“It's Only Rock and Roll's consistency comes as a real surprise, especially after the occasional lameness of Goats Head Soup” (Landau). “At its simplest level the album deals with the psychosis of being in a rock 'n' roll band and having made it as a star – and it does that better than the Who's opus devoted exclusively to that subject, Quadrophenia. At another level it uses the relationship between a band and its audience as a metaphor for the parasitic relations between a man and a woman. At still another, in the best tradition of rock ‘n’ roll, it convincingly flaunts its own raunchiness” (Landau).
“The first cut sets the tone of the album by reminding us of pop's ancient double-entendre: that the word rock refers both to music and to sex. If You Can't Rock Me sounds like it ought to be about sex. But it starts with, ‘The band’s onstage and it's one of those nights.’ Only the chorus turns it back into the anticipated and angry fuck song” (Landau).
“It's uneven, but at times It's Only Rock and Roll catches fire. The songs and performances are stronger than those on Goats Head Soup; the tossed-off numbers sound effortless, not careless. Throughout, the Stones wear their title as the ‘World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band’ with a defiant smirk, which makes the bitter cynicism of ‘If You Can’t Rock Me’and the ‘title track’ all the more striking” (Erlewine).
“The verses to It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll sound like an assault on the audience. ‘If I could stick a pen in my heart/I'd spill it all over the stage ...’ It's only when they get to the bridge that their real target comes into focus: ‘Do you think that you're the only girl around/I'll bet you think that you're the only woman in town.’ They've fused their many resentments into a single vitriolic statement” (Landau). “Charlie Watts’ first drumbeat on ‘It's Only Rock 'n Roll’…resonates like the sound of a shotgun” (Landau). “But the song is more than an attack. Jagger sounds like he hates, but he also sounds convincing, not ironic, when he belts out, ‘I know it's only rock 'n roll but I like it’” (Landau).
“Their Ain’t Too Proud to Beg is still a lover’s plea but there's an undercurrent of resentment directed at the listener. By now, you can't tell whether the Stones are singing about people who watch them or people they live with” (Landau).
“On the album's first three songs the band renews its claim to greatness. Instead of coming off like cynics they sound like they're still vulnerable, afraid, capable of being hurt and able to respond with aggressive energy. They've returned with a vengeance to the wildness of their early records and the fact that they are more self-conscious than ever about it doesn't detract from the album's impact” (Landau).
“The Rolling Stones have been called sexists. On the basis of this album, they are plainly misogynists. Their antipathy to women comes across most bluntly in their blast at the woman waiting for Jagger to ‘… suicide right on the stage." But it's also there in an incidental line (‘Time can tear down a building or destroy a woman's face’) or an entire song (Short and Curlies)” (Landau). Still, that song and Dance Little Sister make for “agreeable filler” (Erlewine).
“Jagger’s tendency to see women and work as extensions of the same burden shows up in the weirdest places and in the funniest ways. On Luxury” (Landau), with its “reggae experimentation” (Erlewine), “he plays the part of a Jamaican factory worker with two monkeys on his back: ‘I’m working so hard, I'm working for the company/I'm working so hard to keep you in the luxury’” (Landau).
The “extraordinary” (Landau) “If You Really Want to Be My Friend is a tough ballad” (Landau) in which Jagger allows “his embittered view of the possibilities for men and women show up most powerfully” (Landau). “There is a time when the only thing that will do is the right note, correctly sung, and that [Jagger] couldn't deliver it. On ‘If You Really Want to Be My Friend,’ he doesn't bother with notes, whether rightly or wrongly sung. He sings it the way he sang the early soul ballads (‘That’s How Strong My Love Is,’ ‘Cry to Me’) – in a mannered, contorted, violent and outrageous voice. In so doing, he immerses us in the emotional turmoil of the kind of quarrel that only takes place when there is nothing left to a relationship but endless arguing” (Landau).
Meanwhile, “Till the Next Goodbye is almost poignant. Jagger conveys his desperation by simply saying, "I can't go on like this," while the band smolders beneath him” (Landau).
“Fingerprint File is a bit contrived, in the manner of ‘Dancing with Mr. D.’ on Goats Head Soup. He never quite convinces us that some nameless agent of a nameless power is really running him down” (Landau).
In “the aching beauty of Time Waits for No One” (Erlewine), Jagger sings “with a controlled desperation that borders on acceptance but never quite becomes resignation. Given the rock star’s inherent fear of aging, the song becomes an affirmation of Jagger's willingness to keep on trying in the face of inevitable doom” (Landau).
“That violence – transmitted through the singing, words and music – makes It’s Only Rock and Roll one of the most intriguing and mysterious, as well as the darkest, of all Rolling Stones records” (Landau).