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(Late Period Albums, Videos and Appendices Section)



APPENDIX A: My Review Of The Stones' Moscow Concert



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Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11

Outtakes of varying quality, yet probably a must for any true Stones fan.

Best song: I DON'T KNOW WHY

Track listing: 1) Out Of Time; 2) Don't Lie To Me; 3) Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind; 4) Each And Every Day Of The Year; 5) Heart Of Stone; 6) I'd Much Rather Be With The Boys; 7) (Walkin' Thru The) Sleepy City; 8) We're Wastin' Time; 9) Try A Little Harder; 10) I Don't Know Why; 11) If You Let Me; 12) Jiving Sister Fanny; 13) Downtown Suzie; 14) Family; 15) Memo From Turner; 16) I'm Going Down.

Teaming up with the long-forgotten Andrew Oldham, Allen Klein, who was and still is holding the rights to all of the Stones' pre-1971 material, dug around the huge archives and released this rather patchy collection that includes a couple alternate versions of well-known tunes ('Out Of Time', 'Heart Of Stone'), but mostly consists of songs you ain't ne'er heard about if you're not a rabid bootlegger. Now in the Western world this album, as far as I know, still remains unavailable on CD, probably the most glaring gap in the Stones' collection, and, as usual, due to the commercial smell of Mr Klein who's happy to make us shell extra bucks for the miserable number of original songs on Flowers but still holds Metamorphosis to himself as he's not too sure if the release will bring him extra pocket money or no. But hey - here, in Russia, it has finally been released, with a proud little sticker on the cover that says 'first time on CD', which makes me ever so proud of my lil' country. Damn the copyright. (Whew). The only thing that's missing are the liner notes, but at least they took the liberty to reprint Andrew Oldham's stupid poetry ('this new elpee is for your home rack with songs and stars to take you back'). To tell you the truth, I've never been a fan of his prose, either: the famous lines about 'see that blind man, knock him on the head' were blatant and silly, and I doubt if they ever managed to raise the band's rating in the eyes of anyone.

Anyway, the record itself is not really all that great. After all, outtakes are outtakes, and, while the Stones do have a lot of great outtakes (presumably) that I ain't never heard, these ones hardly rank up there with something like, say, Let It Bleed, or even with selected 'minor' albums like Goats' Head Soup. The two sides of the album roughly correspond to the R'n'B/pop epoch (1965-67) and the blues/rock'n'roll epoch (1968-69), and both have their ups and downs. The biggest down is, of course, that most of the tracks are underarranged; and if listening to the original albums has never made you wonder about the band's arranging skills, you need to consider Metamorphosis to be convinced that clever arrangements are really one of the Stones' fortes.

On the song level, the first side does contain a couple lost pop gems that could, with a little work, occupy their rightful place on Aftermath or Flowers. 'Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind' is one of these, a jolly, upbeat, acoustic-driven ditty with a simple, but catchy melody, and an occasional piano or bell tinkle to add a light psychedelic flavour. And the last two songs on that side are potential masterpieces: '(Walkin' Thru The) Sleepy City' continues to milk their Kink-ish vein, adding more haunting British images with more music hall piano and church bells throughout, and the great anthemic, almost martial feel of the song makes me wonder if Mick and Keith were under the particular influence of 'Dead End Street' or 'Big Black Smoke' at the time. Finally, 'We're Wastin' Time' is a dang waltz! Not a countryish one, like 'Dear Doctor', though, but again, a British music-hally one, with the piano once again overshadowing the guitars and vocal harmonies that try a bit too hard to sound Beach-Boyish, but also with a fascinating melody that simply can't be denied, and a somewhat out-of-place, but very 'diversifying' stingin' guitar solo in the middle.

Everything else on the first side is totally throwawayish - sorry to say that, boys and girls, but some of these numbers are just embarrassments, and I fully understand how Mick and Co. really resented the release of the record at the time. Songs like 'Each And Every Day Of The Year', with its overabundance of sap and total lack of melody, would better be left for Davy Jones of the Monkees, while the countryish shuffle 'I'd Much Rather Be With The Boys' just doesn't seem to fit my idea of what the Stones really sound like. Herman's Hermits, okay. The Monkees, okay. But the Stones? They rarely do honour to this style, and the falsetto vocal harmonies are awful. Finally, the above-mentioned alternate versions either add nothing to the originals ('Heart Of Stone' has some more of these off-key vocal harmonies that make me cringe) or sound far worse (you can have a good laugh at the orchestrated version of 'Out Of Time' for the first time, but nothing will make you love this version as much as the original). So the only track on here that's simply 'decent', not 'really good' or 'really bad', is the generic R'n'B number 'Don't Lie To Me': enjoyable, but far too similar to their already well-known R'n'B numbers like 'Talkin' 'Bout You' or 'Little By Little' or 'Down The Road Apiece' to open a new page in the tattered Stones' book.

Now the real meat comes on the second side; most of the stuff there is at least above average, if not more. Apparently, there was so much great material composed at the tail end of the Sixties that even the outtakes were uniformly stronger and more effective. The best one is their passionate workout on Stevie Wonder's 'I Don't Know Why' - this is Mick's showcase all the way round; I mean, the guitarwork is quite strong, but it's primarily Mick's alternating wailings, roars and subtle whinings ('I don't know whyyyy I love you baby') that make the grade. Okay, so Mick Taylor's guitar solos are exceptionally strong, too. 'Try A Little Harder' and 'Jiving Sister Fanny' are two exceptional pieces of blues rock, with Taylor at the forefront again; the melodies are rather generic, of course, but the raw feel and power of the notorious Keith/Mick interplay are undeniable (I simply can't resist that opening riff to 'Jiving Sister Fanny'! Now that's rock'n'roll for you!)

And the 'less bluesy' stuff is great, too. 'Family'! Ever heard that one? Echoey guitars, minimalistic, pulsating drumming from Charlie, and a nearly 'Sister Morphine' feel to it. The lyrics probably overdo the 'traditional family values bashing' bit a little, with lines like 'what exactly's gonna happen, tell me/When her father finds out/That his virgin dream has bordello dreams/And that he's the one she wants to try out'; but the lazy, ominous vocal delivery and that incredible haunting feeling that nobody but the Stones could master in their prime make this a definite highlight. With a little bit of further arranging work, the song could have been a perfect sequel to the horrors of 'Sister Morphine'.

'If You Let Me' and Bill Wyman's 'Downtown Suzie' are two lesser tracks on here, but with charms of their own (funny that the latter has an overall 'sleepy' atmosphere to it in the beginning, just like 'In Another Land' - does this tell you anything about Bill Wyman?; later on, the melody starts resembling 'Casino Boogie' a little); and 'I'm Going Down' is a 'Soul Survivor'-style rocker which means I'm not a fan, as the melody is far too unnoticeable, even if the energy is all there. Finally, the LP (or, in my case, the CD) features the shorter and superior version of Jagger's solo showcase 'Memo From Turner', an incredibly vicious society-thrashing anthem culled from the soundtrack to the infamous movie Performance. Superior, cuz it's much more heavy on the guitars and is presented as a real rock'n'roll number here, not just a mantraic chant, as it is shown in the long version present on Singles Collection.

Plus, my CD issue has a bunch of cute bonus tracks! Ever heard the pretty bluesy jam 'And Mr Spector And Mr Pitney Came Too', from the early days? How about 'Andrew's Blues' (aka 'Fuckin' Andrew')? Rumour has it that it was recorded on the same day as 'Now I've Got A Witness' from their debut album, and if only the recording engineers had made a bloody mistake and swapped both songs, the Rolling Stones' career would have happily ended the very day that the record came out. 'Well, Andrew Oldham sitting on a hill with Jack and Jill/Fuck all night and suck all night and taste that pussy till it taste just right...' EH? HOW'S THAT? I wonder who's singing that one, as it sure ain't Jagger. Brian Jones, mayhaps? What a wonderful blues, anyway. Plus, there's a blistering sharp, poppy version of 'Blue Turns To Grey' that's at least ten times better than what they actually released. Far more Beatlesque, acute, precise and magnificently harmonized. Who was the jerk that made the take selection, I'd like to find out.

In all, unlike most of the 'normal' Stones records, this one has to grow on you a little to be appreciated. I can only give it a 6 (and remember, a 6 is a pretty good mark for a five-star band anyway), as there's way too much filler, on one hand, and far too few really great gems, on the other ('I Don't Know Why', 'Family', 'Memo From Turner', maybe 'Jiving Sister Fanny' and 'Sleepy City' all qualify, but the rest never reaches the heights we're all used to); but it's still an essential purchase for fans, if only there comes a day when it becomes easily available on CD. We'll probably have to wait until the Horned One invites Mr Allen Klein to dinner. Not that I'm really asking you to precipitate that moment! Do you really think I'm that kind of person?



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 13

Just a bunch of jams - but these are The Jams Of The Giants!

Best song: FOOL TO CRY

Track listing: 1) Hot Stuff; 2) Hand Of Fate; 3) Cherry Oh Baby; 4) Memory Motel; 5) Hey Negrita; 6) Melody; 7) Fool To Cry; 8) Crazy Mama.

Badly, badly, oh so badly, underrated. The trademark Stones' 'groove' album, Black And Blue doesn't have any concept, any message, frankly speaking, it doesn't even have too many songs - just eight, and most of them are grooves. Okay, so it's obvious that the Stones gave up on "messages" two or three albums ago (depending on your personal views), but nowhere is this so blatantly obvious as on Black And Blue that 'it's only rock'n'roll but I like it' indeed. Only 'Hand Of Fate' and 'Memory Motel' can be treated as serious compositions brought to finish, and even then they're not very typical.

Recorded in 1975, right after Mick Taylor got the message (or, rather, sent it - nobody still understands quite well what brought Mick to this decision exactly), this was a serious mess: tons of session players arriving and departing, lots of other friends like Billy Preston visiting, so that in the end you hardly hear the Stones themselves. You can actually see Ronnie Wood, the band's new guitar player, on the back cover of the album, but there's not that much Ronnie on the album: at the time of the sessions, he was just another in a series of persons invited for 'guitar audition', which included Harvey Mandel of Canned Heat fame, Wayne Perkins, Ronnie (all of which you can hear on selected tracks here), and - as rumours say - even both Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, although I can't really confirm that. It wasn't until Ronnie's previous band, the Faces, had officially split up at the end of 1975, that he took up the official position, and so most of the guitarwork here falls on the shoulders of Mr Richards, making it a Let It Bleed of sorts. Joking, of course.

Despite all this, the resulting album was surprisingly strong. The typical accusation is that the compositions don't really go anywhere - for the most part, things like 'Hot Stuff', 'Melody' or 'Hey Negrita' just represent the band having mindless fun in the studio. But don't forget that this is not just any band: this is the Rolling Stones, and nobody can make a silly groove and turn it into a near-breathtaking experience as efficiently as these guys. The entire album feels so homely and cozy, as if the band were just sitting in a corner of your living-room and jamming away and you were there watching 'em and admiring 'em. And if you ever complained of the 'post-classic' Stones albums being too slick and polished, here's ample proof that this wasn't really that obligatory. That's not to say the album feels too rough or too underproduced: not at all. All the instruments are firmly in place, and the sound is crystal clear, allowing us to hear basically everything that's going on, every single little grunt from Jagger and every single little guitar pluck from Keith. This is the Rolling Stones gracefully allowing us into the midst of their creative activities, and at the same time making the final product more 'artsy' and accessible.

Another interesting feature is that Black And Blue might just be the most diverse piece of product in the entire Stones catalog - apparently, with the controls set to 'jam mode', the Glimmer Twins paid no attention to the exact genre they were practicing. Out of the eight numbers, no two ones fall into the same category, and thus you'll probably hate at least something on here. But hey, that's what eclectic people like me are for - I'm perfectly able to identify with every one of these eight songs, and consider this album - together with Satanic, though that one was an entirely different affair - ample proof that the band was always able to reach far further than the 'rootsy' tag stuck on them by those who can't see very far.

Let's just have a brief overview to prove that. 'Hot Stuff' is the band's first (but definitely not the last) excursion into the world of disco, with a complete mastery of the form - the main guitar riff upon which the groove hangs is impeccably creative, plus Harvey Mandel adds some wonderfully fuzzed-out guitar solos that make your head go round. Let not the length bother you - remember, disco grooves were supposed to be long ('Love To Love You Baby', anyone?). Then, a radical change of style with 'Hand Of Fate', a desperate bluesy rocker, a fine and passionate vocal performance from Mick, and Wayne Perkins' ringing solos making a near-perfect replacement for Mick Taylor. Then - another radical change of style with a reggae sendup, 'Cherry Oh Baby', which seems to be one of the band's most universally despised songs, but I don't really get why so many people pretend to take this obviously parodic, tongue-in-cheek, goofy number so seriously. I just go wild over the 'yeh-ay-yeah-ay-yeah-a-a-yeah-a-a-yay-yays' which might be the funniest moment on the album. And finally, another radical change of style with the moving epic ballad 'Memory Motel' with both Jagger and Richards at the piano. This one can bring you to tears.

And that's just the first side. The second side opens with the Latin-tinged rockin' groove 'Hey Negrita' (Ronnie Wood's participating - the first example of the classic Richards/Wood interplay), continues with the oddball jazz sendup 'Melody' (Billy Preston on keyboards) that'll definitely have you caught up in all the fun with a terrific 'chaotic' coda, and culminates in the cute 'soft-pop' ballad 'Fool To Cry', which some also despise because it reminds them of Barry Manilow, but hey, once again, people just don't feel the tongue-in-cheek character of the song. Hint hint hint: pay closer attention to the lyrics. Another hint hint hint: listen to Jagger's wailings of 'I'm a fool baby yeah' at the end of the number, which is pure delight. Last hint: pay close attention to Keith Richards' neat tricks on the guitar. The line which leads from the last refrain into the coda (right before Jagger starts wailing 'I'm a fool') is what I'd characterize as 'emotional killer'. And we fizzle out with a bombastic glam-rocker, 'Crazy Mama', which is more Slade than Stones, but since I have nothing against Slade, that's all right by me.

As a deep lover of diversity - particularly successful diversity - I have no other choice but to give the album a 13. Simply put, this is one of the finest 'lightweight' albums in existence, and I applaud the Stones, and Mick in particular, for deciding to let it out as it was, without overslicking the performances and without depending too much on contemporary fashion to avoid any possible accusations of 'bandwagon-jumping'. I don't care that the songs are underdeveloped or unfinished, because this is what they're meant to be - the record is so deeply adequate it almost hurts. This (and not It's Only Rock'n'Roll) is a fine and respectable swansong to the Mick Taylor era, and no Stones lover should overlook it. As they - unfortunately - often do.



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 12

Everybody's happy and having fun, but you have to play those guitars too, you know...

Best song: BROWN SUGAR

Track listing: 1) Intro: Excerpt From "Fanfare For The Common Man"; 2) Honky Tonk Women; 3) If You Can't Rock Me/Get Off Of My Cloud; 4) Happy; 5) Hot Stuff; 6) Star Star; 7) Tumbling Dice; 8) Fingerprint File; 9) You Gotta Move; 10) You Can't Always Get What You Want; 11) Mannish Boy; 12) Crackin' Up; 13) Little Red Rooster; 14) Around And Around; 15) It's Only Rock'n'Roll; 16) Brown Sugar; 17) Jumpin' Jack Flash; 18) Sympathy For The Devil.

A not half-bad live album. Sure, it ain't no Ya-Ya's, but what is? How could a live album released in 1977 superate a live album released in 1970 anyway? (Yes, punk, power pop, and Kiss included in the list). Basically, the guys just enjoy themselves. Mick doesn't give a crap about singing, more intent on displaying the inflatable phallos and just fooling around; Ronnie is probably just standing on his head all of the time he isn't quietly sipping on something invigorating in the corner; Bill Wyman is credited for 'bass and dancing', and thus, the only guys who do all the dirty work are Keith, with his riffs in all the right places (which sometimes sounds almost weird - all that hard work just for Mick to come up and spoil everything), and Charlie who just can't allow himself to play bad, regardless of the circumstances. The day that Charlie gets off rhythm, rock'n'roll dies a permanent death.

Nevertheless, despite all the complaints, on a pure gut level it all works, and letting go of the prejudices (and having adjusted a bit to an utter lack of melody, tone, expression, whatever, in Jagger's "concert-ready, pseudo-punk-styled" vocals) you find yourself somehow enchanted by this jolly atmosphere. The newer songs, liberated from their studio production sheen and tightness, still manage to rule. Thus, 'Hot Stuff' shows Ronnie can do a mean solo if necessary, and the entire dance groove is faithfully preserved, with percussionist Ollie Brown adding up some extra beat to keep you going. 'Fingerprint File' almost succeeds in reproducing the mysterious atmosphere of its studio original, even if it takes some time getting used to: after all, the song's essence hardly fits the regular arena-rock formula, and it's only understandable that the song was rather quickly dropped out of the Stones' live repertoire. It's still engaging, though. 'It's Only Rock'n'Roll' was obviously a live favourite by that time, too. The only minor flaw is that 'If You Can't Rock Me', having been pretty formulaic and pointless in the studio, is just awful on stage, and joining it with a bullshit rendition of 'Get Off Of My Cloud' wasn't necessarily a good idea.

Meanwhile, Keith is allowed to sing on 'Happy', which he somehow manages to pull off without too much trouble. Indeed, besides that odd pair nothing on here seems to suck in a direct way: rather, some of the slighter songs are undermined by a kinda 'pedestrian' treatment, like 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' which is put at the mercy of Ronnie (why on earth did they think his madman imitations of solo playing belong in the middle of that song?) or 'Honky Tonk Woman', which is just a pale shadow of the grumbling, scary live version found on Ya-Ya's. So basically you'll encounter a TON of good material here, but most probably, you'll receive an equal TON of minor disappointments. You'll live over some of them and forever despise some of the others - that's my standard feeling towards the album, and I dare say it'll coincide with yours.

Side C, however, is an entirely different matter and a clever diversion: played at the El Mocambo club in Toronto, it gives us a long-forgotten chance to witness the boys in action in a small club environment rather than within the standard arena-rock show (actually, a first chance rather than a long-forgotten one, as this is the Stones' first and only official live recording of such a small venue). The song selection, too, is appropriate, enough to bring up nostalgic reminiscences of the good old days: it's nothing but just four old blues/R'n'B tunes. Muddy Waters' 'Manish Boy' is fantastic, with Mick and Keith exchanging their 'oh yeahs!' until they choke; Bo Diddley's 'Crackin' Up' is nothing particularly special, but they sure can't go wrong with such old classic standards of theirs as 'Little Red Rooster' and especially 'Around And Around'. That good old Keith, when he's in the mood, he sure can crank up a good Berry-lick (at least, he could in 1977). Funny enough, it's also the only four tracks on the album where Mick's singing is perfectly acceptable - he actually goes out of his way to recreate the sly menacing intonations on 'Rooster' and properly enunciates the lyrics to 'Around And Around'. Man, these little clubs can really work wonders.

The last side, however, brings us back to ea... er, to the arena environment, where the guys close with a bang with the usual classics. Again, complaints can be voiced (SING THOSE NOTES, YOU MOTHERFUCKER!), but you really can't go wrong with the immortal classics, can you? 'Brown Sugar' is played at least three times faster than the original, and incorporates a totally mind-blowing, unbelievable guitar solo from Ronnie. Ronnie? Is that really Ronnie? Playing with such precision at such speed? Anyway, I have a deep suspicion that that actual solo was overdubbed later in the studio... as it - sad to say - often happens with the Stones' live releases. 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' is 'Jumpin' Jack Flash', and 'Sympathy For The Devil', while no longer featuring the irresistable Taylor/Richards guitar interplay, substitutes that for a good deal of spooky chaotic noise and a truly devilish atmosphere that was somehow forgotten on the Ya-Ya's tour in favour of proud professionalism.

So it ain't no Ya-Ya's, like I - and everybody else - have said, but it's still good. Whatever. Lots of defects, lots of 'em, but apart from Mick's disgusting blabbering, there's no justifiable reason for considering the record a particularly low point in the Stones' career (or a prime example of a washed-up band, or "one of the reasons why punk rock had to happen", all that crap). Instead, just take it for what it is: an unabashed, drunk, wreckless party for a band that was still the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world. And will always be, as far as I'm concerned.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 13

Jagger embracing disco and punk, with mostly good results.

Best song: MISS YOU

Track listing: 1) Miss You; 2) When The Whip Comes Down; 3) Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me); 4) Some Girls; 5) Lies; 6) Far Away Eyes; 7) Respectable; 8) Before They Make Me Run; 9) Beast Of Burden; 10) Shattered.

Before I start joining the general chorus of violent rave-ups on the absolute greatness of Some Girls (rave-ups which are not that far from the truth, actually), I want to say that I really don't know why this record is so much praised and Black And Blue so universally despised. Because, to be fair, Black And Blue was a heartfelt, inspired, joyful groove with an experimental and even somewhat uncommercial edge, whereas Some Girls, immaculate as it is, is in its essence nothing but an excellently produced piece of pure commercial product. While Keith was dealing with his drug problems (the infamous Toronto bust of 1977 and the ensuing cold turkey), Jagger took the lead, listened to some contemporary music like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols and... er... Kool & The Gang? - and crafted this album. It's certainly brilliant, chockfull of hits and sustaining the level of energy and professionalism even throughout the more obscure songs, but it just don't have that heartfelt feelin' I'm a-likin' the most. 'Commercial' is the word for it: it was obviously made up specially for the public, to show that it was yet too early to write the Stones off as 'dinosaurs' (there I go with that stupid word again) and that they could still find a niche among the younger generation while managing to sound steady, self-assured and definitely non-self-parodic.

