The Rolling Stones left a city of believers after they opened their tour at Fenway Park. It was hard to find a bad word about those performances. Even cynics who mocked them before they arrived last month had to admit the band still delivered, despite high ticket prices that put some fans in boycott mode.
Now comes the next step -- today's release of the new Stones album, ''A Bigger Bang." Unlike the concert, you won't need to be a business tycoon to afford it. And if you love the Stones at all, this is their finest record in more than 25 years, bar none.
At 64-plus minutes, it's their longest since 1972's ''Exile on Main St." And while many industry types are busy comparing the two, they should at least agree that both are classics. That wasn't the view when ''Exile" first came out. It received many negative reviews, which later prompted Keith Richards to say that he thought critics should write about an album not just when it shipped, but also six months later to reevaluate it. An intriguing concept.
That should not be necessary with ''A Bigger Bang." This is an instantly likable disc for fans who relish the visceral, guitar-rock side of the band. The music is not gussied up with horn sections or backup singers this time. And three songs feature just Mick Jagger, Richards, and Charlie Watts. These include the spare blues ''Back of My Hand" (echoing the Stones circa ''The Spider and the Fly") and the controversial ''Sweet Neo Con," widely perceived as a blast of the Bush administration, though Jagger won't confirm it. It's the only political song on the CD.
The strength of the record is its consistency -- something one couldn't say about the band's last three major releases, ''Bridges to Babylon" (1997), ''Voodoo Lounge" (1994), and ''Steel Wheels" (1989). Each of those records had its moments -- ''Saint of Me" on ''Bridges," ''You Got Me Rocking" on ''Voodoo," and ''Sad Sad Sad" on ''Wheels" -- but the new album is a lottery winner by comparison.
The 62-year-old Jagger still wants to play sex symbol in the new single ''Rough Justice" (barking that ''I know you still have that animal attraction for me"), but he's more open to his fragile side in tracks such as the shimmering ''Streets of Love," the anguished ''Biggest Mistake" (he sings, ''I took her for granted"), and the soul-cleansing ''Laugh, I Nearly Died," about traveling to Africa and Arabia in hopes of erasing a romantic disappointment.
Yet the album is wonderfully counterbalanced by some Jagger histrionics, as in the kiss-off tune ''Oh No, Not You Again" (a favorite at the Fenway shows) and the gritty, pedal-to-the-medal ''Look What the Cat Dragged In," aided by rapier-edged Richards and Ron Wood guitar bursts.
The anchor to all of this is Watts, who conquered throat cancer to get back into his drummer's chair. His recovery inspired everyone here -- and heightened the adrenaline behind the best Stones album since 1978's ''Some Girls."
Steve Morse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.