One of the reasons bands like The Rolling Stones have enjoyed such longevity is that they’ve created and played from the listener’s viewpoint. They’ve never appeared bothered about looking clever, or skilled as musicians. All that matters in the music is the effect it has on the audience – and you’d be amazed how many bands overlook that in deference to being flashy, or trendy, or attempting to look talented and second-guess the audience in some other way.
Ultimately, the vast majority of people who actually listen to (as opposed to perform) music, just want to hear sounds that affect them positively. There probably is a science to that, but by far the best way for a musician to furnish such a need is to create and play music not to showcase their talent, but to enjoy, themselves, as a listener.
The 1994 album Voodoo Lounge saw The Rolling Stones doing what they’ve always done best – shunning trend and ego, and being profoundly basic. Most musicians’ greatest flaw is egotistical temptation. “Let’s experiment with this, let’s add this, let’s put an extra bit in here…” NO! Just write the songs, and then play the songs. That’s the brief Voodoo Lounge fulfils. Simple, instantly digestible. The listener doesn’t need to know anything or understand a catalogue of background information.
But a look at the inlay for this album shows that the apparent simplicity is an illusion. That’s the clever part. The hefty production/recording/logistics team, the huge list of “special thanks to” credits, the wide range of additional musicians (some famous) whose names are dotted around the detailed programme schedule, and the shifting of location for various stages of the creative process, confirm in an instant that Voodoo Lounge was an exercise in deception. The result might sound easy, but you try creating an album like this.
These major projects, with massive backing and support, are not just about the band. Recording an album is one thing, but calculatedly recording a number 1 hit album is quite another. Every component is considered – including the spaces in between. Whilst lesser bands are busy deciding what they should do, these high level operations are busy deciding what they shouldn’t.
The ousting of audio cassettes by CDs was very well advanced by the time this album was released. Bizarrely, given how incredibly cheap compact discs are to produce, for years cassettes significantly undercut CDs on retail price, and from what I can remember there was still a small cost benefit to buying audio tapes over and above compact discs in 1994. At this time I was buying both CDs and tapes, and precisely why I chose one or the other is to a large extent lost in the mists of the distant past. It might have depended on where I was intending to play the media though. Which friends had CD players in their cars, which ones only had cassette players – that sort of thing.
In some ways, cassettes were being ‘let go’ by the recording labels. Almost all the brands had ceased using paper labels on their pop musicassettes, and the boasts about tape quality, the use of chromium dioxide coatings, etc, had fallen by the wayside. This tape looks in colour like an ordinary ferric formulation. The technology of the time meant that ferro-based tapes could be made to reproduce a good frequency range with low background noise, and this one doesn’t sound in any way deficient. But you do get the sense that the actual cassette has been produced as cheaply as possible without the fact becoming too obvious.
The recording apparently has Dolby B-type noise reduction, but it doesn’t sound like it. Run with Dolby B it sounds too woolly and appears to have that slightly gated effect which results from playing back standard recordings with noise reduction. The music sounds right to me without the NR, but there is some noise noticeable between tracks when you’re playing the tape reasonably loud. Not much, and it’s not a problem, but it’s enough to raise the question of whether there’s been a technical gaffe, or whether the cassette is really of the quality it should be. Remember, this was a 1994 product, competing with CDs and costing about £9. You have to be critical of its technical prowess in a way you wouldn’t be with something from a decade or more earlier.
I suppose one conclusion is that the record company blew the budget on the inlay, which is undeniably very nice, and has made for a great photo. But how much more attractive a proposition this product would have been with a more impressive looking cassette sporting a paper label, and a reassurance regarding the quality of the tape. Given that businesses will always want to shout about anything of superior quality, it can probably be assumed that the media used here was a little too ordinary to justify its retail price.