In a stark contrast with the past, all the fast rockers on here are based not on the boogie formula, but on the punk rock one: 'When The Whip Comes Down' is, as its title implies, no sissyass love song, and both 'Lies' and 'Respectable' feature terrific guitar interplay between Keith and Ronnie set to (sometimes) completely gross lyrics. The amazing thing is not that the Rolling Stones are perfectly comfy with their punk image - they really aren't, as close listens to these tracks show that the band's handling of the guitars is still way too professional and R'n'B-ish to be compared to the sloppy headbanging of Joey Ramone or Mick Jones - but that their strange 'hybrid' of R'n'B and punk perfectly combines the values of both genres. Just listen to the sonic hell of 'Respectable'! While Bill Wyman holds up the groove with the fast, rapid-fire bassline, a typical punkish 'chainsaw' guitar is holding up the rhythm - but instead of pushing that chainsaw sound into the foreground like most punks would do, they bury it slightly deeper into the background. Is it Mick pushing out the 'chainsaw' chords? He actually started playing guitar around that time himself, and I wouldn't be surprised if it were him. On the other hand, the foreground features Keith in one speaker and Ronnie in the other, blazing off tremendous solos and isolated lead phrases off each other, and so the song has it all: standard punk energy from the chainsaw buzz and the classic Stones interplay from the two main guitarists. On top of that, the lyrics - 'Well now you're a pillar of society/You don't worry 'bout the things you used to be/You're a rag tag girl you're the queen of porn/You're the easiest lay on the White House lawn'. They're actually said to refer to Mick's ex-wife, Bianca, but they can actually work as a standard misogynistic rant all the same.

And while we're on the punkish thematics, what about 'Shattered', an incredible rap about the Big Apple? Although in the live set it was speeded up and actually worked better, it is still a fascinating tale about 'laughter, dreams, and loneliness and (of course) sex and sex and sex!' Don't forget the wild (phased?) guitar tone and Charlie's menacing beat on that one. And if you're initially put off by Jagger's barking and ragged phrases and sparse vocalizing, don't worry: this is one case of ragged phrases that will definitely grow on you.

Still, the Stones would never be a typical punk band - and Some Girls captures just about every musical fad of the late Seventies. The ballads here are either disco (the wonderful 'Miss You', definitely one of the best disco songs ever written - and most certainly the best disco song ever written by a primarily non-disco band, putting those wrinkled Bee Gees guys to absolute shame) or more traditional guitarry Stones ('Beast Of Burden'): both are classics and deservedly so. The lack of true emotion in the former is compensated by catchy melodies and special vocal efforts by Mick, while the latter is essentially a guitar show - I can't even start explaining what fascinates me so much about the playing on that song, but it's the only number on Some Girls that gets me crying (and the live performance of the song is one of the few redeeming, and almost cathartic, factors of the infamous Let's Spend The Night Together live video).

In addition to that, we have the controversial title track whose lyrics were the object of so much critique ('black girls just wanna get fucked all night'), but, believe it or not, this is probably the only reason it was ever written. It's the worst cut on here, actually: very weak melodically and very dependent lyrically. Still, it's all compensated with Keith's 'Before They Make Me Run': if you try and ignore the whiny vocals, it's actually a very good song about his conviction. 'Far Away Eyes' is a hilarious parody on redneck music, replete with Jagger's Southern accent and mocking lyrics. And, finally, the cover of the Temptations' 'Just My Imagination' is quite nice, although overlong.

Overall, this album gives the impression of a 'special gift': it reinstated the fans' hopes in The Rolling Stones, started their 'silver age' and, even more important, solidified their status as Un-Old Farts among the newer generations. But, frankly speaking, I must state that whoever thinks this is a better album than Black And Blue should probably check up the meaning of the word 'better' in any dictionary he can find! That's not to denigrate Some Girls - rather, it's just meant to give some credit to that unhappy period in the Stones' mid-Seventies career that's so often written off just because the media only went crazy for that old chainsaw buzz and disregarded everything else. To hell with the media.



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 9

Jagger embracing disco and punk once more, with terrible results. Don't milk the same cow twice...

Best song: SHE'S SO COLD

Track listing: 1) Dance; 2) Summer Romance; 3) Send It To Me; 4) Let Me Go; 5) Indian Girl; 6) Where The Boys Go; 7) Down In The Hole; 8) Emotional Rescue; 9) She's So Cold; 10) All About You.

A lame attempt at 're-somegirling', as I call it. Here's ample proof that everybody should stay away from 'sequels' - even if a band as talented as the Rolling Stones can't make a decent 'sequel' album, what's to be said of lesser 'uns. (You could, of course, argue that Let It Bleed was just a sequel to Beggar's Banquet, but on second thought, it wasn't). The things that were new and fresh on Some Girls become stale and cliched on here, and the album as a whole comes the closest to what many people define as a 'Stones tribute band imitating the Stones' style'. And while the record isn't exactly hopeless - as far as I'm concerned, the Stones only released one entirely hopeless album throughout their career - it was the boys' hugest letdown so far.

And hey, this becomes obvious from the very first moments. For me, this album is particularly notorious for containing the first ever totally insipid Stones' track. I mean, they had their ups and downs, but up to that moment they haven't released even a single song which I'd call bad - that is, bad from a general point of view, unfit even for bands of lesser stature. You could have your quibbles and quakes, but at least you always had a good riff or a good drive or a good deal of passion or a bit of saving humour. But the number that opens Emotional Rescue, 'Dance Pt. 1', is just it: a lame, murky, melodyless and hookless disco track which neither has a good riff (like 'Hot Stuff') nor charming harmonies (like 'Miss You'). It has nothing - except for some dorky lyrics, that is. It is danceable, of course, as the title suggests, but I'd be hard pressed to find a disco number that wouldn't be. Even worse, the boys mocked our conscience even further when they recorded a second part; fortunately, it is only present on the out-of-print compilation Sucking In The Seventies, and I hope it never finds its way on to a reasonable CD.

The other tracks, though not as miserable, also show that writing punk and disco music was good enough for one album but became obnoxious when carried over to the following one. The two punk tracks, unlike either 'Lies' or 'Respectable', seem to be strangely lifeless: both 'Summer Romance' and 'Where The Boys Go' suffer from overgross and banal lyrics, poor melodies and simply an evident desire to sound contemporary. So whose fault is it if they still sound like old farts? Where's the bite, where's the sting? Why do we only have the poop left? Lame. What's with the phoney female backing vocals chanting 'where the girls all go' at the end of the latter track? What's with the dumb repetition of the line 'over over summer romance over over summer romance' at the end of the former track? Why do I feel like farting? If that's the way your conscience behaves when you're turning forty, I do hope I die before I get old. Oh well, at least I'm not Mick Jagger, so on second thought, I'd be interested...

Even less appealing is the reggae number 'Send It To Me' (one of their worst efforts at the genre, no doubt - humorless and rusty), while the generic rocker 'Let Me Go' just does not cook, if you ask me: once again, the melody is next to none. (This song worked better live, though). Finally, 'Indian Girl' is a Latino/folk improvisation about little girls dying on the streets of Granada or something - hardly an appropriate matter for Mick J in 1980. By 1983 he'd found a new way to present these things, though, and you tell me what's better.

So? Any good news? Sure! There has to be some good news, or else it woulda been a 1... I guess. There's the generic blues 'Down In The Hole', which is strangely good, with its harmonica and barking pessimism; it hardly even fits with the rest of the album, having a strange genuine, sincere appeal to it which everything else lacks completely. There's the title track which is an interesting disco experiment featuring Jagger singing falsetto (check it out! he's not barking yet); it doesn't hold a candle to 'Miss You', of course, but the main melody combines catchiness and goofiness in a good way. And, of course, the groovy funny 'She's So Cold' is just an utterly simple, charming boogie piece which is notorious for a thrilling 'guitar dialog' between Keith and Ronnie (gotta love the video for the song where they're prancing round each other on the white tile floor). Stupid, you say? Sure! 'I'm so hot for her, I'm so hot for her, I'm on fire for her and she's so cold'. But unlike 'Summer Romance', there's a sly and charming feel of irony about the song, not just a general aura of fake perversion. I love when 'em Stones sing stupid songs and let us know they're singing stupid songs. They're not very clever guys, see?

Because when that Keith guy gets clever, he ends up spitting out an unlistenable wailing - like the album closer on here, 'All About You'. It's certainly entertaining, and I would recommend using this song as a lullaby. I mean, just don't get me wrong: I'm not against Keith, and I really admit he has a cool voice, no matter what they say (or maybe way of singing is a better expression here), and the feelings, they're all right there, but it's just that there's no melody. No hook. Just the raw feeling. Just the atmosphere. No place for me to tune in. Sorry. Same goes for the album in its entirety. What a pity it went to #1, much like every other Stones' album in the epoch - just goes to show what fanaticism leads to.



Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 14

Ballsy and unpretensious, but full of great riffs and excitement.

Best song: START ME UP

Track listing: 1) Start Me Up; 2) Hang Fire; 3) Slave; 4) Little T & A; 5) Black Limousine; 6) Neighbours; 7) Worried About You; 8) Tops; 9) Heaven; 10) No Use In Crying; 11) Waiting On A Friend.

Great! Great is the word. Okay - so it's not as great as their peak albums. The melodies are all here, it seems, but the spirit is long gone. In any case, whatever the possibilities, Tattoo You is the very last great album for the band before the stagnation. Rumour hath it that it contains mostly outtakes (on a couple of which you can even hear Mick Taylor's guitar!), and it seems like it, especially considering that it was preceded and followed with such weak releases. Here, though, nasties you will find not. The songs are all packed with hooks and have enough drive to convince you that the Stones are still able to rock out; on the other hand, they rarely overdo the trick like they did on contemporary live shows - yeah, this album does feature the purpose of proving to the world that the Stones still had the spirit of twenty-year old bull calfs, but it does so in a moderate, decent way, and there are no sweaty T-shirts or missed vocal notes to make you scream: 'hey now! they're trying way too hard!' It's all right.

As its 10-year old predecessor, it is divided into a 'hard' and a 'soft' side, even more rigidly so than Sticky Fingers. The hard side kicks all kind of butts, and the soft side is as gorgeous as possible. Goes without saying that the record is a pretty lightweight one; there's hardly any philosophical message in any of the songs at all. Well, you could read out some social critique in songs like 'Hang Fire' or 'Tops', but it's not very interesting or serious. Even the punkish vibe of Some Girls seems to be gone. So I'd guess you could easily call Tattoo You a 'trashy' record - but if it is 'trashy', it's possibly the most valuable trash in the world. For me, at least; I'd be happy if it were the same for you.

But, trashy or not, I ask you in all honesty: how would it be possible to resist a generic Stones rocker? And there's quite a few of them on the first side. The opening 'Start Me Up' builds up on a kind of classy riff you'd only expect on something like 'Jumpin' Jack Flash', that kind of riff; the mood, however, is more comparable with that of 'Honky Tonk Women' - pure fun and debauchery rather than venting frustration. 'You can start me up, you can start me up and never stop'. And so on and so forth. Needless to say, the song had immediately become a stage favourite and is one up to this very day when I write these lines. I love it as well - why shouldn't I? It is then immediately followed by 'Hang Fire' - an even faster rocker which is somewhat of a cross between doo-wop and punk (really) - utilizing charming vocal harmonies backing up Jagger's angry scowl (punkish, but not lame, as he belts out scornful, surprisingly anti-British lyrics). Meanwhile, Keith rips it up on 'Little T&A' which is the grossest lyrics he ever sang set to a cute little melody - I have mixed feelings towards the song, depending on whether I follow the lyrical matter or not, but in any case I'll take it over his sloppy, unstructured ballads any day of my life. For some reason, I'm a big fan of 'Neighbours', a song which everybody seems to hate for some other reason. Maybe it's because it was based on a cool video (which you can easily look up on Rewind), maybe just because the main vocal melody of the song is so catchy, and the guitar and sax solos so energetic and driving. I also suppose that this is indeed a great song to tease your peaceful middle-class neighbours with in the middle of the night (please don't say I provoked you); actually, I seem to remember it was dedicated to people who tried to move Keith out of his apartment for disturbing the peace.

Finally, the hard side also gives the blues lovers a tasty bone to chew on: there are two R'n'B reminiscences - the powerful 'Slave' (a Black And Blue-period jam with lots of guests and everybody having the uttermost fun) and the retro 'Black Limousine' with a rather strange nagging violin line slicing through the song, but to good effect.

The soft side? The soft side includes some trademark gentle ballads ('Worried 'Bout You' with the last Jagger falsetto you'll ever hear), bitter ballads ('No Use In Crying' with a desperate, chill-sending tone), and social comments ('Tops', a very old outtake with Mick Taylor on lead guitar - the guy was quite disappointed that he was left uncredited). But the two true highlights on here are rather atypical. 'Heaven' shows the Stones in an experimental mood: the song is an instrumental (well, there are vocals, but they are synth-processed and practically inaudible), all built on aethereal guitars, synths and sound effects - the resulting mood is spectacular, something the likes of which you'll never ever experience with any other Stones' song. The band rarely relies entirely on atmospherics and ambience, but here they almost go overboard with them, and succeed: I like to put this on when I'm relaxing and feel like I'm really floating. Only a really solid Brian Eno tune can compare with this stuff. And, of course, everybody knows the delicious, sincere 'Waiting On A Friend' that with its lazy, 'friendly' shuffle sets just the right mood for an album closer. Oh wait, did I say 'sincere'? Hard to believe, ain't it, with all these enmities between Mick and Keith at the time... But boy oh boy, does this song wring out a tear of my eye when they sometimes do it live nowadays...

And a lot of people knock this album out. Seriously. Even some of the Serious Stones fans sometimes say: 'this album sucks. Go listen to Voodoo Lounge'. I mean, it's ubnbelievable, but true: NO OTHER Stones album splits the fans so distinctly as this one. Just look at the reviews on, or at the reader comments on this here site: people either love it, calling it the Stones' highest point in the Eighties, or hate it, calling it one of the Stones' weakest albums ever. Now I know that usually I straddle the fence in this cases, but this time I won't. I'll trust my old Tattoo, thank you. I simply can't understand all the Tattoo bashers.

I mean - what do people expect? For the standards of 1981, it was a real whopper, particularly if we remember the record it came after. And mind you, there's no disco here!!! Not even a little teeny-weeny Frisco disco whacky tracky! Whoopee! I mean, you can dance and all, but it's a rock'n'roll album - not a disco album (like Emotional Rescue) or a punk album (like Some Girls). Lightweight, certainly, but groooooovy. Groovy and catchy. Catchy and groovy. And it has mock tattoos of Jagger and Richards on the cover! Imagine that.

All right, I did play dumb with you for a moment. Seriously, now, with a little bit of effort, I can understand people who hate Tattoo You - the album doesn't really have a large share of creative ideas ('Heaven' excluded), and few of the songs go far beyond 'cute'. But I really like the care that has been put into the album: formally, it would be a travesty to accuse it of anything. The songs are catchy; the songs have melodies, most of them original (today, most bands would kill for something like the riff in 'Slave'); the songs are short; the songs are well-arranged, well-played and well-sung; and the songs are totally adequate - the Stones aren't really trying to carve a niche here, they just return to basic rock'n'roll and that's it. And it warms my heart.



Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 10

Imitating a punk band? Hmm... So it's danceable, but there's not a lot of musical activity going on.

Best song: SHATTERED

Track listing: 1) Intro (Take The 'A' Train); 2) Under My Thumb; 3) Let's Spend The Night Together; 4) Shattered; 5) Twenty Flight Rock; 6) Going To A Go-Go; 7) Let Me Go; 8) Time Is On My Side; 9) Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me); 10) Start Me Up; 11) (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction; 12) Outro (Star Spangled Banner).

Live again, from the 1981 American tour this time. Hailed by many as the worst Stones' attempt at a live album, it probably is their worst attempt at a live album; but as far as I see it, the Stones have never put out a truly wretched live album, so it's actually not that bad - it's just seriously disappointing by the band's own standards, particularly after the wonderful studio record that preceded it.

What distinguishes Still Life from all the other live albums is: (a) the speed - most of the slow songs are played at a fast tempo, and most of the fast songs are played at a breakneck tempo, and this, first of all, gives the impression of ending up the album too fast, second, adds little variety to the proceedings; (b) Mick's singing is even worse than on Love You Live, since, let's face the fact, he really cared for showcasing his penis far more than his singing voice on that tour. The idea was not to dabble in nostalgia - the idea was to kick as much ass as possible, and according to Mick's "newly-found punk personality", he never really needed hitting the right notes as long as he sounded rabid and aggressive. Whether he managed to sound sincere is another matter - apparently, Mick either forgot that cheap posing doesn't equal heartfelt aggression, or he just considered all the punks to be poseurs and creeps. Personally, I'd opt for the latter - wonderful poseur as Mr J is, he could have easily mistaken the entire punk movement for nothing but a gigantic marketing ploy (well, to a certain extent, it was, but that's another, and a widely different, story).

That said, if you omit these peculiarities and the entire punk/non-punk philosophy and throw away your biases and just dig that groovy sound, you'll find yourself tapping your feet and playing air guitar in no time, as should be expected from a Stones concert, of course. In particular, the newer hits (from the last three studio albums) rock mercilessly. In fact, this one has my favourite version of both 'Shattered' and 'Just My Imagination', especially 'Shattered' - I just adore these 'ah! shadoobie''s when they come to life on stage. Don't get me wrong: the song was good in the studio what with all the frigged-up guitar sound, but on stage Keith just slaps out the rhythm like there was no tomorrow, and the adrenaline keeps pushing up, up, up, up, up! To live in this town you must be tough tough tough tough tough... er, sorry, where was I? Oh, yes. I was just wanting to admit that 'Let Me Go' couldn't even dream of becoming such a ferocious treat while resting on Emotional Rescue. Where's the laziness and the dimness of the original performance? All the stops are pulled, and Keith and Ronnie transform the song into a steamin', no-holds-barred rock'n'roll train. The opening and closing choo-choo chords alone are worth a fortune.

'Start Me Up' trashes and bashes just as good - the version here is very similar to the studio one, though (for contrast, as can be witnessed on the Let's Spend The Night Together video, even most of the fast numbers on that album are sped up, so that 'Hang Fire' and 'Neighbours' roll by faster than the average Ramones number), and could probably have been replaced by some lesser, not-necessarily-having-a-hit-status song.

For the old time fans, they include some oldies, also done in a different manner. 'Under My Thumb' showcases its great riff with a clearty of sound never achieved on Got Live, and Keith punctuates the riff as well as possible. However, 'Let's Spend The Night Together', unfortunately, just doesn't hold together so well without the piano part (there is some piano in the background, played by Ian Stewart, I suppose, but it's practically unheard in the mix), although substituting piano chords with screeching guitar lines was an interesting experiment. Problem is, Mr Mickey utterly ruins the song - arguably, out of all the numbers on this album this almost immaculate pop masterpiece is the one that suffers the most from his Vocal Butchery.

The obligatory closing 'Satisfaction' (go figure!) is utterly forgettable unless for the oddest reason on Earth this happens to be your first exposure to the song; but the obligatory 'bonus performances', i.e. the two covers on here ('Twenty Flight Rock' and 'Going To A Go-Go'; notice how just about every Stones live album includes at least one or two cover songs that haven't been officially released on a studio album? Smart marketing move from Jagger again, I'll warrant) are a fascinating listen and take my top spot along with 'Shattered' and 'Let Me Go'. In fact, on 'Going To A Go-Go', just for once on the entire album, Jagger sounds like he's really in here for the fun of it and not just because he needs to support his raunchy image. Although, yes, I forgot to mention that they do 'Time Is On My Side', too, where Mick also tries to sound sincere and moving, trying to turn the song from a simple love ballad into an anthemic showcase of the band's vitality, but he overdoes it a bit anyway. Not for my taste.

Overall, like I said, this hardly ranks among their better live efforts, and the accompanying video (see the review), apart from a few moments, is plain atrocious by the usual Stones' standards; but without the video line this is still eminently listenable. Old farts trying to pass themselves for young punks, that's what this one is all about - but let us try to abstract ourselves from the Stones' age at the time, or from musical reality at the time, and you'll find yourself drawn far closer to the record than you ever thought you would be able to.



Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 10

Electronic and over-raunchy. The music gets lost behind these two factors.

Best song: SHE WAS HOT

Track listing: 1) Undercover Of The Night; 2) She Was Hot; 3) Tie You Up (The Pain Of Love); 4) Wanna Hold You; 5) Feel On Baby; 6) Too Much Blood; 7) Pretty Beat Up; 8) Too Tough; 9) All The Way Down; 10) It Must Be Hell.

This is the disastrous album that ruined them - well, at least, it ruined them in my eyes, almost entirely. It's actually a compliment to the Stones that, as much as this record is the closest they ever got to 'self-parody', it's still listenable and, indeed, enjoyable in many respects - but we're talking Stones standards here, and that's different. If the 'Still Life' tour was the starting point for the ruination of their live reputation (how's that with words?), Undercover marked the studio downfall. The Eighties finally caught up with the bad guys of rock'n'roll.

And it's not that the actual melodies are that bad, mind you. Of course, most of them can't be rated among the Stones' best, but they are decent nevertheless, and a 'decent tune' for the Stones is still miles better than a supersong for most any other band. In fact, on an individual level I've grown to love some of the numbers - and I couldn't even say that there are any particularly offensive ones on here (not when it comes around to music, at least).

The main problem with Undercover is that its main aim was to showcase the band's status as The Most Raunchy And Debauched Group In The World rather than its status as The Best Rock'n'Roll Group In The World. Thus, the songs are mostly focused on funk, lyrical offense and hooliganry. The general mood is either that of a sexual character ('She Was Hot'), or of an extreme sexual character ('Tie You Up (The Pain Of Love)'); or of a maniacal, gory character ('Too Much Blood'); or of a political character ('Undercover Of The Night'). All of these except for 'Tie You Up' were accompanied by provocative videos, which are harmless fun, but really don't do too much honour to the Stones, except for being notorious for being banned on a lot of channels around the world. Apparently, these songs were written for the videos - isn't it far more fun to discuss Jagger being shot through the head by terrorists, Richards blowing the top off the thermometer at the sight of a hot chick, or both Ronnie and Keith chasing Mick with chainsaws than to discuss the actual musical value of the songs?

