Anniversary Album: 30 Years of ‘Voodoo Lounge’ by The Rolling Stones

In July 1994, the Rolling Stones released an album in Voodoo Lounge that very much played to their strengths. That they were able to do it without a charter member of the group (Bill Wyman) was a testament to their resilience.

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What they didn’t do was push the envelope too far, a fact bemoaned by Mick Jagger after the fact. Nonetheless, Voodoo Lounge holds up extremely well, and on its 30-year-anniversary, it’s a perfect time to revisit this record.

Bye Bye Bill

In 1989, The Rolling Stones released the album Steel Wheels, which came after a period of enmity between band leaders Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Perhaps not wanting to push their luck by coming back too soon into the hothouse environment of the studio, it would be another five years before Voodoo Lounge arrived.

In the interim, Bill Wyman, the band’s bassist since their inception, decided that it was time to get off the rock and roll merry-go-round. The Stones auditioned bassists, and ultimately left it up to drummer Charlie Watts to decide who should join. Watts went with Daryl Jones, which probably wasn’t too surprising considering Jones had experience with Miles Davis and Watts often said he preferred jazz to rock and roll.

Both Jagger and Richards came into the making of Voodoo Lounge fresh off making solo records. The band did extensive writing work throughout 1993, both in Barbados and then at guitarist Ronnie Wood’s home in Ireland. They headed into making the record with a boatload of material on hand, which could be why the album doesn’t contain too many clunkers, even though it checked in at 15 songs.

Mick Jagger voiced concerns after the album was released that producer Don Was pushed the band away from some of the more ambitious, rhythm-driven pieces they had concocted. That little bit of a schism came to more of a head on the band’s next record, Bridges to Babylon in 1997, as Jagger and Richards ended up recording parts of the album in different studios from each other to make sure their different stylistic preferences were represented.

Lounge Music

Jagger’s complaints aside, Voodoo Lounge actually covers a lot of stylistic ground. Granted, there are a few up-tempo rockers, like “You Got Me Rocking” and “I Go Wild,” which the band does very well but had done many times before. Lead single “Your Love is Strong” lets Jagger get into sweaty, sultry mode, again a strong point but not exactly novel territory.

But as you dive deeper into Voodoo Lounge, you start to get into areas into which the band didn’t dip all that often, or at least hadn’t in a while. The harpsichord-drenched “New Faces” sounds like one of the band’s baroque pop singles circa ’66 and ’67. “Sweethearts Together,” featuring fun vocal interplay by Jagger and Richards, sounds like the Stones doing The Drifters.

The ballads are uniformly fine throughout the record as well. Richards shines on the album’s penultimate track “Thru and Thru,” which was later used memorably on The Sopranos. Jagger gets into sad-sack mode quite well on the piano lament “Out of Tears.” “Blinded by Rainbows” is an earnest anti-war plea you might not expect from a band known for their jadedness.

Voodoo Lounge probably won’t get mentioned on too many lists of the Stones’ best albums. The high points aren’t as heady as some of their classic records. But it’s as consistent as any of their post-’80s albums, and there are more than a few surprises waiting for those who haven’t checked in with this one since it was first released three decades ago.

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