We…in our present life
Knew…that the stars were right.
That if you are the first to go
You'll leave a sign to let me know…
Tell me so…
Please…carry the lantern light.
You…crossed the sea of night
Free… from the spell of fright.
Your cloak it is a spirit shroud.
You wake me in my sleeping hours
Like a cloud, so...
Me… in my sorry plight.
You…waiting every night.
The servants sleep, the doors are barred.
You hear the stopping of my heart.
We never part, so...
Please…carry the lantern high!
The Lantern is a reserved and measured piece, and as such stands out against much of the psychedelic excessiveness of the album. Its lyric seems to function as an archaic cut in the album, similar to the effect of Lady Jane in the Stones album Aftermath. Keith Richards is precise and economical on acoustic and electric guitar (using a good bit of tremolo arm for an echoing effect), and there is a veiled hint of the blues playing he would feature in the next two or three albums. Charlie Watts emphasizes lines with a high impact strike on the drum followed by a tight roll. Nicky Hopkins provides his roadhouse keyboard. Horns in the breaks are muted and without improvisation, used to measure the beat more than anything else. They are a far cry from the screams the horns make in Sing This All Together.
The tone of The Lantern is mystical, and is closest to that of the imagery on the album’s cover. Evidently it is late at night, and the singer follows his companion through the house, up the stairs to some high view of the stars from which he hopes he will read good fortune. The song evokes tarot cards to me, especially the card of the Hermit, who holds a lantern in the Rider-Waite deck, popular for tarot readings since its release in 1909. The mysticism has, by this time in the late dominance of the genre, psychedelic roots as well, in the works of the Incredible String Band, Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, and Donovan. I find echoes in Donovan’s There Was a Time, released the same month, which imagines the singer as “born to be the hermit of my line”.
Mick Jagger casts aside his swagger and misogyny, and in The Lantern wears an attitude that is somewhat wispy and gestural, a voice from an earlier period in history, somewhat like a cartoon character drawn by Edward Gorey. We have a psychedelic drone here, long phonemes that Jagger holds at the beginning of the first couple of lines of each verse, and with which he kicks off the chorus with a plea; but the drone has broken from any sense of raga. Rather it seems to amplify the sound of the church bells that toll the hour at the beginning of the song. Jagger's new singing style of holding and amplifying notes (that first appeared in the recent single We Love You would continue into later records like Child of the Moon, and far beyond the psychedelic era into the early 1980s. To my ears, it’s a exaggerated singing style that Jagger picked up from Bob Dylan’s psychedelic period. .