Which is present, by the way. 'Undercover Of The Night' establishes a terrific funky groove, replete with echoey fade-in/fade-out guitars and terrifying solos. 'She Was Hot' is an excellent piece of uncompromised Berryesque boogie, with stinging poisonous guitars and a brilliant resolution of the vocal melody. I even like the dance-pop number 'Too Much Blood' and its wonderful use of the brass section. Who's playing those New Wave-ish guitars, I wonder? If it's Keith Richards, I bow my head - it sounds more like David Byrne than anything else. Add to this all that rapping from Mick, and you get arguably the least Rolling Stones-sounding track the Rolling Stones ever released. Heck, I have to confess that even 'Tie You Up' constitutes a guilty pleasure for me - Mick plunges headfirst into the world of sex, sadism and raunch on that one, but he is still able to prove that nobody's able to do that with more inborn grace than he can.

Lesser known songs are all tolerable as well. A couple overproduced, but memorable rockers ('Pretty Beat Up', 'Too Tough') cool you down after all the genre and instrumentation experiments on the first side - those also including the electronic reggae excourse of 'Feel On Baby', a very strange atmospheric track that may drag on for too long, but is still involving. There's some kind of strange, unequalled longing and passion in the song that may be all fake, of course, but which sucks me in anyway. Plus, it's drowned in all those early Roxy Music-like noises, wails, bleeps and bloops that form the perfect dreary introduction to the horrors of 'Too Much Blood'. Stupid? Un-Stones-like? And more than that, but you can't deny that the song has something in it anyway.

What I'm not really fond of are the other three numbers - 'I Wanna Hold You' is Keith on autopilot (it looks like he'd made up one verse of this mediocre love song in about ten seconds and improvised the rest on the spot); 'All The Way Down' is Mick on autopilot (a rocker that follows the Stones' rocking formula on the surface but has nothing for the avid listener to cling to); and 'It Must Be Hell' closes the album with a riff borrowed from 'Soul Survivor' and little else, if you do not count the preachy preachy lyrics. Still, I can't even accuse the songs of not being memorable. 'Dance' is unmemorable; these sure are.

So why only a five for an album that has no truly bad songs? Because it certainly doesn't deserve any more. I don't feel any freshness of approach here, nor do I hear any new, admirable hooks. All I see is dirty, simplistic straightforwardness that DOES prompt me into action, but never really causes me to admire anything about it. We all need something simple and gutsy at times - heck, that's what all those Kiss and AC/DC records are there for - but until 1983, I did not have the need to judge the Stones on a 'simple and gutsy' level. Starting from Sticky Fingers, it was obvious that Mick tended to steer the band in this direction; but it wasn't until Undercover that I could clearly say 'this record places the raunch in the foreground and the music in the background'. In this case, I can certainly say that. This isn't a record that was needed to be made. Nor was the following one, but that's another story.



Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 8

Heaps of garbage which resulted from the tensions between Mick and Keith. It being the mid-Eighties, too.

Best song: HAD IT WITH YOU

Track listing: 1) One Hit (To The Body); 2) Fight; 3) Harlem Shuffle; 4) Hold Back; 5) Too Rude; 6) Winning Ugly; 7) Back To Zero; 8) Dirty Work; 9) Had It With You; 10) Sleep Tonight.

Asswork, if we want to be more correct. That's what most of the band were using during the sessions, especially Mick. The band was on the point of disintegration by that moment, with Keith doing most of the job in the studio and Mick just arriving at the last moment and overdubbing his vocals. (Which just goes to show that, contrary to rumour, not everything Keith produces is supposed to turn to gold, as some of the more rabid Richards fans believe it to be). As for Charlie, his presence was probably just unnecessary - most of the drums are electronic, or at least electronically enhanced, once again, so the old man's steady rhythmic punch, so vital for the band's sound at one time, goes flying out the window.

But what's even more horrible, most of the songs are absolute bullshit (mark it down - it's not often that I use such lexics in a Rolling Stones review). Sure enough, they are rip-roaring, energetic, fast and furious: but this resulted rather from the personal tensions between the band members than from any careful elaboration. Keith was pissed off at Mick for not paying enough attention to the Stones, Mick was pissed off at everyone because he thought everybody was trying to push him off the edge, and so they went along nicely, recording this pile of rubbish to (probably) fulfil their contractual obligations. I mean, Keith was interested in carrying on - but nobody else really was, and in this situation even Keith seemed to have lost direction.

Ten songs on here (plus a couple boogie-woogie cords in memoriam of the late Ian Stewart, who suffered a heart attack right at the time of the recording sessions), and out of these ten only one, as far as I'm concerned, can be rated on any significant level - the grotesque 'Had It With You' (guess who had what with whom!). I love it because it's just a simple, unadulterated boogie, with Mick playing harmonica and the band really cooking it up; the song sounds quieter than most of the rockers surrounding it, but this only makes the instruments stand out and gives us an opportunity to hear Bill's pulsating bassline. A couple of vocal hooks embellish it further; you'll keep on chanting the chorus for hours on end, particularly since it's one of the few really chantable moments.

Four more tracks feature Mick's barking over grungy guitarwork. These lowlights include the completely idiotic number 'Fight' which has no melody to add to the energy, just a bunch of disgusting Kiss-like power chords that put Keith's name to shame; the slightly less forgettable title track, which is at least tighter and features some traditional lightning-speed interplay between Keith and Ronnie in the vein of 'Respectable'; the mid-tempo pointless 'Winning Ugly' which sounds like a cross between late-period Kinks and a shitty mid-Eighties synth-pop band like Europe; and finally, the totally unlistenable shitty mess 'Hold Back' which is by far the most horrible track ever recorded by the band. Too bad the song opens with a nice-sounding riff and ends with some interesting 'guitar-weaving' ideas, because the vocal melody is absent - it is replaced by random rambling barkings from Mr J. that will give even the stoutest Stones fan a headache of a lifetime. One can only wonder to what extent did the people assembled in the studio on that day hate each other and the world, to produce such a hideous sonic monster.

The "less venomous" songs don't give much consolation, either. Jagger's attempts at dance-pop ('Back To Zero') don't hold a candle to their earlier (and later) disco experiments; it's even weaker and less memorable than some of Mick's contemporary solo grooves. The opening rocker 'One Hit (To The Body)' somewhat redeems the situation with its strong acoustic/electric interplay and the only bit of what might be genuine emotion on this album, and the cover of 'Harlem Shuffle' is at least decent. However, the two Keith-sung tracks are ridiculous: 'Too Rude' is yet another reggae excourse with childish lyrics and singing over a mess of electronic drums, and 'Sleep Tonight' is yet another wailing in the vein of 'Coming Down Again'. Never mind, though, - the lack of melody only serves to hide his lack of singing abilities.

So here you go - one entertaining song, two or three vaguely interesting ones, and horrid bullshit music everywhere else. How on earth could they make an album that bad is what baffles me completely. Oh well, they probably were just so pissed off they just couldn't do anything more solid than this. On the face of it, this is an interesting historical document featuring their 'bad times'. Rename it 'The Story Of Two Friends Turned Enemies', have a listen and throw it away (if you're not a completist, of course).

P.S. An important notice: bad as the record is, it IS the Rolling Stones. See, I have a theory that when a genius is a genius, the presence of the genius is felt even in the weakest things he produces - and Dirty Work fully corresponds to this theory, seeing as how I maybe only gave this record four or five full listens in my life and I'm still able to remember more or less how every song goes. Yes, even 'Hold Back'. Isn't that amusing? Stupid simplistic bunches of power chords, and they're still attention-capturing. Certainly gives you some food for thought, doesn't it?



Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 15

The singles collection it is, one of the few greatest singles collections in the world.

Best song: ALL OF THEM!!!

Track listing: CD I: 1) Come On; 2) I Want To Be Loved; 3) I Wanna Be Your Man; 4) Stoned; 5) Not Fade Away; 6) Little By Little; 7) It's All Over Now; 8) Good Times Bad Times; 9) Tell Me; 10) I Just Want To Make Love To You; 11) Time Is On My Side; 12) Congratulations; 13) Little Red Rooster; 14) Off The Hook; 15) Heart Of Stone; 16) What A Shame; 17) The Last Time; 18) Play With Fire; 19) (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction; 20) The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man; 21) The Spider And The Fly; 22) Get Off Of My Cloud; 23) I'm Free; 24) The Singer Not The Song; 25) As Tears Go By.

CD II: 1) Gotta Get Away; 2) 19th Nervous Breakdown; 3) Sad Day; 4) Paint It, Black; 5) Stupid Girl; 6) Long Long While; 7) Mother's Little Helper; 8) Lady Jane; 9) Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow?; 10) Who's Driving Your Plane?; 11) Let's Spend The Night Together; 12) Ruby Tuesday; 13) We Love You; 14) Dandelion; 15) She's A Rainbow; 16) 2000 Light Years From Home; 17) In Another Land; 18) The Lantern; 19) Jumpin' Jack Flash; 20) Child Of The Moon.

CD III: 1) Street Fighting Man; 2) No Expectations; 3) Surprise Surprise; 4) Honky Tonk Women; 5) You Can't Always Get What You Want; 6) Memo From Turner; 7) Brown Sugar; 8) Wild Horses; 9) I Don't Know Why; 10) Try A Little Harder; 11) Out Of Time; 12) Jivin' Sister Fanny; 13) Sympathy For The Devil.

[Note: only elsewhere unavailable tracks are singled out - or else I'd have to single out 90% of these songs.]

Yeah, I know it's a compilation, and strictly speaking, I shouldn't have rated it. But it isn't a 'best-of' package, see? It's a singles collection - every single A-side and B-side the rights to which are owned by ABKCO and Allen Klein (comprising the years 1963-1971). The songs here aren't selected subjectively, and so this is the analogy to the Beatles' Past Masters. And it gets a 10. Now take my advice: if you only wish to settle for one Rolling Stones album/package (alias: if you're that kind of half-assed jerk), go and pick up this, not the dreaded Hot Rocks. For what reasons? First: there are more songs here, as this is a 3-CD set packed almost to the brim. Second: it gives you a chronological and exact picture of the Stones' gradual development over the years. Third: it's simply tons more representative, and there aren't that many classics on Hot Rocks that are missing here. Fourth: it'll give you the right to boast possession of some interesting rarities. Anything else?

There is, of course, one serious problem that does not allow me to place this package on the same level with Past Masters. Like I said, if you want to make this your first buy, you're welcome. But if it turns out that you already have all the original LPs from that epoch, you'll be horrified to see that there's only about from four to eight songs on each of these CD's that you miss in your collection. So, if you're a completist, you'll be forced to pay three times more than you're due!!!! (And not only that, some of the Stones' material is only available on the More Hot Rocks compilation). Do you understand now what a greedy bastard Allen Klein really is? These songs could have easily fit onto some of the original CDs as bonus tracks - and they could have felt perfectly at home there! Just imagine: 'Sad Day' as a bonus track to Aftermath! 'We Love You' as a bonus track to Satanic! 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' as a bonus track to Beggar's Banquet! But no! See, if the Rolling Stones weren't the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world, this would have already been done long ago. As it is, Klein and his thugs know for certain that fans will even buy a Stones' CD if it only has one track on it, for the full price. The Stones are great, sure enough, but isn't this a mean thing to do?

Okay, now that I've vented myself, let me tell you about the compilation. More exactly, let me tell you about the exact 'new' songs on it that you so desperately need to fill out your collection - most of the 'old' ones have been discussed earlier.

CD 1 (which I'd entitle 'The R'n'B Period') has five of these. There are the two first Stones' singles: Chuck Berry's 'Come On', backed with 'I Want To Be Loved', and Lennon/McCartney's 'I Wanna Be Your Man', backed with 'Stoned'. All four of these kick butt. I mean, 'Come On' sounds oh so tame and pale compared to the stuff they'd begin to release only a year later, but it's still fun - and shows how much their sound depended on Bill Wyman's amazing basswork in these early days. Mick blows a mean harmonica, too, though! Ah, but the bassline is even more amazing in 'I Wanna Be Your Man' (which, by the way, was written specially for the Stones, and only added later to With The Beatles as an afterthought), the 'ultimate' early Stones' hardcore rocker: the bassline is simply crazy, Mick croaks out the vocals like a maniac, and Keith (Brian?) adds a ferocious, stingy solo. And don't forget about the mean instrumental 'Stoned' (later ripped off by the Beach Boys as 'Stoked', although probably not off the Stones, but off their common source which I do not know)! Nowadays, it sounds pretty tame, I guess, but can you imagine the horror of mothers every time the mean blues rhythm ceased and Mick uttered 'STONED... OUT OF MY MIND...' I mean, it's like, here come the warm jets! Would you let your daughter go out with a Rolling Stone? No way!

The fifth 'original' track here is a version of 'Time Is On My Side', quite different from the one you'll find on 12x5: less gospelish organ, more bluesy guitar. I actually prefer this one, but it's your bit.

Now CD 2 (which I'd entitle 'The Pop Period') already has eight songs that you need - that's progress for you! And among them are such timeless gems as the middle-class bashing '19th Nervous Breakdown' and hey, there's 'Jumpin' Jack Flash'! Funny how the studio version sounds so 'soft' when compared to any live version, right? On the other hand, the magnificent guitar/bass/drums intro was never done live, so you need to hear it in any case. But that's not all (luckily). There are two wonderful Aftermath-style ballads, 'Sad Day' and 'Long Long While', which would fit in with that album quite perfectly. There's the glorious B-Side to 'Have You Seen Your Mother...', a mean, echoey, killer blues rocker 'Who's Driving Your Plane', one of the hardest, most uncompromised tunes they recorded during that period; were it released in 1964, it could have become a classic, as it is, it was just overshadowed by even better songs. There's the famous 'psychedelic' single 'We Love You', a trippy, piano/Mellotron/brass dominated chant with Lennon/McCartney on backing vocals and lyrics like 'We love you/We love you/And we hope you love we, too', written as a 'thank you' for fans who supported the Stones in jail, and its B-side, the gorgeous ballad 'Dandelion'. And there's the Stones' goodbye to psychedelia, 'Child Of The Moon', yet another tune that's quite trippy, but this time melodic and wonderfully gentle.

CD 3 ('The Rock Period') is maybe a bit more dismissable, but not entirely: after all, how can one dismiss an album with 'Honky Tonk Women' on it? And most of the other 'new' tunes on here you probably don't know at all, unless you're a diehard fan, as most of them are singles that were originally culled from Metamorphosis (a stupid situation - the album itself is unavailable on CD, but the singles taken from it are!) The version of 'Memo From Turner' on here actually differs from the one on Metamorphosis: it's much longer and a bit more underarranged; actually, I think it's the authentic soundtrack version, while the old one was really made up as a song, not as a bit of soundtrack. And tacked onto the end are several more songs from the album that made it onto the singles - 'I Don't Know Why', 'Try A Little Harder', 'Jivin' Sister Fanny' and, curiously, that ridiculous orchestrated variant of 'Out Of Time' is also on here. Note how the singles all accentuate the late Sixties period, not the less self-assured, inaccurate early Sixties' outtakes. In any case, as of now, this is the only place you can take a sniff of what a Stones' outtake sounds like without having to dive in into the bootleg pool.

Ugh. That's about it, I think. All the other songs you can easily get on regular LPs. I don't know if I convinced you enough to shell out some of your hard-earned pay, but after all, this is your choice. You might as well STEAL IT! Just don't say I told you so!



Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11

The Comeback album which wasn't that good but at least pointed a way to the future.


Track listing: 1) Sad Sad Sad; 2) Mixed Emotions; 3) Terrifying; 4) Hold On To Your Hat; 5) Hearts For Sale; 6) Blinded By Love; 7) Rock And A Hard Place; 8) Can't Be Seen; 9) Almost Hear You Sigh; 10) Continental Drift; 11) Break The Spell; 12) Slipping Away.

The Renaissance for The Stones? Possibly. Possibly not. It had to be the Renaissance: after all the hassle-dazzle Mick had finally settled his troubles with Keith, and the recording of this album was a desperate affair: they had to show the world that the name of The Rolling Stones still mattered. And in doing this, they managed to put out an album which, although far from perfect, was still a serious improvement over their last two. Unfortunately, in retrospect the album had suffered a lot exactly due to all the extra celebrity-related baggage appended to it: hyped up to heaven upon release ("The Stones are back! The Stones are the Phoenix of the modern world!"), it has since become almost a cliche to bash the record for "trying to sound way too much like they're the Rolling Stones". Nowadays, Steel Wheels don't get too much respect, and it's a shame, because this is at least a serious effort, with the guys actually having taken some time to work on the material and present it from its best side.

Of course, the defects are still obvious - after all, the legacy of the band's previous Eighties' output was still fresh in everybody's minds. As usual, Jagger barks his way through on most tracks, some of which belong in that wretched Dirty Work bag. 'Hold On To Your Hat', for example, is basically 'Hold Back no. 2' - some fans claim the number to be a highlight, but all I hear is a speedy repetitive punkish rhythm, speedy repetitive offensive lyrics, and a couple of dazzling solos which, on second glance, turn out to be pretty repetitive as well. The "rip it up" attitude simply does not work on here; the song's only distinctive feature is that it's the most underarranged track on the album (Mick and Keith on guitars, Ron on bass, Charlie on the kit, and not even a Bill Wyman in the studio).

Another flaw is that, when it comes to the fast numbers, the arrangements are all very similar - the rockers 'Sad Sad Sad', 'Mixed Emotions' and 'Rock And A Hard Place' all sound pretty much the same, although the latter is actually the best song on the entire record. A minor hit and perhaps the closest they got to a 'classic' on here, it's perhaps Jagger's best statement in support of the third world (and certainly more hard-hitting and sincere-looking than something like 'Undercover Of The Night'); but the contrast of barking guitar/barking vocal is nothing new, and both 'Sad Sad Sad' and 'Mixed Emotions', potentially solid rockers, are reduced to lazy formula. I do admit, though, that 'Sad Sad Sad' is moderately catchy, whereas 'Mixed Emotions', with its 'let's bury the hatchet' lines, did get the Glimmer Twins a lot of consolative press.

However, I'm also sorry to say that, but Keith has completely lost what few abilities he had as a solo player: the riffing work is superb, as usual, but watch out for those solos! They're among the ugliest, most dissonant, least inspired solos you'll ever meet on a Stones album. Whoever suggested Keith should embellish the record with his witty lead work did the man a disservice for sure; there ain't no 'Sympathy For The Devil On Here'. Finally, once again there are too many electronic drums, as on all the 80's records (except for Tattoo You, of course); Charlie is more prominent than on Dirty Work, but it would still take them five more years to restore the Good Guy to his usual throne.

Plenty of defects, as you see - but who could blame them? They were coming off the worst decade in both their personal relationships and rock music. Still, not all is bad. Jagger has contributed two ballads, and that alone is news - there were no soft songs on Undercover, and the only soft (and bad) song on Dirty Work was Keith's. Of course, 'Blinded By Love' has dorky 'educational' lyrics (with Mick's brother Chris serving as 'literary editor') and a rather simple, conformist sappy pop melody, but the keyboards-based 'Almost Hear You Sigh' is charming, with one of those soft, engaging refrains that only Mick's voice can bring to life.

Keith - first time ever - takes lead vocals two times, and both times it's a score: the ballad 'Slipping Away' is among his best (a very rare exception: my humble opinion is that besides this one and 'You Got The Silver', and, maybe, 'The Worst', all of his ballads are completely devoid of anything remotely approaching a memorable melody), while the rocker 'Can't Be Seen' qualifies as well.

All aboard! Genre experimentation! The psychedelic (sic!) 'Continental Drift', recorded together with the Master Musicians of Jajouka, is so-so (definitely not as abysmal as some people say - come now, people, just 'cause it's Eastern-based and psychedelic doesn't mean you're not allowed to write songs like that in 1989), but the disco effort 'Terrifying' is very, very, very convincing, with Jagger turning it into a 'mysterious' song in the vein of 'Fingerprint File'. The little jam at the end is a touch of genius: otherwise, the song would swiftly flow by as a piece of filler, but the guitar/brass/drum interplay turns it into an unforgettable "cheesy romantic" near-masterpiece.

So I guess it's fifty-fifty for this album, or maybe even something like sixty-forty; that's why a rating of 6 sums it up nicely. Indeed, I've considered pumping it up, but then it would've been equal to Goats' Head Soup, and that ain't really so. Cut the hype, cut the anti-hype, and you're left with a moderately solid effort, and a good start for their Big Return. I do pity those poor souls for whom this album was an introduction to the Rolling Stones, though. It should have come up with a sticker saying something like, 'From the men who brought you the far superior Let It Bleed twenty years ago!'.



Year Of Release: 1991
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 12

The 'new-type' live album. Not a lot of fun (stadium rock!), but a lot of good performances.

Best song: MISS YOU

Track listing: 1) Continental Drift; 2) Start Me Up; 3) Sad Sad Sad; 4) Miss You; 5) Rock And A Hard Place; 6) Ruby Tuesday; 7) You Can't Always Get What You Want; 8) Factory Girl; 9) Can't Be Seen; 10) Little Red Rooster; 11) Paint It Black; 12) Sympathy For The Devil; 13) Brown Sugar; 14) Jumpin' Jack Flash; 15) (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction; 16) Highwire; 17) Sex Drive.

The predictable official live follow-up to Steel Wheels. As the Stones slip into "old age" and drastically change their live image, the album finally features the Big Band in all of its glory: massive megatour with lots of huge scenes and decorations (including an enormous "Urban Jungle" set that was inarguably the Stones' most expensive venture ever and - yuck! - even large inflatable dolls), and, most important, tons and tons of back-up musicians: besides the usual piano player (the one and only Chuck Leavell), there's a whole brass section, led by the trusty Bobby Keyes but definitely not limited to him, a second keyboardist in Matt Clifford, and a bunch of background singers, including Bernard Fowler and Lisa Fischer, who'd go on to become pretty much inseparable from the Stones for the entire decade, and would even help steer them in contemporary directions, but that's another story.

