“Like Emotional Rescue before it, Tattoo You was comprised primarily of leftovers, but unlike its predecessor, it never sounds that way. Instead, Tattoo You captures the Stones at their best as a professional stadium-rock band. Divided into a rock & roll side and a ballad side, the album delivers its share of thrills on the tight, dynamic first side. "Start Me Up" became the record's definitive Stonesy rocker, but the frenzied doo wop of "Hang Fire," the reggae jam of "Slave," the sleazy Chuck Berry rockers "Little T&A" and "Neighbours," and the hard blues of "Black Limousine" are all terrific. The ballad side suffers in comparison, especially since "Heaven" and "No Use in Crying" are faceless. But "Worried About You" and "Tops" are effortless, excellent ballads, and "Waiting on a Friend," with its Sonny Rollins sax solo, is an absolute masterpiece, with a moving lyric that captures Jagger in a shockingly reflective and affecting state of mind. "Waiting on a Friend" and the vigorous rock & roll of the first side make Tattoo You an essential latter-day Stones album, ranking just a few notches below Some Girls” (Erlewine).
“Often viewed as the band's last great album, Tattoo You contributed one true classic, "Start Me Up," to the Stones' canon. The song, still used as a concert finale, begins with a fat Keith Richards guitar riff and ends with a leering Mick Jagger murmuring about a woman who could "make a dead man come." The rest isn't as consistent as, say, Sticky Fingers, but the fast-paced "Hang Fire," the surprisingly non-sexy "Waiting on a Friend," and Richards's "bitch"-filled "Little T&A" make this the Stones' best '80s release by far. Released in 1981, it was the right album at the right time, with strong singles just after MTV began. With typical savvy, the Stones maneuvered gently into the video age” (Knopper).
“The last great Stones album? Leave that judgment to history, but this 1981 effort does seem to be the last time the band was totally in tune with the zeitgeist. Ironically, many of the songs had been written and recorded several years earlier, but Tattoo You hardly feels like an album of leftovers. Divided into a rock side and a ballad side, the material is confident and consistent, and there are even hints of a totally new Stones sound in the trashcan rockabilly of "Hang Fire" and "Neighbors." The big hit, of course, was "Start Me Up," a stadium rocker still capable of rousing the blood (even after its inclusion in the Windows 95 ad campaign), but the barrelhouse blues of "Black Limousine" is equally goosebump-inducing. The album culminates in the surprisingly reflective "Waiting on a Friend," a ballad that effectively features jazz tenor great Sonny Rollins and rates as one of the band's best ever. If this is indeed the Stones' last great record, it's not a bad way to go out” (Simels).
“After bum-rushing the '80s with Emotional Rescue, the Stones released Tattoo You, the second half of a potent one-two album punch that showed the band asserting themselves as they entered their third decade of music-making. Essentially made up of songs dating as far back as 1972 sessions for Goats Head Soup, the Stones' 1981 release is still a potent slab of swagger and sass. "Hang Fire" is a tight two-minute and twenty second redefinition of surf music, and "Start Me Up" is classic Stones, replete with Jagger's sexual braggadocio and Keith's patented "Honky Tonk Women"-style riffs. The bluesy shuffle that is "Black Limousine" is only surpassed by the cocky "Little T & A," sung by an endearingly raspy Keith Richards. Most impressive on Tattoo You is the wistful "Waiting on a Friend," featuring jazz giant Sonny Rollins wailing away on his saxophone as the song fades out” (CdUniverse.com).
“For too many years it's seemed almost impossible for the Rolling Stones to make an album that hasn't involved – at least partially – the problem of being the Rolling Stones. This difficulty dogged them throughout the Seventies–it's part of the responsibility of having lasted so long, I guess–and they responded to both it and their audience's need for constant redefinition with snideness (who wants to be told that "It's Only Rock 'n Roll"?), subterfuge and, often, a nearly total lack of grace. Sheltered from everyday concerns (the concerns that sing the blues), the Stones hid behind cynical denunciations of meaning, a pose that transformed everything – money, girls and ultimately the music–into so much disposable scenery. Musically, it meant grafting unwarranted au courant attitudes onto the dependable drive of the rhythm section. Lyrically, it signified glorying in distance and turning stances, slogans and promises into false currency” (Cohen).
