfect hooks in Winning Ugly, overlapping country twangs in Dirty Work, sharpened rhythm chops and careening slides in One Hit. I don't find much true grit in the lyrics to Hold Back or One Hit or Had It with You, but the guitars cut through to some rock & roll essence. As the years wear on, it must get harder to be the legendary Rolling Stones, that famous band of decadent badasses. One week Jagger smiles for photographers at his baby's christening; another week he's in the studio singing, Gonna pulp you to a mass of bruises, trying to put some gumption into it. Maybe it's all some megaconcept about lack of ethics and insincerity. To me, though, Jagger's She's the Boss, with its cartoonishly cocky lyrics, and Dirty Work both suggest a 1980s identity crisis within the Stones – not as musicians but as pop guerrillas, exiles on Main Street. While Winning Ugly and Dirty Work show they're still alert, the rest of the album fudges, giving old answers to new questions. I'll still dance to it – and I'll still expect more next time.

- Jon Pareles, Rolling Stone, July 1986


Dirty Work is a tattered, embarrassed triumph, by far the most interesting Stones album since Some Girls at every level: lyrical, conceptual, instrumental. For one, Dirty Work lacks any concession calculated to win a segment of the marketplace: no disco crossovers like Emotional Rescue, no AOR anthems like Start Me Up. What gives Dirty Work its fitful power is the aggression the Stones’ handlers have hyped since they were supposedly the anti-Beatles. Except now they’re not “channeling” (read “exploiting”) anger, as they did on the marvelous secondhand belligerence of Some Girls: they’ve surrendered to it; they’ve agreed to loathe each other. Hence the most venomous guitar sound of the Stones’ career, and Jagger’s most committed vocals. Despite copping to tired ‘80s subjects like nuclear apocalypse (“Back to Zero,” the album’s lone turd), all this aggression is reflexive. As Robert Christgau—still the album’s most lucid defender—noted, these are songs of conscience only well-known sons of bitches can get away with...

(I)t's on Hold Back where Jagger, the “voice of experience”, really lets it rip. That Keith and Ronnie add particularly sympathetic fills to a song defending self-interest underscores its malevolent irony. Jagger, “caught in this tree of promises for over 40 years”, gives us lesser mortals the sort of advice that only a plutocrat who’s never worked a day in his life can offer. See, since Stalin and Roosevelt “each took their chances”, you gotta trust your gut reaction, so don’t hold back. Mick’s performance is irony-free; he’s pissed about something, shouting and braying like he wants to gnaw at the microphone. Lilywhite earns his paycheck: the guitars surround, taunt, and goad; the drumming by Watts or Wood or whoever shoves Jagger down a flight of stairs. The rhythm guitar coda is superfluous, an afterthought; how could it be anything else? In “Hold Back” the Stones, finally, embrace their image: they’re dangerous, they don’t wanna hold your hand, they want your money. It’s a masterpiece.
- Alfred Soto, "On Second Thought", Stylus Magazine, 2004


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