Anyway, what makes me really glad is that finally Mick is in great vocal form, barking out the lyrics only in cases of great need (especially appropriate on 'Miss You' and 'Jumpin' Jack Flash') and taking actual care to actually sing, dropping all the fake punkish pretentions and concentrating on the role of Master Guru of Classic Rock. Old fart? May well be. But at least a respectable old fart.

I can't say that Keith is in top form, though: he'd really become fond of pushing Ronnie to the background as lead guitar player, and at this point he simply couldn't play lead guitar at all. The solo on 'Sad Sad Sad', for instance, is just as clumsy and "disfluent" (nice word, isn't it?) as on the studio original, and to this we should add the horrible self-indulgent jam on 'Sympathy For The Devil' and a few other misfires. I don't really know what happened - Flashpoint is one of the worst choices to admire Keith's talents. Maybe the whole drug business got him so much by the early Eighties that he forgot most of his guitar-playing skills; fortunately, he'd really start regaining his authority throughout the Nineties. But in the meantime, he sure ain't all that hot on the Steel Wheels tour.

But just skip through the solos and you'll find out that there's practically nothing else to complain about. Many Stones fans despise the track listing - and there is a grain of truth in their reasoning, seeing as it's really questionable whether we really need another live version of 'Brown Sugar' or '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction'. We probably don't, don't we? Well, then again I'd like to remind you that there existed only one previous officially released live version of 'Brown Sugar'. And the version of 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' presented here is well worth having if only because it's kinda cool to have this stadium-rock reinvented variant of the song, with a thick, overwhelming sonic wave, Jagger roaring out the lyrics like mad, and a slightly sped up tempo to chase away any potential signs of boredom. Maybe it's cheesy, and a "commercial arena-rock arrangement" is rarely my cup of tea, but the song is so perfect in the first place I bow my head to it anyway.

Plus, the rest of the setlist is hardly predictable. The Steel Wheels numbers - 'Sad Sad Sad', 'Rock And A Hard Place', and 'Can't Be Seen' - are pretty much played by the book, but they weren't the worst song on that album, and I, for one, prefer the sudden ending ('...between a ROCK!') of the live version of 'Rock And A Hard Place' than the unconvincing fade-out of the studio version. Rarely-played hits include an energetic performance of 'Paint It Black', with Mr Richards faithfully reproducing the gloomy acoustic intro, and an even more energetic performance of 'Miss You' - later on, 'Miss You' would become a vehicle for Jagger's "audience interplay", and would also become extended to a dangerous length, but here the song is performed short, snappy, and tight, with Mick concentrated on an emotive, heated workout, and is definitely one of the highlights.

Surprises that make Flashpoint really worth the while: a nostalgic romantic reading of 'Ruby Tuesday'; the faithfully reproduced oboe part at the beginning of 'You Can't Always Get What You Wan't'; magnificent acoustic riffage on 'Factory Girl'; and a guest appearance by Eric Clapton on 'Little Red Rooster'. None of these are breathtaking, to be honest, but I do suppose all of them will be pleasing for Stones/classic rock fans like yours truly.

The main letdown, in fact, is not any kind of concert detail, but the two studio tracks slapped onto the end, both in the vein of Steel Wheels: 'Highwire' is a bland, hookless political anthem along the lines of 'It Must Be Hell', but even less entertaining; and 'Sex Drive' is a bland funky poopster along the lines of 'Hot Stuff', but even less fascinating. In fact, I really don't feel any need for having these average rip-offs directly after a prime live disc. They don't spoil my blood, see, but they just get on my nerves. Damn you, Mr J, for your unabashed self-indulgence! Very typical of the man, in fact: (a) picking a 'contemporary nerve' and getting himself a bit more press by referring to the whole Iraq-Kuwait business; and (b) picking a 'contemporary style' and getting himself a bit more attention from the young 'uns by putting out a trendy dance-pop number. "Cutting edge", are we?



Year Of Release: 1994
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 12

A great album for the 90's, but it adds little to the Stones' legacy.


Track listing: 1) Love Is Strong; 2) You Got Me Rocking; 3) Sparks Will Fly; 4) The Worst; 5) New Faces; 6) Moon Is Up; 7) Out Of Tears; 8) I Go Wild; 9) Brand New Car; 10) Sweethearts Together; 11) Suck On The Jugular; 12) Blinded By Rainbows; 13) Baby Break It Down; 14) Thru And Thru; 15) Mean Disposition.

Well, Flashpoint might have been a 'signal', but it's with this album that the band has finally and forever settled into old age. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about it is that they do not try to sound other than they are, if you know what I mean. Sure, Jagger wouldn't be Jagger if he hadn't sucked in a few up-to-date fashionable ideas (like that grunge thing, for one), but it's one thing to inject a few fresh-looking trends and another thing to overdo it. Just about every review in existence always points out that Voodoo Lounge is quintessential Rolling Stones: the best gift for a hardcore Stones fan that could ever come into existence in 1994. No more senseless barking on every corner; no more phoney punkish posturing; no more mindless hour-long disco throwaways - just your average selection of classy tracks, full of delicious guitar chops and everything. Since this is the Nineties for Chrissake, one can't but lament a bunch of filler tracks, too, but there are fewer of those than you'd actually wish, and the better material is definitely attention-activating.

The rockers, in particular, are among their best in years. 'You Got Me Rocking' is a rollickin' anthemic song set to a hardroarin' riff, and it's long since become a stage favourite and a near-classic for the band: no mean feat, considering that the last time the Stones came up with a "timeless" rocking anthem was with 'Start Me Up' thirteen years earlier. 'You Got Me Rocking' is just what is needed: no message, no philosophy, no ambiguity, just a mighty punch that shows the Stones can still outrock all 'em youngsters. Let me hear Limp Bizkit come up with a riff like that! I'm all ears.

The other rockers are notable, too: 'I Go Wild' has some of the most fascinating guitar interplay you'd ever witness on a Stones' record (in concert, Mick would even strap on a guitar to try and preserve some of the intricate, head-spinning 'weaving' techniques of the song), and is at least as grungey as anything ever put out by any Seattle band. ATTENTION: I do not say 'grungier' - I just point out that Richards and Co. had mustered that form of music-making to a tee, much like they'd mastered the punkish form back in 1978. 'Sparks Will Fly', too, has a 100-percent original and funny melody combined with gross lyrics about fucking her sweet ass (Mr J just can't resist inserting one of those lines, you know). Wish I could write a three-minute song like that... er, with an original and funny melody, I mean, not necessarily with gross lyrics. Me, I'd never use the word 'ass' in a song. Except as an obscure Jennifer Lopez reference, maybe.

The ballads, in general, also improve over the somewhat generic Steel Wheels pattern - I'll be the first to note that 'Out Of Tears' is a song perfectly suited for MTV, you know, one of those slow-moving, plodding, hookless ballads like Gary Moore's 'Still Got The Blues' and co., but it's not adult contemporary: it's a guitar and piano based ballad that doesn't have a tremendously interesting melody, but it at least has one, and it doesn't try to mask its poorness by waves upon waves of powerchords like... er... all those miserable Aerosmith power ballads, for instance. Don't believe me? Play 'Crying' next to 'Out Of Tears'. You'll feel the difference soon enough, I guarantee it.

Some of the tracks are really nostalgic, harking back to those great days in the Sixties when this whole business sounded as fresh as anything ('Moon Is Up' - romantic psychedelia; 'Blinded By Rainbows', which does recall 'She's A Rainbow' because the titles are similar, although the melodies are not). The blues number 'Brand New Car' is certainly not original, but the way it sounds - with Mick strutting out his voice as far as possible, guitars ringing out loud and horns poking at the exactly needed moments - really suggests that this was probably the first album since... maybe even since the early Seventies, on which they really cared more about the music than about their image.

Still, how could we get away without some biting critique? Not all is THAT good. Some of Jagger's tracks still carry the insignia of his trendy experimentations (the lame generic funk throwaway 'Suck On The Jugular'; the sweety accordeon-driven 'Sweethearts Together', overproduced and oversapped ad nauseam). Holy Mother, if there is a threat to that RS sound, it's in Mick. Maybe these tracks do have that commercial type of sound which gladdens Mick's heart, but what is he expecting? What's his desire? Be loved by young kids now or be revered by clever people in a hundred years' time? You tell me... But don't take this as a condemnation of Mr Jagger, please; I'll always be the first to admit that if not for Mick, the Stones would have run out of steam by the early Seventies, thoroughly and completely. It's just that Jagger, just like his faithful disciple Mr David Bowie, is often walking a thin line between experimentation and stupid tasteless following of commercial trends.

Anyway, there's also a couple of ballads that don't really make it for me. Jagger's 'New Faces' is an uninspired and painfully artificial stab at a 16th century-type ballad (even though the lyrics are telling), and Keith's 'Thru And Thru' is the usual sloppy wailing, six minutes long this time. Beh. Even Charlie's thunderous drums don't enliven it up. (Then again, he compensates with 'The Worst' which may well be his best ballad. What a paradox, eh...) But - thank God! - this lengthy six-minute bore is not deemed to become the album closer. Instead, they let rock one more time with 'Mean Disposition' - a simple, but catchy generic rocker. A wise move. Once again, reminds us of earlier times. Yahoo!

So what'd I say? A pretty good album. I didn't mention 'Love Is Strong', didn't I? Well, if you heard the song already, you'll know it's great, and if you haven't, let me leave you with just one pleasant surprise. And Voodoo Lounge? It's undoubtedly the Some Girls of the Nineties - it had earned the Stones a near-complete indulgence on the part of critical opinion. See now what makes these guys so five-star-worthy? It's not the mere fact that they had stayed around for so long (so did Jethro Tull and the Bee Gees); it's the fact that thirty years after their debut album, they're still able to come up with top-notch material. Who else can do that? Yeah, I know it's a banal and stupid question, but truth is, it's a question that has no answer that would be unfavourable to the Glimmer Twins.



Year Of Release: 1995
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11

Acoustic re-runs of the evergreens. Interesting, but why????


Track listing: 1) Street Fighting Man; 2) Like A Rolling Stone; 3) Not Fade Away; 4) Shine A Light; 5) The Spider And The Fly; 6) I'm Free; 7) Wild Horses; 8) Let It Bleed; 9) Dead Flowers; 10) Slipping Away; 11) Angie; 12) Love In Vain; 13) Sweet Virginia; 14) Little Baby.

Instead of following Voodoo Lounge with a typical live album, like the Stones usually do, this time around they decided to combine a few live cuts with some material culled from rehearsals and release a 'bastard'. Whether one welcomes the decision or not, it's at least something "different": the closest the Stones had ever come to doing an Unplugged of their own. What's even more attractive, most of the songs aren't greatest hits, but rather slightly more obscure songs from different stages in their career. In fact, out of fourteen songs only one track goes beyond 1973 - and that's 'Slipping Away' (well, they HAD to include some Keith singing, thanks goodness it wasn't 'Coming Down Again' or 'Thru And Thru'!)

So we have some tracks going back to as early as 1965, grating their first serious songwriting attempts ('I'm Free'; 'The Spider And The Fly', with the original 'she looked about thirty' changed to 'she looked about fifty', and that's the only thing about the recording that betrays the actual decade it took place in), going on to the gold period ('Street Fighting Man'; 'Love In Vain', 'Let It Bleed') and the early seventies ('Wild Horses'; 'Dead Flowers'; 'Sweet Virginia'; 'Shine A Light'; 'Angie'). We even have a 'Not Fade Away', for Chrissake... that was the number they opened all the Voodoo Lounge shows with, by the way.

How well is this stuff performed? Decent. That's what I say: decent. Some fans nearly drool all over this album, calling it "fresh" and "lively" and other nice words that mean a lot, but I won't pretend that I really enjoy these versions. I don't even blame the Stones' age or the lack of Bill Wyman or any other extra factors. You see, a rehearsal is a rehearsal. It's worth hearing a rehearsal once, just to know 'how it all happens', but the only reason to return to it over time is when you get sick of relistening to the 'classics' for the umpteenth time.

See, these songs don't sound all that different from the original version, and none of them improve over the original versions. Examples? The worst examples would include 'Angie', a very very poor performance with Jagger forgetting the lyrics and and losing ninety percent of those subtle intonations that made the studio original worthwhile. Or 'Shine A Light', which is totally butchered by Ronnie's uninspired solos; where Mick Taylor used to raise the song to unspeakable emotional heights, Ronnie just does a couple pro forma guitar passages. I'm not actually sure if Ronnie could soar to Mick's heights - he's a good guitarist, but nowhere near as well-trained and well-versed in lead playing as Mick. So why not rehearse a little more, or just scrap the song?

'Love In Vain' and 'Wild Horses' suffer from somewhat poor vocals, too, but they're definitely more decent; the only thing which bugs me is that for a Stones album, not to mention a Stones' live album, the percentage of balladry is somewhat too high; having these two songs plus 'Angie' and 'Slipping Away' all on one disc might cause some rougher-tinged Stones fan to have a nervous breakdown. In this case, scrap 'em - there's a rather ass-kickin' version of 'Street Fighting Man' that'll sure get your blood flowing. It's the only half-electric original on the entire album, though.

Highlights on here, for me, include the oldies: I really dig the way they do 'The Spider And The Fly' and 'I'm Free', not just because these are two excellent obscure sounds that the boys have revitalized, but because the acoustic sheen gives them a certain aura of antiquity and authenticity, you know, the same kind of aura that surrounds a long forgotten brilliant folkie tune that somebody recently unearthed and performed in public. The more countryesque numbers are also fine by me - after all, 'Dead Flowers' and 'Sweet Virginia' were meant to be performed that way.

Plus, for those who don't like multiple versions, as is the case with every Stones' album, there are a couple of "elsewhere unavailable" tunes. One of these is the Stones' little joke on Bob Dylan - their version of, right, 'Like A Rolling Stone', which works surprisingly well; the band actually loved their little 'gift' so much that they took the number over to their Bridges To Babylon tour to become the centerpiece of the 'small stage' mini-show. The other one is a little tribute to W. Dixon, an old blues tune of his called 'Little Baby'. Good tune, even if totally unexceptional... it's rather sad to think that whereas in 1964 the Stones could do the blues like no-one else could, in 1994 the Stones do the blues just like everybody else. Charlie's brushes are perhaps the most wonderful part of the performance.

Not that I'm really 'displeased' - I have to commend the guys for trying this thing out, and I really doubt that it could have worked out better than it did. After all, these 'unplugged'-type albums don't usually pretend to be anything more than pleasant minor diversions, don't they? (With the exception of Clapton's set, mayhaps). I do sense the odd Jagger-type commercial whiff, though: there's no doubt in my mind that Mr J really envied the whole MTV affair so much that he decided to compete with the whole business on his own, much like the Stones competed with Woodstock with their own ill-fated festival in 1969. This time, though, Mick lost the battle again - Stripped didn't sell all that well. But Stones fans probably bought it, and if you're a Stones fan, I don't see any reason for you to stay away... apart from maybe the intentionally ugly album sleeve, which sure kept me away from buying it for the longest time.



Year Of Release: 1997
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 12

A pretty normal latest album, but it's just a bit too dark and Jaggerish for me.


Track listing: 1) Flip The Switch; 2) Anybody Seen My Baby; 3) Low-Down; 4) Already Over Me; 5) Gunface; 6) You Don't Have To Mean It; 7) Out Of Control; 8) Saint Of Me; 9) Might As Well Get Juiced; 10) Always Suffering; 11) Too Tight; 12) Thief In The Night; 13) How Can I Stop.

Now don't blame me. The hype was enormous, the tour was great, and most of the songs here are just fine. But overall I wouldn't think of this album as belonging to the Stones' finest work. They sure do not stagnate, and they're certainly willing to take a few risks and make a few experimentations, and the playing, singing, mix, and production are as flawless as possible. However, musically it's not as strong as some make it out to be...

Voodoo Lounge has always been defined as the Keith album, what with all the retro production values, very few abuses of modern technologies and, well, just mainly the traditional "Stones formula" working its way through. On the contrary, the far more experimental Bridges To Babylon is certainly a 'Jagger' album. Keith's presence here is definitely felt, as most of the guitar riffs are trademark Mr Richards; but the 'aura' of the songs, many of them dark and dreary, strongly reeks of Jagger, and where Voodoo Lounge tended to avoid trends, Bridges jump into the whole Nineties' nightmare with gusto.

That said, Keith does get to have as much as three of his own "solo" numbers on here - no mean feat for the man, who had so far been strictly and severely limited to two. None of these are rare gems, though, a la 'Slipping Away'. 'You Don't Have To Mean It' is a rather dull reggaeish whine, monotonous to the point of hysteria and abysmally produced at that, with the voices and instruments merging together to give one a headache. And the closing two tracks - 'Thief In The Night' and 'How Can I Stop' belong to the same Keith-unmelodic-wailing-dustbin that has already accumulated so many of his so-called 'ballads'. I'll have to repeat it again: I am an active believer in Keef's utter sincerity and everything, and I have no problems whatsoever with his ragged singing, but what I need is a melody. Keef is a master of riff, both loud and brash and thin and subtle; why it is so tremendously hard for him to write an interesting and outstanding melody when it comes to ballads is way, way beyond me. Oh well, at least 'How Can I Stop' is slightly touching and nostalgic, with a warm, lush sax solo towards the end, and I'm not willing to make a punch about the title. Even more, I'd say that it was a sly move to put the song at the end - that way, if Bridges To Babylon for some reason turns out to be the Stones' last studio album, the final notes of 'How Can I Stop' will always... ah, well, you know. I can feel 'em tears jerking up already. Come to think of it, maybe that's why they usually end up all their albums with nostalgic introspective Keith ballads.

But enough about Keith. Mick is captain-in-chief on the rest, and it produces mixed results. On one hand, we have a couple of good old ferocious dark rockers - the opening 'Flip The Switch' is, as they boast, the fastest song they ever recorded (for some reason, though, it still sounds slower than 'Rip This Joint' to these ears), and 'Too Tight' is certainly an improvement over 'Too Tough'. 'Flip The Switch' is, in fact, the ultimate late period Stones rocker - I mean, the sight of Jagger flying his hair around and producing evil grins as he shouts 'what would it take to bury me? I can't wait, I can't wait to see!' on stage sure was one of the most dramatic moments of the tour.

The ballad 'Already Over Me' is a cross between 'Almost Hear You Sigh' from Steel Wheels (grandiosity) and 'Fool To Cry' (subtleness) and is thus quite good. Late period Stones' ballads have rarely been able to fascinate me - they definitely lost the golden touch after spending most of the Eighties in gutsy raunchiness - but this is a rare and treasurable exception, with a fascinating vocal delivery from Mick. He stands so close to the mike that you get to scrutinize every single subtle detail in his vocals, which is simply grand; in fact, Mick's singing and particularly the mixing of his voice on Bridges is definitely the best since God knows when. Unfortunately, 'Already Over Me' is still an exception - on the album's second ballad, 'Always Suffering', Mick tries to pull an 'Out Of Tears Part II' and fails, with the song going for atmosphere rather than for a firmly planted hook.

The more experimental numbers are also fifty-fifty. On one hand, Mick gets a winner with the magnificent 'Out Of Control', a song that's a definite must for any Stones fan with enough self-respect. The way the band alternates slow dark sections with fast crashing rockin' moves, the stop-and-starts, the wild harmonica break, it's all ace, although it would be fair to say the song didn't really come to full life until the stage performance (my theory is that anybody who sees the Rolling Stones perform 'Out Of Control' on stage, even on tape, will never again resort to using the expression 'old farts' in their address, nor will he or she ever say a stupid phrase like 'why don't they finally go their own ways?'). Plus, he gets even more adventurous with the synth-led "slow-technofest" 'Might As Well Get Juiced' which I used to hate but now love dearly - the 'juiced-up' bass line and Mick's slowly 'melting' vocals are a marvel. The song almost reminds me of Peter Gabriel, and it's the closest the Stones ever got to becoming "alternative", whatever that means.

On the other hand, a particularly low point includes the hit single 'Anybody Seen My Baby' which is just so 90's-like and so un-Stones-like I can hardly stand it. The generic bass, the idiotic 'rap section', everything about the song is so stinkingly commercial... ugh. This is clearly an example of Mick trying to get the younger generation into the Stones... all he got was a dumb younger generation straddling through the streets chanting 'anybody seee-eeen myyy baaaaa-by?'. I daresay not too many of these kids ever decided to try out Let It Bleed after this memorable event.

The rest of the tracks are okay - 'Gunface' features 'disco rock' or 'funk rock', if you prefer it, and has a strangely annoying metallic guitar tone, 'Saint Of Me' is not bad, but hardly the next 'Sympathy For The Devil' as has been proclaimed by Stones fans. And the guitars on 'Lowdown' just don't seem Keith-ish to me... more Aerosmith than the stones.

Like I already said, the atmosphere here is much darker than on Voodoo Lounge, which is rather surprising especially since everything else was so good and bright - the expectations, the tour, etc. But Mick isn't a very 'bright' guy in any case, if you know what I really mean. That said, I am in no way trying to diminish the record's importance; frankly speaking, I doubt they could have made a better album than this at such a time. It has many flaws, but it has one big advantage: the Stones are still able to make records that would manage to sound musical and melodic, on one side, and hit all the right contemporary nerves, on the other. Not that they're setting any trends or anything; they're following them. But it's one thing to follow a trend blindly, and another thing to make a tasteful, intelligent, and, on the whole, worthy album as Bridges. And hey there, I'd be the first to put 'Flip The Switch', 'Out Of Control', and 'Already Over Me' into the Golden Fund of the Stones, so this alone should probably say something.



Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 12

After all these years, they've still got it! Well, depending on what you consider to be 'it', of course...