“From today's viewpoint, much of the last decade consisted of camouflage – camouflage for an essential loss of nerve, an unwillingness to be seen unguarded for the length of an LP, or even a tune. But those years are over now, decisively, and with the triumphant release of Tattoo You, they seem shabby and sad. Just when we might finally have lost patience, the new record dances (not prances), rocks (not jives) onto the scene, and the Rolling Stones are back again, with a matter-of-fact acceptance of their continued existence – and eventual mortality – that catches Pete Townshend's philosophical maunderings in its headlights and runs them down. Tattoo You doesn't address the subject of maturity, or deny its onset, in a burst of satyriasis. Instead, maturity serves as the backdrop for rockers with real momentum and love songs with real objects, beginning with "Start Me Up," the catchiest Stones single in ages. "You make a grown man cry," Mick Jagger sings amid a clatter of handclaps and Charlie Watts' precision swing, almost as if he hadn't spent half his life trying to hold back the clock” (Cohen).
“That same thread of reasoned recognition runs through the entire album, as though a decade of posturing had somehow been digested into fuel for moving ahead. Tattoo You is a compact, unified statement – despite the fact that some of its tracks (or segments of them) reportedly date back several years. This unity is partly the work of Bob Clearmountain, who mixed the finished tracks and gave them his characteristic vacuum-packed clarity (you could bounce a quarter off each of Watts' rim shots). Mostly, though, it sounds like the Stones simply decided it was time to challenge themselves again. Why else sign up jazz great Sonny Rollins as a session saxophonist? Rollins plays on only three of Tattoo You's cuts, yet his gutbucket sagacity sets the tone for the whole LP. He even turns "Slave," a standard Stones blues jam, into something searing and passionate by establishing a level for the rest of the musicians to match. In "Neighbors," Rollins' solo has the full-bodied sound of classic R&B–always about to go over the edge” (Cohen).
“Raucous as a rent party, "Neighbors" is typical of the way the Stones use their past for present-day fodder. "Neighbors, have I got neighbors," moans Jagger, going on to accuse them of "saxophone playing, groaning and straining" and attempting to steal his woman–all of the things you'd expect if you had the Rolling Stones living next door. Such self-mocking allows the Stones to get away with the lyric's do-unto-others truism by putting themselves in the other person's place. It's also part of Tattoo You's surprising humanism, a welcome lack of contempt that's nowhere so evident as in the tunes that deal with women. The Philly-soul falsetto of "Tops" acknowledges that "every man has the same come-on" without faulting the man for trying (a trace of sadness here, maybe) or the woman for believing him. "Black Limousine" is as much a lament for the halcyon days of a relationship as it is a memory of glittering innocence. Even Keith Richards' "Little T & A" (full of wonderful chordal soloing and Richards' usual fuck-me-honey drawl) isn't immune: the place could be anywhere at all, but the girl is one of a kind” (Cohen).
“Tattoo You's finale, "Waiting on a Friend," sums up the record's notions of love, loss and acceptance: "Making love and breaking hearts/It is a game for youth/But I'm not waiting on a lady/I'm just waiting on a friend." Filled with attractive ambiguities and intimations of mutual dependency, the song is a celebration of maturity. "I need someone I can cry to/I need someone to protect," sings Jagger, and Rollins' sax picks up a calypso flavor, melodic and transcendent, at the end, as if the loved one had come into view” (Cohen).
“Are the Rolling Stones fooling me with all this? I don't think so. Am I fooling myself? I hope not. I do know that the vocal blend in "No Use in Crying" and the way that Mick Jagger drops from falsetto to full voice in "Worried about You" have the instant impact of a lover's touch–a strength that means far more than a mere return to form. I think it means that the Stones have settled magnificently into middle age, and that such an adjustment has given them back a power they long ago relinquished. This is especially clear in "Heaven," a paean to physical love that glorifies tenderness, not sweat and excess. It's an odd, hymnlike number, more reminiscent of Television than of anything by the Stones. In part, "Heaven" is a lover's talisman, a promise of protection: "Nothing will harm you/Nothing will stand in your way." Like all of Tattoo You, it begs the listener's trust. And, for the first time in years, the Rolling Stones deserve it. Deserve it in spades” (Cohen).
- Debra Rae Cohen, RollingStone.com
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
- Steve Knopper, Amazon.com
- Steve Simels, Barnes & Noble (bn.com)