Track listing: 1) Intro; 2) You Got Me Rocking; 3) Gimme Shelter; 4) Flip The Switch; 5) Memory Motel; 6) Corinna; 7) Saint Of Me; 8) Waiting On A Friend; 9) Sister Morphine; 10) Live With Me; 11) Respectable; 12) Thief In The Night; 13) The Last Time; 14) Out Of Control.

It's really unfortunate that Bridges made the charts and this one hasn't and probably never will, cos as decent as Bridges were, in many many respects it's better. Apparently, the album just didn't get as much promotion as Bridges got - sadly enough, in this corrupted world of ours promotion is DA TING, man. This resulted in a chain of events likely to piss off a lot of Stones fans; for instance, there had been plans of releasing something like an official 2-CD package with recent outtakes, a real paradise for Stoneheads like me, but all this was scrapped in the wake of No Security's commercial failure. Dumb.

Anyway, I had really high hopes for this album after seeing the tour, and even if these hopes haven't been justified totally, well, I'm still pretty much satisfied with the result. Critics usually twirl their noses at all of the Stones' live albums since Ya-Ya's, most of the actual criticisms going like 'gee, how many more live records do these guys really need?' But the hilarious thing about it is that apparently, the further you get, the better you get - No Security is the band's best live album since Ya-Ya's, and it shows.

The main idea on here was not to release another 'Greatest Hits Live'; therefore, the album is blatantly missing the usual classics like 'Satisfaction', 'Jumpin' Jack Flash', 'Honky Tonk Women', 'Brown Sugar', etc. (It may well be that this decision is one of the factors that turned off the 'common fan' - after all, what use do you have for a live Stones record if you browse through the track listing and don't find any Hot Rocks standards on there? Ooh man, where's da headbanging factor?) On one hand, it was certainly a good idea: common fans are common fans, of course, but indeed, how many live versions of 'Satisfaction' do we have to endure? Haven't the Stones already released a fair share of these? On the other hand, this results in a somewhat scrappy album which doesn't really recreate the atmosphere of the show: even though there are no fade-outs between songs, it feels like a collection (not to mention Mick talking in several languages throughout the record). Fans who actually saw the tour will be heavily disappointed when the intro takes off, the screen comet blasts away and instead of the inspiring 'Satisfaction' riff we hear the band launching into 'You Got Me Rocking'; likewise, the idea to finish the 'show' with 'Out Of Control' instead of the usual classics might almost seem off-putting. But hey, whatever, the tour caused something like a couple hundred bootlegs, so why worry?

More disturbing is the fact that there are way too few slow moody numbers for a Stones concert: 'Memory Motel' (with guest star Dave Matthews whose voice actually sounds OK despite the fans' constant blasphemation - look, people, Mick Jagger's vocal cords aren't the only laudable thing on this planet), 'Waiting On A Friend', 'Sister Morphine', the Taj Mahal guest appearance on 'Corrina Corrina' and Keith's boring vocal spotlight 'Thief In The Night' are all performed quite well, but what are they doing between the really great energetic highlights, such as 'Flip The Switch', the opening 'You Got Me Rocking', the oldie-but-goldie 'The Last Time' and a fantastic version of 'Respectable'? These are the songs that I listen to frequently, even if 'The Last Time' is a trifle marred by being slowed down (as compared to the regular live playing, I mean), and 'Respectable' is a trifle marred by cheesy backup vocals. I need some drive for a Stones' concert, dammit! I love Stones' ballads as well as anybody, but if I want to listen to their ballads I'll readily pick up a studio album. Mind you that on a real concert these problems would simply be non-existent: they rarely performed more than two or three slow songs during a show, and added a lot more of hard-rockin' classics. So I'll say it again: the album's main problem lies in being unrepresentative. They could have easily replaced a couple of slow songs with 'Bitch' or '19th Nervous Breakdown', or whatever else they performed on the tour - and they did perform a lot, what with the famous 'Internet voting' for the best-loved song. Although Mick did later confess that they messed up the voting results sometimes. Otherwise, they'd probably have to play 'Love Is Strong' for twenty shows in a row...

Still, I keep catching myself complaining and bitching, but whatever be, most of the performances are great. Mick's voice sounds fine, even though he rarely changes his tone, obviously saving it 'for later'. The guitarwork is excellent, incomparable as it is with the Ya-Ya's sound. It's better than on Love You Live, though, especially when it comes to the mix: Ronnie's guitars, usually inaudible in the context of the actual show, are delicately separated and brought high enough in the mix, which makes the fabulous guitar interplay all the more driving and intoxicating. The backing musicians sometimes seem annoying, but sometimes not (Lisa Fischer, the back-up singer, does a great job on 'Gimmie Shelter', even though she's no Mary Clayton). And the album closes with 'Out Of Control' which really only revealed its potential in concert (the closing jam is not effective without the video, though). Good work, boys! Just dump that atrocious album cover and clean up the backyard!

And please somebody do me a favour: clean up all those 'though, though, though' in this review. Replace it with just one big THOUGH: 'This is a magnificent live album, THOUGH it ain't no Ya-Ya's'. Which is why it gets deprived of a couple of points.



Year Of Release: 2004
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11

I don't wanna confuse anyone, but they gone and done it AGAIN.


Track listing: CD I: 1) Brown Sugar; 2) Street Fighting Man; 3) Paint It Black; 4) You Can't Always Get What You Want; 5) Start Me Up; 6) It's Only Rock'n'Roll; 7) Angie; 8) Honky Tonk Women; 9) Happy; 10) Gimme Shelter; 11) (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction;

CD II: 1) Neighbours; 2) Monkey Man; 3) Rocks Off; 4) Can't You Hear Me Knocking; 5) That's How Strong My Love Is; 6) The Nearness Of You; 7) Beast Of Burden; 8) When The Whip Comes Down; 9) Rock Me Baby; 10) You Don't Have To Mean It; 11) Worried About You; 12) Everybody Needs Somebody To Love.

Formally (but very formally) speaking, this isn't really a case of two live albums in a row. The Stones really did come together once more to make a new studio album some time during the first years of the XXIst century. However, due to all kinds of idiotic factors like Jagger missing the filming schedule for some new lame, misguided movie he'd like to star in, or preferring to concentrate on yet another lame, misguided solo album of his, nothing much came out of the idea; the best one can say is that at least Mick and Keith did remain on speaking terms, unlike during the 1986 situation. They did manage to record a handful of new material, something like a CD single-worth. But since CD singles are known to have this foolish tendency to cost less than big albums, they quickly rolled out a new compilation of all-time classics, spliced the new songs to the tail part, called it Forty Licks and gave it the green light. I didn't buy it.

The ensuing live companion, however, I did buy, despite the fact that it's got only one song I haven't heard previously and it sucks a lot. Now I can reassure all you youngsters: there's no need to be alarmed - I'm not gonna play dinosaur shepherd and proclaim this the best album of 2004. (Nope, the best album of 2004 was J. J. Cale's To Tulsa And Back, and whoever said J. J. Cale has turned into a dinosaur? He'd been a dinosaur since the day he first took up the guitar!). But based on the level of self-assuredness and dexterousness displayed on No Security, I was secretly hoping I'd get my money's worth. After all, if the Stones have stuck so closely to the tendency of making each and every one of their tours, starting with the nadir of 1981-82, better than the previous one, Live Licks could be that secret masterpiece we'd all been hoping for! No Ya-Ya's, perhaps, but close.

Well, it isn't close. But it is pretty good. This time around, the gimmick is not just to include a few rare delights in the mix, but to actually separate the golden old chestnuts, putting them on one disc, and the platinum old rarities, sticking them on another. That way, there's one disc "for the casual fan" and one "for the seasoned pro" - which, of course, begs for the question "why don't they sell them apart so that everybody gets that which he needs and that which he needs only?" and is immediately gagged by the answer "because double CDs are more expensive than non-double ones". Besides, come on now, what's wrong with the seasoned pro sitting once more through 'Satisfaction'? He's probably already forgotten how the main riff goes, all wrapped up to his ears in rare studio outtakes. Let him be reminded once more of eternal goodness. And what's wrong with the unexperienced neophyte forced to listen to Keith Richards sing (sic!) Hoagy Carmichael (sic!)? Life is hard to predict, and from time to time, you meet people out there that actually engage in things almost as reprehensible.

But never mind me and my speculations. You have your own method of dealing with the Stones and their live albums, I'm sure. Let's talk about the music instead. The first disc, strange enough, is not nearly as dispensable as you could think. Okay, so 'Angie' never worked real well in a live setting; 'Start Me Up' lost half of its charm since they dropped the "swinging" atmosphere of the original and gave it this ugly robotic shape; and I know Keith has this huge crush on Sheryl Crowe, but if he ever lets her sing on 'Honky Tonk Women' again, I'll personally start petitioning for the release of Mark Chapman so that he gets the right target this next time. Not to mention that Keith was probably so flabbergasted at seeing his tits and ass get soul that he actually wrecked the guitar solo on the song - first time I've ever witnessed him do that. It's a bitch, all right.

On the positive side, 'Street Fighting Man' hasn't sounded that authentic in ages. 'Paint It Black' restores a bit of the old magic by means of a sitar-like effect employed by either Keith or Ronnie. Lisa Fischer's wailing on 'Gimmie Shelter' just gets better and better - by now, she's technically far more advanced than Merry Clayton, although still a couple notches shy of reaching the apocalyptic effect of the original. And then there's also a very encouraging first: Ronnie finally got his stuff together for 'You Can't Always Get What You Want', giving out a solo that doesn't just consist of a bunch of incoherent notes or maniacal Angus-Young-inspired trills that have nothing to do with the idea of the song whatsoever, but - can you believe this? - is actually well fit to the song's general mood. My secret hope was that they'd finally let the man do some more kick ass soloing on 'Brown Sugar', but nah... Bobby Keyes is with them still, and when you got Bobby Keyes, guitar soloing on 'Brown Sugar' is out of the question. I understand, but I also reserve the right to feel sad about it.

In any case, disc one is definitely not worthless - it shows that, instead of being completely turned off by the old chestnuts and performing them as generically and pro forma as possible (which I would find excusable from a 40-year old band), they're actually trying to rejuvenate them by... bringing them closer to their original form. Now as for what concerns disc two, these are the songs that had been performed far less frequently - some, in fact, never - which means more surprises, but not necessarily pleasant ones. The Carmichael song ('The Nearness Of You') is the most not necessarily pleasant one. The only good thing I can say about it is that yep, I now get a fairly good idea about Keef's main inspiration for all of his jello-like album closers since Emotional Rescue. I have no reasons to doubt his sincerity, but no amount of sincerity is gonna breathe new life into a thoroughly dead duck like that one, and Keef is no baron Munchhausen after all. Nor is he Barbra Streisand.

However, that's really an exception rather than the norm. The norm on here seems to be experiment, daringness, and unpredictability. Only the wildest of fans could ever dream of the Stones resuscitating 'Can't You Hear Me Knocking', but they do - well, Keith does gruesomely simplify the opening riff, and Ronnie, classy as he is, is no Mick Taylor when it comes to paralyzing the listener with his use of the guitar, but it's nevertheless played with confidence, lightness, and glee, not to mention that the jam section is even longer than in the studio, helped by an unexpected Jagger harmonica solo, and then there's Bobby, and Bobby's always Bobby. Not even the wildest fan, however, could have ever dreamed of hearing Solomon Burke himself get out on stage and add a few scorching lines to the resuscitated - and heavily fuelled - rendition of 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love', a highlight if there ever was one. Even more invigorating than seeing Bo Diddley join the band for a performance of 'Who Do You Love' on the Voodoo Lounge tour. Nice tradition, anyway. Too bad they couldn't get Hoagy.

The biggest surprise for me, though, was Jagger's singing. It is mostly Mick who's responsible for the grotesque degradation of Stones' live shows since the mid-Seventies, and it is Mick's gradual backing away from the "show" elements back to the "music" spine of the concerts that has progressively made their live shows into a total gas again. (Well, I suppose Keith's state also mattered, but it's considered bad taste today to blame Keith for anything). And honestly, last time he sang that good during a stage show was... well, er, let's leave that part hanging. For one thing, he does falsetto. During a friggin' live show? Unbelievable. But here it is, on 'Worried About You', that obscure ballad from Tattoo You which lives on falsetto - doesn't exist without falsetto and its clever interchanging with Mick's patented barking - and this live version doesn't let you down at all. Here's Mick doing that old soul cover, 'That's How Strong My Love Is', employing vocal modulation that I thought was forever lost on him since at least 1974. Wrong again. There it is. Welcome back, Mick, it sure been a long time.

So you decide for yourself whether you need this. A live companion for a best-of collection - I know this sounds pitiful. If you're rich and fabulous, maybe you'd like the DVD set Four Flicks instead, which is far more diagnostic of their actual live set and captures the band stadium-wise, arena-style, and club-like for youse to compare. But if you're not, don't be afraid of Live Licks; the scariest thing about it is apparently the anime lady on the front cover, which horrified US censorship boards so much they insisted on giving her a bikini top. Ironic, since the lady is nowhere near as "menacing" as is, say, the lyrical content of 'When The Whip Comes Down', which I have, by the way, highlighted as the best track because it just happens to be the most kick-ass rocker on here, and he who doesn't agree that kick-ass rockers are the best kind of material the Rolling Stones can offer for their shows is akin to he who thinks of Madonna in terms of 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina'.



Year Of Release: 2005
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 11

Well, after decades of waiting I now know what a "generic Rolling Stones album" really is. And I like it.


Track listing: 1) Rough Justice; 2) Let Me Down Slow; 3) It Won't Take Long; 4) Rain Fall Down; 5) Streets Of Love; 6) Back Of My Hand; 7) She Saw Me Coming; 8) Biggest Mistake; 9) This Place Is Empty; 10) Oh No Not You Again; 11) Dangerous Beauty; 12) Laugh I Nearly Died; 13) Sweet Neocon; 14) Look What The Cat Dragged In; 15) Driving Too Fast; 16) Infamy.

This review is dedicated to the loving memory of my father - which is more than appropriate, considering his ever-positive attitude towards the band (even though he sort of lost touch with their output after Let It Bleed). He even lived to see them play live in Moscow in 1997, and surprised me by speaking fondly of Bridges To Babylon - I have a hunch he'd find A Bigger Bang to his liking as well, had he lived long enough to hear it. The oddest thing is, I was just opening the Stones page for editing when I got the news - which is why the review is almost a month late. Looks like I'll always have a special kind of relationship with this record from now on. Well, this one's for you, Dad, wherever you might be.

A Bigger Bang. Such a presumptuous title, but a little bit prophetic, because by now we have been told by critics a-plenty that this is easily their best since [insert anything beginning with 1972 and ending with 1981 here]. Well, perhaps they're right and maybe they're wrong, but to me it seems that I have long since lost the ability to arrange Stones' albums, bar the three or four most obviously outstanding ones, on a well-gradated personal preference scale. Do I really care whether A Bigger Bang is an improvement over Bridges To Babylon or not? With twenty-five studio albums behind their backs and more than fourty years of playing experience, the Stones have effectively deprived me of those considerations.

That said, A Bigger Bang is definitely a major improvement over the last studio album to come out of the Stones camp, Mick Jagger's Goddess In The Doorway. In fact, it's so definitely and, I'd say, intentionally everything that album was not that I can't get rid of weird mental images (such as Mick kowtowing before Keith, begging and imploring to be pardoned for a temporary descent into the Dark Side, and Keith doing a "may the Force be with you, son" kind of ritual). In any case, if you agree with a superficial understanding of Mr Jagger, Bang is a Keith Richards album all the way through. But on a deeper level, samsara and nirvana are in the end one and the same, and so are Mick and Keith. So it's just a Stones album.

Hey, that phrase actually meant more than I intended. It is, indeed, JUST a Stones album. The kind of album that people who only know about the Stones based on a couple radio hits and maybe an occasional best-of collection would think the Stones have been releasing all their life. Big, brawny, rhythmic, aggressive barroom rock'n'roll. Experimentation is out the window, face down in the garbage bin. Even the instrumentation reaches some kind of ultimate minimalistic record; about half the songs do list "piano" or "keyboards" in the credits, but dammit, I can't remember a single key-stroke - only the guitars. And Charlie's drums, which seem to progressively get louder and louder as Charlie himself gets older and older.

Not only that, but the songs are also impossibly "generic" in mood, melody, and attitude. Misogyny, sarcasm, character assassination, sleazy soul, and a disarming tear-jerker from Keith; not a single off-putting psychedelic surprise or, perchance, a stab at an amusing bossa nova. You have heard all of this before - many times. So many times, in fact, that not one of these songs is a song you haven't heard before. If you haven't heard one of these songs before, it probably means that you haven't heard a lot of Rolling Stones songs before, because the more Rolling Stones songs you've heard before, the more you realise there isn't one song on here that you haven't heard before. Of course, I'm not being literal when I say that you've heard all these songs before; I'm just saying that you've probably heard so many Rolling Stones songs before that not a single song on here can get you to state that you haven't heard it before. And vice versa, of course.

What I was really trying to say before I got into this whirlpool of conscience was that A Bigger Bang offers no ready-made "classics". It's pretty hard for me to find anything that would fit well on a "career retrospective" collection. Unless, of course, Jagger eventually makes something on here take on an entirely different life onstage (like he did with 'Out Of Control'), although recent reviews from the band's live shows do not hint at anything like that. In this respect, A Bigger Bang is a hell of a bigger disappointment; not since Dirty Work have we seen an album so devoid of, er, let's call it "major forms of expression". Time may prove me wrong, of course, but for now, fuck time.

Or maybe don't fuck time. You see, all of these guys are now in their sixties. Not even in their fifties. A decade and a half ago, the Stones gave the world a nice example of how to continue practicing rock'n'roll while acting their age; all the while, however, they were also spending loads of efforts in order to keep hip and cool, hooking up with newer generation producers and technologies, diversifying their creative approach and partying with Sheryl Crow. Now, when every Rolling Stones record really threatens to be their last, due to certain bureaucratic restrictions imposed on us by whatever supernatural powers there are, they probably think that as long as they keep on rocking - and that's that - they have their point stated out loud, proud, and definite. They don't need to take creative chances anymore. Being over 60 delivers them from that responsibility.

And I'll say that they have every right to display that attitude. No instantly memorable hits? Well, as long as the songs aren't awful, ain't no big deal; they already got more hits tucked away in their pockets than any major respectable rock band could carry. No diversity in the arrangements? Well, as long as the playing is solid, who gives a damn; go look for diversity in their 60s albums instead. Can't call the album a masterpiece? Well, is it even supposed to be one? (So apparently Jagger did compare it with Exile On Main St. in his interviews, but what he probably meant was a certain similarity in approach during the writing and recording process, not the standard "this one is just as good as that one" routine).

I don't think my money's on the songs anyway. This time, my money's primarily on the sound. The record is awesomely produced. The guitars are crunchy and mean in an early Seventies kind of way, maybe even meaner than the Stones themselves in that period - more like early Alice Cooper, perhaps. (Okay, so maybe they are keeping it cool, after all, and all of this attitude is simply Jagger sniffing the right way again, what with all the neo-garage revivalism of the Strokes and the Stripes and all the other plural forms going round). Charlie's drums, like I already mentioned, sound as if, after all these years, he's finally shaken the last grains of sand out of their bottom. And Mick is Mick's usual self, except that he is also seriously involved in the playing, contributing lots of guitar parts - and occasionally, even bass parts, if the record notes are to be believed.

There's a very spontaneous atmosphere throughout; the emphasis is clearly on getting together and having a good time rather than contributing something self-consciously "important". And I think you have to focus on that. If you go like, "man, 'Rough Justice' is a terrible song! Did it take them thirty or fourty seconds to pull these two chords out of their asses?", then, yeah, I guess you won't be able to get a nice positive vibe flowing. But if you go like, "wow, Keith and Ronnie are really getting it on with that interplay, who else can get so sincerely ecstatic within such a generic context?", you're onto something. For some magic reason, no matter how generic brawny rockers like 'Rough Justice', 'Oh No Not You Again', or 'Driving Too Fast' are, I have managed to easily memorise all of them; but that's not the point. The point is Keith and Ronnie are still kicking booty like only Keith and Ronnie can.

From that viewpoint, you'll probably understand it when I say that 'Look What The Cat Dragged In' is my favourite tune on here. Oddly, I've seen it compared with some ancient INXS hit that I haven't heard yet, but whatever the resemblance might be - and I do think rather positively of INXS and their legacy - with all due respect, INXS could only wish they had anything like the kind of Richards/Wood guitar battles as captured on tape during the instrumental parts of this song. Not to mention the oddly shaped Eastern melody that runs through the song and the marvelous descending riff that Ronnie gets going in the chorus. That's some kind of interplay out there.

The rockers thus constitute the high points, but nothing really constitutes low ones. Well, speaking of the ballads, I'd say 'Streets Of Love' is a potentially good song, but is severely marred by cheap lyrics ('I walk the streets of love and they're full of tears' - what are we, playing some kind of Shakira?) and ugly power-balladeerish heavy guitar arrangements; the tune really calls for some sort of epic Paul Buckmaster-worthy orchestral arrangement instead. As it is, it's way too similar to 'Out Of Tears' in attitude and atmosphere, and I've never liked that one too much either. On the other hand, 'Laugh, I Nearly Died', I think, is a success. It's dark and kinda creepy, and although it takes not knowing anything about Mick to actually suppose it really reflects some of his personal thoughts and feelings, I still find myself willing to be deceived. Occasionally.

In other news, there's a - by now obligatory among the liberal crowds - anti-Bush diatribe on 'Sweet Neocon', a funny catchy ditty with lyrics even more inane than on 'Streets Of Love' (but then maybe it was Mick's aim to provide the liberal masses with nursery rhyme slogans like 'Where's the money gone/In the Pentagon' and nothing else). The band briefly taps into its funk/disco legacy with 'Rain Fall Down', which is kinda like 'Dance Pt. 3' but with better guitars and a better pronounced faux-decadent mood; throws in a few lazy pop hooks on songs like 'Let Me Down Slow' and 'The Biggest Mistake'; and gets all threatening and ominous on the grungey 'It Won't Take Long'.

As a final bonus, Keith contributes two songs that are anything but his usual soulful slop - well, they are soulful, but they're pretty well structured and "sing-along-able" compared to his usual self. And he still got that magic touch - 'Infamy' has, like, one chord to go along with, but it still manages to provide a respectable coda to the album. Maybe it's because that one chord is sort of oddly processed (easily the only case of such processing on the record), but more likely it's just ragged charisma time again.

The bottomline is - it all depends on the standards you're judging this against. Against the Strokes this holds up pretty well. Against Exile On Main St., its scope, broadness, depth, actuality and freshness - it doesn't. If we really want to hold on to the comparison, this is very much a poor man's Exile, a perfect gift for Stones-haters who finally have some real proof that the Stones are just generic geriatric ga-ga. Deep down inside, I feel myself somewhat duped and frustrated: this is the kind of music I think the band should be making, instead of going for the 'Anybody Seen My Baby' trends, and this also isn't the kind of music they should be associated with. A case study could be made of 'Back Of My Hand', an "original" blues tune in the vein of 'You Gotta Move', which is at the same time near-flawlessly performed and completely and utterly useless from a general view of the band's legacy. Curiously, Mick Jagger has only barely reached the necessary age to emulate an old, weathered bluesman, and yet he was so much more convincing and effective at it thirty or even fourty years ago.

But in the final end, I enjoyed the music, and never really found all that much to complain about while staying away from comparisons. Who are these guys? I don't know them. Sounds like a pretty tight, sharp-toothed rock'n'roll band to me. Nothing jaw-dropping, but they sure love their guitars and crap. Say, could we maybe get them to appear on Ed Sullivan?


RARITIES 1971-2003

Year Of Release: 2005
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 10

So let's just hope they're so diligent about they begin with the bottom of the barrel and then... aw, scrap it.

Best song: LET IT ROCK

Track listing: 1) Fancy Man Blues; 2) Tumbling Dice; 3) Wild Horses; 4) Beast Of Burden; 5) Anyway You Look At It; 6) If I Was A Dancer (Dance Pt. 2); 7) Miss You (dance version); 8) Wish I'd Never Met You; 9) I Just Wanna Make Love To You; 10) Mixed Emotions (12" version); 11) Through The Lonely Nights; 12) Live With Me; 13) Let It Rock; 14) Harlem Shuffle (NY mix); 15) Mannish Boy; 16) Thru And Thru.

You don't really need to have spent the best years of your life sleeping in Keith Richards' backyard to know, lock, stock, and barrel, that this here CD is just a big stinky rip-off. After all, it was marketed through Starbucks, and this makes me wonder if it wasn't intended like that - for all the world to know that the Stones are ripping them off right there in their faces and getting away with it, because, well, they are the Stones and you aren't even a sitcom appearance. You wanna get ripped off - it's your choice. You might even like Starbucks coffee, what do I know?

But it is indeed a sad fact when I see the sacred word rarities humiliated deeper than the Prophet in a Danish newspaper. Usually, when somebody comes up behind me and whispers rarities, I imagine something like a healthy bunch of obscure B-sides, previously unheard outtakes and live versions of well-known standards presumed to blow your socks off. Unquestionably the Stones have those in droves, and a little bit of it is fairly visible on this disc. But only a little. Heck, maybe they thought if they gave us just a little more we'd all be left blind, deaf and dumb, struck by their Majesties' awesomeness - think of a certain brand of Far Eastern emperors here.

To spare our senses, though, the band have generously fished out such major dummies as, for instance... a live version of 'Thru And Thru'! Not only is it taken directly from the recent Four Flicks DVD (a much more wholesome purchase, if you ask me), but it's just not the kind of Keith Richards song I couldn't live without. Granted, I like it better than the studio version. It's a wee bit livelier, a wee bit shorter, and for some reason Keith's emotional solos on his gentle ballads always come off better on stage than they do in the studio, and he can't really solo, too, so it's a fair marvel. But is that really enough to guarantee the song's inclusion at the expense of [long long list here, censored by Al Gore who just told me he didn't invent the Internet for THAT purpose, much as he likes the Stones]? No, that is really not enough. Not at all sir.

Likewise, what's the point of including live renditions of 'Wild Horses' - originally present on Stripped - and 'Live With Me' - originally present on No Security? It's not like anybody who cares can't find these albums in the used bins (and I'm not knocking them - they're both fine - but they're, you know, available). And the biggest offense: giving us 'Mannish Boy' from Love You Live which, I admit, isn't a particularly great work of art, but is still indispensable for every serious Stones fan as a vital document of the band's look in the mid-Seventies. Do they mean that we have to can all three and, from now on, limit ourselves to these "highlights"? Do they implicitly admit - shudder - that some of their live albums weren't that good? Uh????!

And then they start giving us B-sides. Guess what; these aren't very good B-sides. There's quite a bit generic blues here, in fact, and mind I said generic, which means latter-day, because in the good old magic times of Atlantis and Eldorado the Stones never did their blues generically. But neither 'Fancy Man Blues' from the 1994 sessions nor 'Wish I'd Never Met You' from the 1989 ones add anything worth remembering to the Stones legacy. You can take the Stones out of their beds in the early morning hours, plant them in the studio and command them to play 12-bar, and they'll churn out something like that. It'll still be a million light years better than putting any of your fancypants blues revivalists in the same position, but the question is - better relative to what?...

Finally, some of the choices are just weird. Does anybody really need extended remixes of 'Mixed Emotions' and 'Harlem Shuffle'? I'm a-guessin' the only purpose of these remixes was, back in the blessed mid- to late Eighties, to provide you with a few more minutes of opportunity to wiggle your butt next to your chosen one with her three-mile-high coiffure in your local dance club. But, thank Heaven, these days are long gone by and today, nothing but Sarah Jessica Parker remains to remind you of the horror. That is, her and these remixes. Why?...

But least I've already made you forget you're on the Stones page on this site, I still count six tracks on here that I'm really glad to put in my pocket. Together, they make up for an odd, but nice little EP that may or may not be worth its list price but is definitely worth giving a spin. The live version of 'Tumbling Dice', spliced from a Stripped-era rehearsal (just vocals and piano) and a full-bodied arena take, is more than surprisingly enthusiastic and almost sounds as if they were, for once, trying to give the song a brand new reading and not treat it just like a standard warhorse. The 1981 rendition of 'Beast Of Burden' is a fabulous companion to Still Life if you need to be reminded that even on that tour, ever once in a while the Stones would set their minds off the idea of turning all their songs into revved-up, sloppy, "punk" creations driven by spitting and stuttering rather than singing, and deliver a steady, heartfelt, mid-tempo number to show they still cared. (While we're at it, for all the misery of the Let's Spend The Night Together video, there's a great, great moment out there when, in the middle of the 'Beast Of Burden' guitar solo, Keith comes up to the front of the stage and falls on his knees before the crowds - which just comes off so naturally and 'non-rock-star-ish' at all, if you know what I mean).

'Anyway You Look At It', the B-side to 'Saint Of Me', is an interesting ballad in that I'd expect it to be completely sung by Keith - it's one of those quiet, stripped down, deeply emotional things of his, you know. Instead, it's Mick taking turns with Keith (quite a rare event, you'll agree), and the acoustic guitars, gentle orchestration, and subdued atmosphere more than make up for the song's general unmemorability. (Of course, for the liner notes author to state that this could be mistaken for one of their 'mid-1960s psychedelic pop' tunes renders poor service to the word 'hyperbole', but then the liner notes are really something - full of factual errors and expressions like "shoop-shoop beat". Hey, I might use the expression "shoop-shoop beat" in one of my reviews, but these guys writing the liner notes, they actually get paid for it, you know).

The G. S. factory also officially endorses the long remix of 'Miss You'. Unlike 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Mixed Emotions', 'Miss You' is, after all, a goddang classic, and I'm not at all against having more of it. It's pretty fun, too, to see how that mix fits in with the album version. You get to know, for instance, whatever followed those lazy harmonica notes that you hear in the fade-out (spoilers ahead: more of the same lazy harmonica notes), but you don't get to hear the saxophone solo, getting a guitar solo instead. And a good guitar solo! And more of Mick's incoherent lyrical rambling, too, which is great if you're a fan of Mick's incoherent lyrical rambling.

'Through The Lonely Nights' dates as far back as 1974, meaning you'll get to hear Mick Taylor jam the wah-wah and experience the band as it tries to recapture the loose 'n' lazy country vibe of 1971-72, fails to do so, and still comes out with an atmospheric winner. How can people actually listen to the Eagles, I wonder, when this is in the same ballpark and it's so dang sweeter? But if country-rock isn't your thing, not even when the Stones are doing it, here we go shooting for the prize: a roaring version of Chuck Berry's 'Let It Rock', recorded live on the 1971 tour. If you don't know the song, you haven't missed much theoretical knowledge, because it's essentially 'Johnny B. Goode' without the refrain (and would later be sped up and renamed 'Rip This Joint' by the Stones themselves), but that's not the point: the point is that it's the exact same vibe as captured on Ya-Ya's, and I can never get enough of that vibe. Maybe the worst thing that ever happened to the Stones was that at a certain point, they stopped regularly doing Chuck Berry covers, and Keith has never been the same since. But here, it's the Keith, and there ain't nobody like Keith Richards doing Chuck Berry at his peak. Yep, as simple as it probably is to do Chuck Berry, I have never ever heard anybody doing Chuck Berry the way Keith did him back in 1970-71. And then his teeth fell out.

The bottomline is that the Stones are the Stones, and if you expected me to move all down the line and give this a 2 or something, well, I'm not that desperate to show how cool-headed I am about these guys. You go ahead and try to be cool-headed with 'Let It Rock' blasting outa your speakers. Yet it is a strange release, by all counts. They could have at least completed it with 'Everything Is Turning To Gold' and the live version of 'When The Whip Comes Down' off the official compilation Sucking In The Seventies - but then that would make it obsolete, and it's a fair tradition with the Stones to saturate the market with floods of albums you only need for one or two songs. (A trick they probably learned from Allen Klein, but were only too happy to profit on by themselves). So you'll just have to decide on your own which side, the money-grubbin' one or the balls-out-rockin' one, of this band tickles you the more sensitive way at the moment.



Year Of Release: 1997

Although it was released only thirty years later, this film was actually shot in Dec. 1968 and, at least from my point of view, it is the best and most enjoyable document witnessing... no, not the Rolling Stones, but rather the general swinging atmosphere of London. An average night in an average place in an average London town... and there you have it: all in one place? Would you like to see a very new, very young, very 'green' Jethro Tull? Les voila! Or maybe your interests lie in pure rock'n'roll? Why not have a look at brilliant Taj Mahal then? Or you're just an average hard rocker? Well here are the Who for you! Want to see something extravagant? Oh well, m'sieur, I don't know if it will satisfy you, but tonight we've only got this average supergroup - like there's John Lennon there, and that Mitch Mitchell guy, and Keith Richards on base, and Eric Clapton, too.

Impressed? And to top it off, here come the... "I was born in a crossfire hurricane..."

Not that the Stones are especially brilliant here. "Sympathy For The Devil" is top-knotch, and there's a beautiful "No Expectations" with a live Nicky Hopkins on piano (imagine that!), but the playing is somewhat sloppy sometimes, probably due to the fact that Brian Jones was completely stoned at the time. Still, it is such a rare opportunity to see him live on video at all that I hardly mind. "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Parachute Woman" still rock, although the closing "Salt Of The Earth" is kinda boring.

The real heroes of this film are The Who, actually, but this belongs to another story (see The Kids Are Alright video/album reviews). Me, I enjoy this video. It is very important historically and quite plausible at times. But don't worry about buying this on CD!



Year Of Release: 1983

Historically important, but musically shallow. This is an hour-long documentary of their famous Hyde Park concert in July '69, heralding a series of firsts: the first real big one, the first after Jones' death, and the first with Mick Taylor. The first first means you have to sit through a lot of Hells Angels footage, the second first means you have to listen to Jagger stuttering over a poem by Shelley in Brian's memory, and the third first, unfortunately, means that the sound is horrible, most of the songs being poorly rehearsed. 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' and 'Honky Tonk Women' are OK, and the closing 'Sympathy For The Devil' is fascinating, especially with all these tambourines and maracas and all, but the rest is extremely patchy. The extracts from 'Midnight Rambler' are patchy, 'Satisfaction' is a bore, and the novelties ('I'm Free' and a cover of 'I'm Yours, I'm Hers') are really nothing special. The general atmosphere is intoxicating, though, maybe even more so than on Gimmie Shelter. Also, everybody is dressed really cool. So the video line is worth it.



Year Of Release: 1970

The classic movie of a classic concert. Just for the record, that Altamont thing was damn great overexposed. So what if they killed a guy? First of all, it wasn't the only death at the concert (overdoses were a usual thing, too, I guess), and the guy messed with the Angels himself. Oh, well... never mind. Sure, it's a tragedy and all, but to attach a symbolic meaning to it... bullshit. It was just appropriate to make it symbolic. The End of The Woodstock Age! Ha! This could have happened at any time, I say. But let's get on to the movie.

The movie, made by some Maysles brothers or others, features a lot of dialogue in the fat guys' offices and naked bodies on the Altamont Speedway, which is not that entertaining. But things get better when they turn the camera onto the Stones - either in the studio, gleefully listening to their own recordings of 'Wild Horses' and 'Love In Vain', or live - where the fun begins, actually. And since this is the era of Ya-Ya's (1969 American tour, if you still don't get it), the performances are terrific. 'JJF', 'Honky Tonk Women', 'Street Fighting Man' and 'Sympathy For The Devil' go off splendidly, with an occasional chick flying onto the stage and making Mick miss a line, but this only adds to the excitement. Keith manages to ruin 'Satisfaction' by taking a much higher pitch than necessary, but nobody gives a damn. Anyway, I definitely do not want to regard this film as 'symbolic' or 'ominous' or anything like that. It certainly was meant to be that way, and probably was back then in 1970, but nowadays for me it is just another great memento of some fantastic performances by the Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band In The World. Unluckily, there are too few completely performed songs. But... what would you expect? It's a 'serious' movie!



Year Of Release: 1981

The video of the 1981-82 world tour, and the feelings are mixed. On one hand, all the songs are enjoyable - they plough through most of Tattoo You (none of these songs except 'Start Me Up' got to the official album), lots of songs from Emotional Rescue and Some Girls plus a lot of standard classics near the end. Here's the list (may you enjoy it): 'Under My Thumb', 'Let's Spend The Night Together', 'Shattered', 'Neighbours', 'Black Limousine', 'Just My Imagination', 'Twenty Flight Rock', 'Let Me Go', 'Time Is On My Side', 'Beast Of Burden', 'Waiting On A Friend', 'You Can't Always Get What You Want', 'Little T & A', 'Tumbling Dice', 'She's So Cold', 'All Down The Line', 'Hang Fire', 'Miss You', 'Let It Bleed', 'Start Me Up', 'Honky Tonk Women', 'Brown Sugar', 'Jumpin' Jack Flash', and, of course, 'Satisfaction'. Cool, eh?

On the other hand: most of these songs are thrown off at a terrific speed, twenty or thirty times faster than even the usual concert treatment, so that the video is over before you can say Jack Robinson; Mick's singing is plain awful; Ronnie does more showing off than playing; and the whole affair seems to showcase Jagger's penis rather than Jagger's musicianship. Keith is holding on, with his guitar producing most of the sound (at least, most of the good one), but even Keith comes to a dead end while singing 'Little T & A'. Decide for yourself. Me, I only watch this when I've had enough of all the other stuff.



Year Of Release: 1984

Not bad! This is a collection of early videos for late Stones, and it's actually enjoyable as hell. I used to hate it when I was younger because if taken on the same level with the early Stones this is more of a parody than of anything else. But I've grown to love it as, quite simple, a bunch of grooves. All the videos are united by a dorky subjectline: Bill Wyman (why Bill, I wonder?) gets inside a museum or something, finds a 'Stones-room' with Mick as one of the main exponates, and watches all these videos through lots of TV sets. Most of the videos date back to 1980-83 (there's three from Undercover, three from Tattoo You, and two from Emotional Rescue), plus there's a TV performance of 'Miss You' (unfortunately, incomplete), a groovy early rendition of 'It's Only Rock'n'Roll' and a beautiful performance of 'Angie' (the last two feature Mick Taylor who is unjustly uncredited in the end). Oh yes, and there's a performance of 'Brown Sugar', cut-and-pasted from several live shows and set to the sound of the version on Love You Live.

The main videos are all solid, ranking from the simply-entertaining live performances (the earlier videos of 'She's So Cold', with a still young-looking and cool-dressed Keith, and 'Emotional Rescue') to the slightly-more-elaborated performances (the later videos of 'Neighbours', shot inside a New York hotel or something, and 'Waiting On A Friend', featuring Mick waiting on Keith) and to the groovy-bombastic-obscene-rude-gory-nasty-banned-everywhere-where-possible clips (the latest videos of 'Undercover Of The Night' with Keith shooting Mick through the head, 'She Was Hot' with some hot dancer setting Mick on fire and bursting everybody's zippers, and 'Too Much Blood' with, sure enough, too much blood). If you got all the stuff you wanted from the 60's, go ahead and buy this - just remember that this is nothing more than a groovy parody. But as a groovy parody, it works amazingly. It cooks! And there's a couple extracts from the notorious 'Cocksucker Blues', too! I love that moment with Keith throwing a TV set from the balcony.



Year Of Release: 19??

Better 'n before. This is to Let's Spend The Night as Flashpoint is to Still Life - somewhat more restricted and rehearsed, but much better from the musical point of view. Except for Keith's horrible solos (the idea of letting him play lead more often than necessary was not that good in the end), the playing is great, even though for the first time they get a whole bunch of session musicians. Mick's looking cool, with his specific short haircut, and everybody else is in great form. Still - the sound is a bit dry, as if they were playing lip-sync (which they were not, I hope). Highlights include Keith singing 'Happy', '2000 Light Years From Home' (maybe the first time they ever played a Satanic song live), a 'Honky Tonk Woman' with inflatable dolls (both were inexplicably left off the live album), a great 'Paint It Black', and the closing 'Satisfaction' is quite a treat. Quite good.



Year Of Release: 1995

The official video of the 1994-95 Voodoo Lounge tour, shot somewhere around Miami, I presume. The band is in great form, better than on the previous tour, actually, and most of the performances are quite fine. There are many defects, though. The show is obviously cut. Some of the songs are not that great (the boring, un-energized version of 'Stop Breaking Down' with guest star Robert Cray; 'It's All Over Now' with Keith playing a solo that almost seems a parody on the old one and makes me suspect he forgot all his perfect Berry-licks). And, finally, the heat must have been great: they're sweating so much it makes them lose their charm. Keith, in particular, looks truly horrible, especially on his solo number - which, by the way, is called 'The Worst'. It's not the worst, though. Not here, at least.

Any surprises? Sure! Somewhere in the middle, they bring out Bo Diddley! And they perform a rip-roaring version of 'Who Do You Love' which is fantastic - a 50-year old Mick with a more-'n-60-year-old (I guess) Bo, performing hardcore rock'n'roll better than anybody. Wow! However, apart from this one, you won't find any terrific surprises.

In all, I would strongly recommend to find VL in Japan instead. But if you can't, then stick with this one. It won't hurt.



Year Of Release: 1995

Unfortunately, this one is very rare. I have the first part of it (there probably should be a second as well, but where?), and it's great, much better than the official universal video. First of all, it is much longer, and has great renditions of songs that never made it onto the official video - such as 'Sparks Will Fly', 'I Go Wild', 'Love Is Strong' (the new ones) and 'Live With Me', 'Street Fighting Man' and especially 'Monkey Man'! Hey, there's a great 'Monkey Man' with Mick singing a duet with Lisa Fischer on here! Also, the general quality is much higher: Mick is in a much better form, no heat is gonna make the makeup run down their faces and make Keith look like a cross between Count Dracula and Quasimodo, and no Robert Cray is gonna drive them into a weak generic blues performance. If you are lucky enough to get this one, drop the official video; if you're not - just keep looking.

Oh, by the way: besides 'Monkey Man', highlights include 'I Go Wild' with a great triple guitar sound (Mick plays rhythm), 'Before They Make Me Run' (sung by Keith, sure enough), 'Slipping Away' (with breathtaking solos by Keith), and a fantastic coda to 'Street Fighting Man'. Plenty of letdowns, though: 'Love Is Strong' is weak, far below the studio version, 'Rocks Off' puts some rocks on due to Mick's 'incorrect' singing, and 'Rock And A Hard Place' is just so-so. But never mind, all of these things are just minor embarrassments.



Year Of Release: 1997

A strange thing, but starting with the infamous 1981-82 tour, the Stones seem to get better and better with each following one. The Bridges tour is undoubtedly their best in at least twenty years, and that's mainly because the main accent is made on the music and singing rather than on the special effects and pyrotechnics. The stage is relatively small, the screen is nice and compact, there's no Urban Jungle or voodoo dolls here, just a couple Eastern decorations. But the performance is awesome! Mick has never sung so well since his better days, and his movements on the stage are just fascinating! The newer songs are either turned into powerful, breathtaking jams ('Out Of Control') or into crowd-pleasing anthems ('Saint Of Me'), and the older songs are performed immaculately. Highlights include 'Gimmie Shelter' with Lisa Fischer singing a terrific duet with Mick; 'Waiting On A Friend' (the Internet choice); another duet, this time with Dave Matthews ('Wild Horses' - Jagger has finally overcome his vocal problems on Stripped); and, of course, the closing set of classics. If you're looking for an 'old period' Stones video, this should be your first choice.



It is August 12th, 1998, and I'm writing about this - undoubtedly one of the greatest events - of my life. Writing now, because I'm still under the impression and remember it as clearly as possible.

We arrived at the scene as early as possible - at 16:30, although it was already a little too late - the best standing places were taken. Still, we got to the very front row - the price of standing on our feet for almost five hours' time before They came out. The weather was awful - nasty clouds covering all the sky, and rain, rain and rain. Then the opening act (Spleen) came out. I'm not really a great fan of Russian rock music, but this particular group ranges among the worst (at least, in my personal humble opinion). Eventually the audience realised it too and if they weren't booed off the stage this was probably due only to the fact that everybody was getting so bored with standing and doing nothing for a lot of time they were already able to put up with anything.Who's responsible for these opening acts, anyhow?

Then, after they finally vacated the stage, - another hour of waiting, they're making the final preparations, and then... the lights finally go out, the curtains are drawn, we have a comet bursting, and the band breaks onto the stage with 'Satisfaction'. I really can't describe what's happened to the audience. Suffice it to say that most of the song passed me by - I couldn't hear anything but the crowd. 'Let's Spend The Night Together' was better - I actually got to hear the keyboards; still, unfortunately the sound was not that great. Either it was too obscured by the crowds or they plain had some problems. The worst thing was with the guitars: Ronnie's guitar, which is the weaker one, wasn't heard at all, while Keith's riffing was discernible but his soloes were not. Never mind, though. As far as I could see, everybody was in top form.

Mick has learned some words in Russian and said 'Hello Russia!' and 'We're here at last!' which further enraged the audience (in a good sense, I mean). 'Gimmie Shelter' was terrific, with Lisa Fischer's screeches overcoming the roar of the crowd. She is a great singer. The new songs (from 'Bridges to Babylon') were good, too. I don't really like 'Anybody Seen My Baby' 'cos it's too un-Stoneslike, but 'Out Of Control' was just superb! When suddenly you have Mick dancing and playing harmonica at the same time, Keith wildly tearing at strings by his side, looking him straight in the face, some of the most fiercest and enthralling sounding you can ever get, and all this punctuated by lighting and other special effects, it can simply drive you insane!

When I looked at the web page that morning, the obvious winner was 'Love Is Strong', but they preferred to ignore it and played 'Paint It Black' instead. They probably got fed up with it (having played it for the last three concerts) and preferred something else instead. I have a strong feeling that the voting list is being trumped up as often as they consider it necessary. In fact, 'Love Is Strong' has disappeared from the 'voted-for' song list today! Anyway, I don't care: 'Paint It Black' was just superb. Then 'Miss You', with Jagger asking the audience: 'Would you like to sing?' (first in English, then in Russian). Of course, everybody did, and it went off fine.

Band introductions. Mick introduces Ronnie as 'sumashedshy hudozhnik' (which is Russian for 'crazy artist', of course) and Keith as 'tsygan' ('gypsy'). Charlie gets the most applause, as usual, but everybody gets his share.

Keith's small set. As soon as he starts with 'Thief In The Night', the rain starts falling again; however, it doesn't spoil anything. I don't know whether Keith was pleased or not, he just muttered something like 'blessed rain'... 'Wanna Hold You' is great, a very good choice for a live song. Still, I wish he'd do 'Happy' or 'You Got The Silver' instead of 'Thief'.

Then the bridge! They do the standard set which is 'Little Queenie', 'You Got Me Rocking' and 'Like A Rolling Stone' on the small stage. For me it was a blessing because all the people rushed off to the center and the pressure was gone - finally (I almost wasn't able to breathe when they did 'Saint Of Me'). All the three songs were great, but I was rather far away.

They return for the final set. By now it's raining rather heavily - for 'Honky Tonk Women' Mick puts on his hat and raincoat. Ronnie does likewise, then plops his hat onto Keith's head and takes another one. I hope they were not too sad about it - after all, more than half the concert went off splendidly, no rain at all. 'Start Me Up' is great, with Keith repeating the opening line thrice. And they close with 'Jumping Jack Flash', which drives everybody into complete ecstasy.

Charlie had 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' in the encore set, but they dropped it (like they already did before) - either because of the rain or for some other reason. Pity. But they crash on the scene one more time for a stunning version of 'Brown Sugar', with Mick performing his 'yeah-yeah-yeah-OOOH!' ritual with the audience and Keith running around the stage and playing his guitar in front of the audience. Tons of confetti descend onto the front rows and we have fireworks - then it's over!

OK, cut. I'll never forget this show in my whole life and I think that it will be discussed here for weeks and weeks. In fact, this is what we need so much in Russia - a concert THAT great to show everybody what real rock'n'roll really is! Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie - come back again! PLEASE! 


It may or may not be amazing, but neither Keith nor Mick never actually had a solo project going on until the mid-Eighties, and, apparently, Micks' adventurous branching out on his own in 1985 was one of the main factors contributing to the temporary break-up of the band. Nevertheless, both Mick and Keith managed to produce a couple decent efforts on their own, well worth having and listening to. Of course, when they stay away from each other, their individual flaws become much more obvious than usually, but apart from that, it can clearly be seen that the author of the project in question is a real Rolling Stone.

Meanwhile, Bill Wyman also had a somewhat dubious solo career going on; amazingly, I have been able to scoop up practically all of his solo albums barring some collaborations. It's worth taking a peek, but be careful - Bill's adventures are incredibly hit and miss, ranging from the Whacky and Weirdo to the most banal and forgettable. Likewise, Charlie Watts and even Mick Taylor had a few solo efforts of their own, but I haven't yet seen these records. I have also reviewed two of Ronnie Wood's albums on the Odds And Sods page; since Ronnie's solo career actually began before his joining the Stones, and was tightly connected to his work in the Faces and with Rod Stewart, he's probably deserving a solo page of his own, if I ever get around to that.


(released by, well, a bastardized version of THE ROLLING STONES)

Year Of Release: 1972
Overall rating = 7

I don't know who 'Edward' is apart from what the front cover tells me; but I sure know the actual jamming is kinda lousy.


Track listing: 1) The Boudoir Stomp; 2) It Hurts Me Too; 3) Edward's Thrump Up; 4) Blow With Ry; 5) Interlude A La El Hopo; 6) Highland Fling.

Man, this must be the weirdest project that ever sported a Rolling Stone's name on it, not to mention three Rolling Stones' names. Legend has it that one sunny day Keith failed to show up for the Let It Bleed sessions (and no, I'm not going to speculate about the possible reasons), and Mick Taylor wasn't yet doing a full-time job. As a result, the rest of the band found themselves strained in the studio with little on their hands to do, so they teamed up with their trusty keyboard player Nicky Hopkins and guest guitarist Ry Cooder and spent the whole day jamming and having a lot of fun. Now this fact ain't really that surprising; what's far more mysterious is why the hell did the record company decide to put the results of this notorious jam session on an LP destined for public auditioning.

Because, let's face it, there should probably be (in fact, there definitely are) tons of far more interesting jam sessions than this pale shadow o' the Stones image, you gotta believe me. Fact is, the Stones are a great jamming band: one listen to, say, the version of 'Midnight Rambler' on Ya-Ya's should convince all the 'unfaithful'. But the Stones' jamming power rests mostly on their world-famous guitar interplay: Bill and Charlie constitute a terrific rhythm section, but they're hardly all that entertaining when taken on their own and not backing up Keith's gruff riffage or Mick Taylor's masterful soloing. So what the hell can you expect of a 'Stones jam' that's not based on Mr Richards' six-string?

One word - nothing. The record is a dragging, tedious listen. I have nothing but the greatest respect for Nicky Hopkins, one of the Stones' most essential session keyboardists whose sound is vital for almost all of their 'classic' 1966-72 period. And I dearly love the sound of Ry Cooder's slide, like the one that makes songs like 'Sister Morphine' sound so epic in scale. But what I loved about both was the way they actually embellished Stones' songs, inserting tasty, lush 'sonic fills' to add to the 'main sound body'. As soon as Nicky and Ry find themselves at the very centre of the sound, the impression becomes completely different. There's simply no energy, no energy at all in these performances. Nicky plays well, but it's just simple, unexceptional blues/jazz piano with little passion; and the only place where Mr Cooder sounds at least vaguely entertaining is the very beginning of 'Blow With Ry', where he demonstrates his dazzling mastery of slide.

Otherwise, it's mostly dull, dull, dull and dull again. Out of the six tracks on here, only one is more or less structured as a 'song': it's when the 'band' suddenly turns in a trusty rendition of Elmore James' blues classic 'It Hurts Me Too'. The funny thing about that one is that somewhere in the middle Jagger suddenly inserts a verse from Dylan's 'Pledging My Time' (was that a hint at the man's dependance on blues cliches?). He plays some pretty mean Dylanish harp, too, but the guitar and piano are unimpressive as hell. So the most interesting part on here is probably 'The Boudoir Stomp', a fast, raving jam which was later used as a basis for the creepy instrumental break in 'Midnight Rambler': Watts employs exactly the same pounding rhythm, while Ry pounds out the riff to 'Rambler' and Jagger blows his 'midnight harp'. Yet the sequence lacks the mind-blowing scariness of the finished version - mainly due to lack of careful mixing and production, of course, as there is absolutely no 'midnight feel' in 'Boudoir Stomp'.

On the other hand, 'Blow With Ry' and 'Edward's Thrump Up' don't have even that: they're just two lengthy, insipid jams, the likes of which you could investigate on the third LP of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass: pointless noodlings on the instruments with no sense of direction or goal at all. At the tenth minute of 'Blow With Ry' you're ready to scream and smash the damn thing together with your CD player. Brief relief comes with the funny piano-based 'Interlude A La El Hopo', with Nicky demonstrating his 'Spanish' chops, and the album closes off with the equally boring, but mercifully brief 'Highland Fling' which I simply can't remember a damn thing about.

And the big question is: why the hell are we supposed to blow our hard-earned cash on this? Just to see the funny comics on the cover? Oh well, at least the sound quality is all right: apart from Jagger's voice, which you can hardly hear at all (then again, you can hardly hear it on Exile On Main St. as well, so no need to be complaining), all the instruments are perfectly audible. Charlie's relatively good, too - sometimes I catch myself on concentrating exclusively on the powerful drumming. But I guess I'm just trying to justify the fact that I rate this a seven and not, say, a two or three. A seven it is. Don't you dare buy this; grab yourself a handful of trusty bootlegs instead.



(released by: BILL WYMAN)

Year Of Release: 1974
Overall rating = 10

A pleasant trashy record - for fans only, but fans will definitely be satisfied. Even if this hardly ties in with Bill's image as a Stone...

Best song: WHAT A BLOW

Track listing: 1) I Wanna Get Me A Gun; 2) Crazy Woman; 3) Pussy; 4) Mighty Fine Time; 5) Monkey Grip Glue; 6) What A Blow; 7) White Lightnin'; 8) I'll Pull You Thro'; 9) It's A Wonder.

Ever wanted to know what are the similarities between Ringo Starr and Bill Wyman? Their solo careers. The strange thing is that Ringo's record-making formula was perfectly predictable: he was always the friendly humorous little chap with little songwriting skills, and only happy to sing something he was given to sing by his 'superior' pals, and he followed the same recipee throughout most of his solo recording years. On the other hand, the only thing Bill Wyman seemed to share with Ringo was the relative lack of songwriting skills: the only song he ever contributed to the Stones' catalog was 'In Another Land', and it was a great tune, but one tune is no great shakes, after all. Otherwise, Bill was gloomy and grim, never moving or getting all out of himself on stage, and keeping mostly to himself.

So how could one react to Monkey Grip? Bill's solo debut closely follows Ringo Starr's formula: he takes on a mega-band, with virtually billions of guest stars, ranging from relatively unknown ones to big superstars like Leon Russell and Dr John on pianos and Clapton's masterful sidekick George Terry on guitar, and I won't even name the others; suffice it to know that the 'core' of the sound is provided by members of 'Manassas', Steve Stills' backing band which Wyman also had a hand in (see about that in more details on my CSN page). Thus, the drummer is CSN's trusty sideman Dallas Taylor. And the song material? Well, the songs are all written by Bill himself; but one couldn't imagine anything further from a Stones' record. With a couple exceptions, nothing on here even comes close to any of the Stones' preferrable styles; for the most part, Bill goes wild with penning rather primitive retroish stuff - toothless pop with a jazzy, countryish or bluesy edge. There's virtually not a single attempt at getting serious on the whole album: the lyrics are at the best corny, and at the worst smutty, the melodies are almost dangerously lightweight, and the hooks are often so obvious and dumb that you wish they'd never existed - the very idea of going back and re-listening to the imbecile chant of 'monkey grip monkey grip monkey grip' on 'Monkey Grip Glue' makes me look and feel silly as a new-born pig. Or monkey, for that matter.

Nevertheless, just as is the case with the best of Ringo's stuff, the album's trashiness is of a completely inoffensive manner. And, just as is the case with same Ringo, this is in a large part due to the careful production and the band's ultra-evident professionalism: Wyman actually demonstrates that you may make even the dumbest trash look like art (of some sort) if you approach it carefully. For one, Bill suddenly comes out as the owner of a good singing voice - too good for its own sake, in fact, as it's good enough to not sound particularly attractive because of its weirdness (like Ringo's voice does), but bad enough to compete with Jagger, for instance. Still, those who have only experienced Wyman's singing as masked with tremolo effects on 'In Another Land', will get a pleasant surprise as they put on the disc and the first notes of 'I Wanna Get Me A Gun' echo around the room.

Second, how can you really resist this stuff? 'I Wanna Get Me A Gun' is actually a lot of grandstanding fun - a groovy piano shuffle with wonderful trombone solos and all kinds of stuff to make you feel all right (the female backup vocals are rather sleazy, though). 'Crazy Woman' is a Fifties-style rocker with nice, hard-hitting guitar fills and a crunchy fuzz bass riff which is probably the best evidence of Wyman's instrumental presence on the record. 'Pussy' is a generic country tune, and you may hate it as you much, but I can never stand still to a fast country shuffle, especially when the banjo is ripping it up in my left speaker and the fiddle in the right one. Of course, the lyrics to 'Pussy' are so sexually crude and disgusting ('ding-dong-dell pussy's in the well/who put that pussy down?/Cos now's the time I need a little pussy/and that pussy just can't be found' - pleeease, Bill! Restrain your appetites! Haven't you had enough in the Sixties?) that it nearly spoils all my fun, but I just pretend I don't understand a word of English, and it works great on the blah-blah-blah level.

'Monkey Grip Glue' is probably the closest Bill ever came to completely imitating a Ringo tune - he even models his voice after the Beatles' drummer, and turns in a pop rocker of the likes that constitute the majority of songs on Ringo. Just dismiss that annoying 'monkey grip monkey grip monkey grip' sequence I mentioned earlier, and you got yourself one more near-perfect pop number. 'White Lightnin' is yet another favourite of mine, a folkish number, mostly acoustic in style, with a set of overdubs that make it sound like a small acoustic symphony, and the song's so catchy I simply can't get it out of my head, and neither could you, so don't you blame me. And the jazzy sound of 'I'll Pull You Through' is so crisp and well-produced you'd think it was Wyman, not Watts, who was the real jazz expert in the Stones' camp. Go figure.

The two Major Exceptions are thus the songs that slightly deviate from the formula: 'It's A Wonder' and 'What A Blow'. The first one starts 'normally', like just another jazz pop number, but somewhere along the way it suddenly transforms into a powerful big-band jam, with guitarist Danny Kootch suddenly forgetting the general trashy nature of the record and turning in a performance of a lifetime - a magnificent, swift and fluent guitar solo of the kind you'd never meet on a Rolling Stones recording, let alone a Ringo Starr one. Meanwhile, 'What A Blow' opens the second side on an unusual note - unlike everything else, it's a grim bluesy stomper based on an ominous bunch of organ riffs, while Bill himself gives his most efficient Jagger impersonation. It's probably no coincidence that the record came out in 1974, in the same year that the Stones recorded 'Fingerprint File': the two songs are extremely close in mood, except that, of course, Wyman's number is ultimately just a bit of kitsch. Even so, the way he hisses out the refrain - 'If I don't survive/Never get out of this world alive' - is quite scary, that is, until you start to notice the utter idiocy of these exact lyrics.

No, of course I'm not trying to present Bill as a serious solo artist on this album - I don't think it would make any sense even to try, actually. And if you ever sat through a Ringo Starr solo record (of the best variety) and made the understandable mistake of twirling your nose, don't even think of wasting your cash on it. As a groovy complement to the Stones' regular catalogue, Monkey Grip makes a good acquisition; as an 'art object' in itself, it has about the same value as your wallpaper. Remember that one, in the nursery? With the pink elephants?



(released by: BILL WYMAN)

Year Of Release: 1976
Overall rating = 7

It's almost incredible how such a good start could be followed by such a self-parodic finish.


Track listing: 1) A Quarter To Three; 2) Gimme Just One Chance; 3) Soul Satisfying; 4) Apache Woman; 5) Every Sixty Seconds; 6) Get It On; 7) Feet; 8) Peanut Butter Time; 9) Wine And Wimmen; 10) If You Wanna Be Happy; 11) What's The Point; 12) No More Foolin' .

Eeehh... wrong way buddy. The settings for Wyman's second solo album are pretty much the same as for his first one - the big band is still there, and it's even bigger this time, with about twenty or twenty-five players, singers and just old pals (no Stones but Ronnie Wood, though) dropping in and lending a hand. So when I got this, I thought it was going to be a more or less similar pleasant trip through Wyman's trashy, but fun songwriting. Of course, the fact that Wilson & Alroy gave this record one and a half stars kinda bugged me, but I thought: 'Oh, well, they're just snubby, 'sall'.

Boy, was I wrong. Out of all the 'normal' Wyman solo albums (not counting his misguided affair with the Rhythm Kings), this one's easily the worst. Not only that - much of the material is plain unlistenable, because somewhere along the way something clicked in Bill's head, and he suddenly decided to orient himself on the lowest tastes imaginable. Primitive disco, bland, banal Fifties' twist, uninventive blues and various snippets of stale, pub-oriented roots-rock abound on here and effectively quench any signs of creativity that Monkey Grip displayed. It's far worse than even contemporary Ringo records.

And Bill holds nearly complete responsibility for the fact - out of the twelve songs on here, only three are covers. And out of these, apart from one throwaway, but passable R'n'B tune (guitarist Danny Krotchmar's 'Feet'), none are cheerful enough, either. The generic twist number 'A Quarter To Three' is Wyman trying to imitate Chubby Checker, I suppose - are ye happy with the perspective? I'm not. But don't worry and please twist all night long, because otherwise you'll have to spin this record forward and somewhere along the way fall upon 'If You Wanna Be Happy', a song that's so crass and sleazy I almost get red in the face when it echoes across the room. It's not just silly or stupid - it's idiotic beyond my comprehension; I know one of Wyman's trademarks is making a fool out of himself, but here he's trying a bit too hard; these synth-driven Latin rhythms set to dumb lyrics devoted to the theme of married life are one of the horriblest things I ever had the displeasure to hear.

Not that creative forces have completely abandoned Bill's lifeless corpse. A couple of the tunes here might have easily fit on Monkey Grip - rare cases when idiocy doesn't entirely prevail over common sense. Thus, 'Gimme Just One Chance', IMHO, is just very very funny, with an imbecile, but superbly catchy and hilarious jazzy melody, and it's perfectly easy to perceive the tongue-in-cheeky character of the song (I swear to you, on 'If You Wanna Be Happy' the man almost sounds serious - as if he were truly feeling this stuff!). 'What's The Point' reminds me of the Monkees, you know, that period when Mike Nesmith started getting far off into the country: it's a relatively fast, driving, charming country rocker with lots of nice slide guitar and even a kazoo part, I think. The best of the lot, however, is 'Apache Woman', a dangerous, kinda creepy 'rocker' with a brilliant intro that would have made honour to any Stones song: the ominous electric guitar notes and their interplay with the Eno-ish synthesizer bursts really prepare you for something 'uncomfortable', and, while the vocal melody doesn't really live up to the instrumentation, it's about the only spot on the record where Bill seems to elevate himself from the lowest level he'd dragged himself down to of his own free will. I don't even care if there's just about one single verse in the whole song, which doesn't even make any sense ('Apache woman/We know we did your people wrong/Let's try to get it back together/Let's get it on, get it on, get it on'). Oh, wait, that must be something about the Minorities Rights Protection. Gee, was that a Bill Wyman album or something?

Hmm. Maybe it was. In any case, that's about all the praise. 'Soul Satisfying'? It's a monstruous hybrid of disco and reggae, all topped off with more synthesizer bursts, but now they aren't even Eno-ish, hell, they're not even Tony Banks-ish. They're just... full of first-sort cheese. 'Every Sixty Seconds?' It's a plodding, predictable honky blues number that's neither instrumentally attractive nor funny. 'Peanut Butter Time'? A straightforward disco tune that's probably designed to parody Donna Summer, but problem is, the panting and screaming girls in the track almost make me suppose the song was recorded in a bordello, right in the middle of the, ahem, 'entertaining process'. 'Wine And Wimmen'? That one's simply not interesting - a banal rocker that ain't catchy at all. 'No More Foolin'? I don't know who's singing on that one (hardly Bill), but to me, it sounds like a half-assed parody on Armstrong... shucks.

Come to think of it, the whole album's a parody. Maybe if you arrive at that thought definitely and ultimately, it'll be easier to tolerate Stone Alone. Unfortunately, if it is a parody, it's that kind of curious, uncertain parody where you're not really sure whether the songs parody a certain genre indeed or not. I can't take most of these songs as parodies - more as lame imitations.

This was also Bill's last solo album in quite a while - maybe he wasn't too pleased with the final results as well as me, or maybe work with the Stones, who were just pulling it back together, made him so busy he couldn't spare any free time until 1982 - which is when he came back and surprised the world once more by completely changing his image and putting out his best record ever.



(released by: BILL WYMAN)

Year Of Release: 1982
Overall rating = 11

Wyman's mind-blowing flirtation with disco. Man, it's weird.


Track listing: 1) Ride On Baby; 2) New Fashion; 3) Nuclear Reactions; 4) Visions; 5) Jump Up; 6) Come Back Suzanne; 7) Rio De Janeiro; 8) Girls; 9) Seventeen; 10) Si Si Je Suis Un Rock Star.

Man, I don't know what's happening to me. My tastes are probably slowly heading towards the drain - I can't find another explanation to the fact that I not only favour this album, I feel compelled to dub this Bill's best release and I'll even go as far as to say that this is a serious application for the status of a 'serious artist'. Now put me in an asylum, as I never thought I would ever find such music entertaining.

This is by no means a big-band affair like Monkey Grip or (thanks goodness) Stone Alone; I mean, Bill's backing combo is still rather large, but it's already a combo, not just a hoarde of guest musicians who come and go every half hour. There's just one main guitarist (Terry Taylor), and just one main drummer (Dave Mattacks), and just a small bunch of guest stars. Plus, of course, there's the main change in sound: the record is very much dependent on synthesizers, here played by several persons including Stephen Wyman (Bill's brother, I presume). And that's it.

The atmosphere is thus much more stern and strict, although Bill's slightly pervert and sometimes slightly smutty sense of humour still prevails on many of the songs, especially towards the end of the album: it's actually quite strange to watch it begin in such a lethargic, gloomy, dark way and then slowly transform into an amusing, tongue-in-cheek parody on contemporary musical genres. And this is, actually, where I'd like to state my praise for Bill. Apparently, he spent quite a bit of time edging his way into all kinds of corny disco and generic dance music, as well as New Wave, Electronica and Ambient, and I must say he's eventually become quite a pro in all these genres. Practically every one of the ten tracks on here takes some modernistic genre and milks all of its possibilities. What I really mean to say before I become all messed up is that these songs rule! They're simple and effective, and they're all hook-filled and catchy as hell. Their melodies are extremely simple and memorable, but rarely generic: Bill borrowed all the genre requirements, but he never borrowed real song structures. I tell you, if you ever wondered how on Earth could the Stones come up with disco tunes as effective as 'Hot Stuff' and 'Miss You' (of course, if you do consider them effective), bear in mind that this ought to have something to do with their witty old bass player.

Now I'll be the first to admit there's totally nothing spectacular about these songs, and there's nothing groundbreaking or vastly exciting in the record in all. But who cares? It still deserves at least an eleven in my book, based on consistency and intricacy alone. I think I already mentioned that the record's mood slowly shifts from gloomy and depressed to joyful and even imbecile near the end, and that's the absolute truth. It opens with 'Ride On Baby' (NOT to be confused with the Rolling Stones' 'Ride On Baby', which is quite a different song), a menacing, ominous synth rocker with Wyman again doing his scary Jagger impersonation; and yeah, it may be corny, but I guess Rod Stewart would kill for a song like that to appear on any of his early Eighties' albums. The guitar breaks from Terry are mighty impressive, too, and hey, the lyrics are funny too. 'A New Fashion', then, is Wyman's perspective of industrial (I guess) - not a highlight, but the chorus is simply irresistible. And 'Nuclear Reactions' is... man... it's weird. I guess Bill had been listening to a bit too much Talking Heads. At least, the other-worldly synths that grace the tune sound like prime Brian Eno, that's for sure. And he sounds so stoned on here, it's as if he was trying to write a new Satanic for the Eighties. Oh well, a song about 'nuclear reactions, hydrogen and helium' is supposed to sound apocalyptic.

It all kinda lightens up on the pretty love ballad 'Visions' - I have mixed feelings towards that one, as it sounds a bit way too soundtrackish to me: that adult contemporary guitar sound has a pretty high cheese potential in it. But Wyman's singing is lovely, anyway; I couldn't deny that. Perhaps, with just a little bit of re-arrangement, he could have easily transformed it into his best ballad... eh, but this seems to be the only ballad Bill ever wrote, so it is his best by definition.

Whatever be, 'Visions' truncates the slow moody section of the album, and hoopla! now you're ready to jump and shout. Actually, if you're not gonna jump on a Saturday night, you never gonna jump at all - that's what Bill tells us in his loony parody on ska ('Jump Up'). From here on, much of the material sounds generic and highly corny, but keep in mind it's all tongue-in-cheek. I can just imagine Mr Bill Wyman putting on a T-shirt and waving his thighs in the air... hrr-hmm. Excuse me. It's laughable, of course, but it's a good laugh. 'Come Back Suzanne' is a tongue-in-cheek disco parody (brilliant); 'Rio De Janeiro' is a harmonica-driven, Latin (indeed) influenced ballad with quite a few sleazy backing vocals (amusing); 'Girls' is a New Wave-ish smutty rave-up with Wyman sounding completely out of his monkey mind ('t-t-t-t-t-talking b-b-b-b-out g-g-g-g-irls... s-s-s-s-s-s-exy little g-g-g-g-irls...'; hilarious); and 'Seventeen' is just gross. Finally, this perverse craze comes to a respectable climax on '(Si Si) Je Suis Un Rock Star', a song that defies classification - it's thirty percent disco, thirty percent samba and thirty percent mamba, plus ten percent restrained idiocy, as Bill effectively impersonates a thuggish, braindead disco performer looking for pussy. Say what you will, my friends the purists - if you can restrain yourself from tapping your foot to the paranoid, pulsating beats of that one, there's simply something wrong with your reflexes.

Whack, whack, completely whacky album. I really don't know what to make of it. It's either the cheapest, sleaziest, stupidest put-on I've ever heard in my life, or a brilliant, totally idiosyncratic reinterpretation of a whole bunch of late Seventies'/early Eighties' music. For the moment, I tend to lean towards the second answer. Be so kind as to hear it yourselves and utter your judgement: I rarely feel embarrassed about mine, but this is just a case of 'I-need-help-from-all-ye-bros and sisters!' Si Si Je Suis Un Rock Star, hydrogen and helium. Boy, even the album cover looks whacky.




Year Of Release: 1998
Overall rating = 8

A shallow and weak retro record; a couple fun numbers surrounded by loads of banal crap. Sorry, Bill; I know you cared.


Track listing: 1) Green River; 2) Walking On My Own; 3) Melody; 4) Stuff; 5) Bad To Be Alone; 6) I'm Mad; 7) Down In The Bottom; 8) Motorvattin' Mama; 9) Jitterbug Boogie; 10) Going Crazy Overnight; 11) Hole In My Soul; 12) Tobacco Road.

What a shame. This is Bill's first record since he left the Rolling Stones for good, and if this is the kind of stuff he's planning on doing ever after, I really don't understand how on Earth could he have dumped the band and make a complete a**hole of himself. Okay, no problem if you're sick of your past and want to retire; but if you're gonna carry on solo, why not take a more right approach to what you're doing, at least? Bummer.

Not that the very idea that Bill planned on carrying out was rote. The 'Rhythm Kings' are a somewhat disjointed super-big-band that incorporates tons of guitar heroes (Eric Clapton, Albert Lee, Peter Frampton, and Bill's older sidekick Terry Taylor) and other various distinguished or half-distinguished players, including Procol Harum's Gary Brooker on organ and the notorious Ray Cooper on percussion. Bill himself doesn't sing all that much on the album, too, often handling vocal duties to black female singer Beverly Skeete or to more well-known lead vocalists like Paul Carrack or even Georgie Fame himself. As for the main idea of the album, it was supposed to be the first part in a trilogy of records in which Bill wanted to pay a full-fledged tribute to all styles of popular music since the 1920s. Not that Stuff is really dedicated to a particular period: the material here ranges from a cover of CCR's 'Green River' to pub-jazz stylizations a la nineteen-nineteen or something like that. I'm also surprised at the relatively low amount of covers: an absolute majority of the tunes are actually written by Bill, solo or in collaboration, and presented as typical 'retro' numbers.

In any way, the project can sound enticing if you like retro stuff. I, for one, have little against retro stuff... in general. And when 'Green River', opening the record, really brought memories of John Fogerty on my mind (the guitar in particular sounds awesome), I really set my expectations high. But what's that I hear? Instead of going for the gold, Bill went ahead and dived in for the dirt. At least half of the songs on this album are dang near unlistenable - ridiculous parodies on some of the most tasteless, sleazy, public-pleasing varieties of cabaret jazz. My hair basically stood on end when the chorus to 'Stuff' came along: all my life I've been trying to get away from lounge dreck of that sort (for some reason, songs like that are quite popular in Russia among people whose musical taste borders on roquefort cheese). The brass section sounds generic, the melody sounds stupid and the lyrics are among Wyman's worst. Blah.

Likewise, 'Bad To Be Alone' and 'I'm Mad' are crappy, totally worthless generic jazz tunes that could probably work if they were graced with outstanding vocal performances; but they aren't, so they can't. 'Hole In My Soul' is a strange, nearly dissonant stylization that sounds a third traditional jazz, a third Bo Diddley, and a third Eric Burdon (yeah right and I'm not jokin'); horrible crap. And I'll never, can you hear me, Bill, I'll never forget you for ruining 'Melody'. In the Stones' hands it was a fun, cheerful tongue-in-cheek jazz jam showcasing Mick at his very artistic best; Bill transforms it into a forgettable duet between Georgie Fame and Skeete, considerably changing the lyrics, and proceeds exactly to free the tune of all the genuine excitement by reducing it to a trivial jazz ditty.

Such a total loss of face certainly can't be compensated even by the good 'stuff' - which, by the way, includes but three or four numbers. I've already mentioned the satisfying, though far from ideal, cover of 'Green River'; then there's the pretty blues-rockin' rendition of Howlin' Wolf's 'Down In The Bottom' (which turns out to be a complete rip-off... er, a sequel to Muddy Waters' 'Rollin' And Tumblin', and is far better recommended in both Cream's and Eric Clapton's versions); the traditional 'Tobacco Road' which closes the album and is probably the most 'heavy' tune on the entire record. And my personal favourite is one retro number in which Bill (IMHO) succeeded: the gentle, soothing piano melody of 'Going Crazy Overnight', which in a better world could even come out of the head of a dude as gifted as Sir Paul McCartney (in fact, it's very close to the style of Paul's 'Baby's Request' from Back To The Egg).

And that's it. What annoys me most of all about the album is really not even the quality of songwriting - after all, it's not the easiest task in the world to write a satisfying retro number. What annoys me most is that even with all the talented players that Wyman has assembled, he really can't get a good groove going on. The only halfway decent guitar solo on record is on 'Tobacco Road', and that's considering that both Clapton, Lee and Frampton are first-rate guitar soloists. The regular instrumentation is just plain dull; there's nothing to distinguish the playing from your average bar band that plays for a dollar per hour. In fact, I personally know a couple Russian bar bands that play much better than the Rhythm Kings, and that's not even a compliment.

Nope. If you want a good retro album, go and buy Clapton's From The Cradle: there's plenty of generic stuff there as well, but it's all compensated by the energy and the incredible playing skills. Struttin' Our Stuff is so dang average that I'd bet my head there are thousands of better retro albums coming out each year. Just because it's Bill Wyman doesn't necessarily guarantee it's really hot stuff. I mean, they do strut it, but it sure ain't hot. I'd rather see Bill on tour with the regular boys; he's sure missed on stage. That darned Darryl Jones messes up 'Live With Me' each time he starts it!




Year Of Release: 1999
Overall rating = 7

A lot of generic pub jazz on here; can be delightful to assorted souls but freaks ME out.


Track listing: 1) Anyway The Wind Blows; 2) Spooky Walking; 3) One & Only; 4) Mojo Boogie; 5) Too Late; 6) Every Sixty Seconds; 7) Ring My Bell; 8) Days Like This; 9) He's A Real Gone Guy; 10) A True Romance; 11) Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You; 12) When Hollywood Goes Black & Tan; 13) Crazy He Calls Me; 14) Struttin' Our Stuff; 15) Sugar Babe; 16) Gonna Find Me A New Love.

Ain't I cute, and I mean really cute - I did give Bill Wyman's oddball project another shot. By 1999, the critics' appreciation towards his retro obsessions had somewhat faded away, and Anyway The Wind Blows never got any rave reviews; I figured that since the critics hated it, it should be great, but - for once - I was mistaken. If you prefer to trust me, I'll tell you that this bleak follow-up to Stuff is indeed even weaker than its predecessor - which is really pathetic, considering that Stuff was never that impressive on its own.

Interesting, though, that, just as before, the record starts on a very high note. Oiling the wheels of the band with a gritty rendition of J. J. Cale's title track could really have set a start for a great album - as it turns out, it doesn't, but that sure means NOT that I don't enjoy the hell out of it. Bill really swings out on his bass - there ain't a second bassline like the one he pounds out here on any of these two records. And I don't know who exactly sings lead vocals on it, but it's certainly a well-meaning guy. Add sharp, clear, delicious guitar licks, a solemn brass support and steady, self-assured drumming, and there you have it - a retro masterpiece. What a great, somber, menacing piece of slow boogie... then again, I never had anything against J. J. Cale, though, personally, I like Dire Straits a whole lot better. I also like Eric Clapton's version of 'Cocaine' much better. I confess, though, that it's a subject for another story.

But did Bill really have to go ahead and follow this great opener with thirteen tracks that all fall into the same cathegory? Which is - mediocre pub jazz a la Twenties that all sounds the same. Fortunately, Bill never stoops to such absolute lows as 'Stuff' or the reworked version of 'Melody'; most of this stuff is acceptable judging from the position of common sense, but it's all 'kinda ehn', to quote some reviewing guy, or maybe several reviewing guys. I guess this is supposed to be the 'Jazz album' of the trilogy, whereas Stuff was somewhat more eclectic; God only knows what Mr Wyman intends to be the overall theme for the next part.

But I simply have trouble with imagining the possible auditorium of this record. Rock lovers like me will certainly cringe and yawn and say, 'hey, they guy's stepped into a real tight pair of shoes'. And jazz lovers, well, I think that a Bill Wyman And The Rhythm Kings' record of retro jazz tunes is the least probable thing a potential jazz lover would dream of acquiring. Why should he when he can take the originals instead, all better performed, more exciting and authentic, of all things? Do the Rhythm Kings really add anything to their innumerable covers of selected jazz, blues and R'n'B acts like Hicks, Dixon, Mose Allison and company? Yes, Bill's band is professional and well-polished: but somehow, for a retro record to be anything more than a retro record there are different complementary ingredients required - real youthful enthusiasm, for instance, or a truly outstanding set of virtuoso performances (like on Eric Clapton's From The Cradle, for instance). None of this jazz crap offers anything but complete 'genericness' for my ears.

Some particular problems. Bill seems to have a crush on that Beverlyey Skeete gal - she sings about half of these songs, if not more, and I simply don't like her voice (Ella Fitzgerald or Aretha Franklin she is not, and if she isn't, I'm not that interested in any case). Georgie Fame's deliveries aren't that inspiring either. Wyman's own compositions, which start getting unveiled towards the middle of the album, are undistinguishable from the butchered covers; and even when they get around to exploiting Eric Clapton's talents, they don't squeeze anything other than a couple of predictable, not too exciting jazz solos (like the one on 'Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You'). An interesting trivia buff: the song 'Struttin' Our Stuff', a Wyman/Taylor collaboration, wasn't actually included on the Stuff album itself, but instead crammed on here. It's as completely forgettable as everything else, though. And, completely out of ideas, Bill even recycles 'Every Sixty Seconds' from Stone Alone, but to zero effect: on that album, it could at least be perceived as a piece of kitsch - here, given again to Beverley Skeete, the song is plain dull and ordinary, and it falls out of your head the very second your CD player begins playing the next one.

Not that these songs are really offensive, see? I guess the fact that I didn't manage to give this anything higher than a seven (and a pretty low seven at that, too) has something to do with my general dislike for the less intrinsic forms of jazz. However, even when I try to distance myself from my subjective tastes and appreciate this album on a more objective level, I simply can't see whether there's something these songs add to the originals. Maybe they don't, and the very idea is to reproduce the originals (and the 'original spirit' in Wyman's compositions) as closely as possible. In which case, Anyway The Wind Blows is not so much an album made through true artistic creativity, but a socially conditioned record destined to 'revive' the old jazz spirit in the younger generation. A noble cause it is, but I don't rate records according to their social importance, even if there is any social importance in this record.

Gee, at least they finish their dreary runthrough on a high note - with a rockin' cover of 'Sugar Babe', perhaps the only truly enjoyable song on here besides the title track. The guitar squeaks out in a weird, funny tone, the harmonica drones on with just the right amount of volume, and somebody pounds away on the electric piano as if the guy's life depended on it. Possibly Gary Brooker, hey? Reminds me of reminding you to go and buy a Procol Harum record today. And the very last track on the album, 'Gonna Find Me A New Love', isn't that impressive, but at least it ain't pub jazz, so I can really see the guys having 'good clean fun' instead of putting on these sleazy jazz masks and losing all traces of identity.

I seriously hope the third part of the trilogy, if it ever comes out, will be more decent - after all, the Rhythm Kings do have a lot of potential. Sad that they should burn it in such a dull and unnecessary way.




Year Of Release: 2000
Overall rating = 9

Less cluttered with famous names, but a bit more consistent and tasteful... what I think.

Best song: RHYTHM KING

Track listing: 1) Tell You A Secret; 2) Groovin'; 3) Rough Cut Diamond; 4) Mood Swing; 5) Hole In The Wall; 6) Can't Get My Rest At Night; 7) I Put A Spell On You; 8) Tomorrow Night; 9) I Want To Be Evil; 10) Rhythm King; 11) Daydream; 12) Oh! Baby; 13) Streamline Woman; 14) Yesterdays.

Well, either that, or I'm just a bit tired to buy all these Wyman records only to give them completely miserable ratings. Maybe it's not the best of the Rhythm Kings trilogy. Maybe it is. Who the heck cares? Fact is, it's been released, and although its commercial or critical success has been rather low (the All-Music Guide, for instance, seems not to have really noticed its existence - a rare case for newer records), those who were glad with the first two volumes of the 'Golden Oldies' series, will certainly want to invest their money in the third volume as well.

If there's any reason to proclaim an objective superiority of Groovin', it's mainly because this time around, the number of original compositions has seriously increased. Five of the fourteen tunes are Wyman and Co. originals, and a couple others have been specially written by other "members" of the "band", although I'd rather call it a 'messy collective kitchen'. In general, there's a mess of styles here, too, like on the previous two albums, but there aren't any truly low points as on Stuff, nor does this veer off into cheap barroom jazz-pop as much as Anyway The Wind Blows; in fact, as opposed to that last record, there's a clear prevalence of blues elements on this record - prevalence, mind you, because there's still enough jazz to mess up your head if you really wanna pigeonhole the record. On the other side, there are little, if any, definite highlights, so let's call it a tie. What do you mean, I gave them all different numbers? Yeah, I did give them all different numbers. Wouldn't it be boring and monotonous if I gave them all the same number?

Georgie Fame is the main star on here. He contributes what you could call the 'signature tune' for the band - the hilarious 'Rhythm King', whose sizzly swing is not something I can easily resist, nor can I disregard the hilarious lyrics ('I'm a qualified Rhythm King, and I'm ready to do my thing... I'm a fully-fledged Rhythm Ace, always going from place to place...'): the song creates such a cute little good-time party atmosphere that it can't help but suck you in like a fully-fledged vacuum cleaner. Georgie also sings lead (and plays a mean organ) on the infectiously catchy pub-blues number 'Rough Cut Diamond' and on the creepy version of J. David Ray's 'Can't Get My Rest At Night'. The best moment there arrives when special guest Mick Taylor churns out a magnificent, emotive slide guitar solo - way to go, Mick, glad to see you haven't lost it through the years not a single bit.

If Georgie is the hero, then, predictably, Beverly Skeete is once again the anti-hero. Gosh, how I hate the girl. I don't even know why. Her voice is just so dang generic... like a bad parody on Aretha Franklin. Fortunately, she only has four distinct vocal spots on the album, out of which the worst offenders turn out to be 'I Put A Spell On You' (an absolute disgrace to the names of both Screamin' Jay Hawkins and John Fogerty, no doubt) and the closing track, that sloppy jazzy piece of trash they call 'Yesterdays'. Four and a half minutes of completely wasted time, routine jazz fodder that nobody needs.

On the other hand, 'Groovin' is at least saved by a cheerful upbeat tempo, a nice brass section and atmospheric backing vocals, and 'Oh Baby' (which you probably know as 'We Got A Good Thing Goin' in the Stones' version on Now!) has her in a raunchier mood, which is slightly more tolerable than a romantic mood. I mean, it's easier to simulate raunch in one's voice than it is to simulate passion and care, isn't it?

Better songs on the album also include 'Tell You A Secret', the only 'grim' piece of slightly harder rock'n'roll on the record, with splendid hoarse whisperin' vocals from Adrian Byron Burns, and the amusing boogie woogie tribute 'Hole In The Wall', which, for some reason, Bill and Terry Taylor give to none other than Gary Brooker to sing. Funny, I don't think Gary used to perform such swingin' numbers that much even in his Paramounts days. If you ask me, still, there is something endearing to see one of the most pretentious (and talented) performers on the Sixties/Seventies art-rock scene let his hair down a little... not that he has a lot of hair left, of course, but then again, who cares about hair nowadays?

In all, this isn't an entirely satisfying album, but you know what? Now that there's a grand total of three, it's time to do some cut-and-paste. Yeah, it's easy enough to take the cream off all the three and make something like a 40 or 50 minute compilation. Throw out the Beverley Skeete numbers, throw out the generic cheap pub jazz, throw out loads of other filler, make the vocalist selection diverse... and there you go. This is a compilation you can proudly show your friends and say, "See? I told you! That Wyman guy, he's maybe not the most talented of the Stones, but he sure got a lot o' gall and taste!" Granted, your friends will mock you all the same, but at least you'll feel some inner satisfaction.




Year Of Release: 2001
Overall rating = 10

Generalizations fail me. They had to, sooner or later.


Track listing: 1) Long Walk To DC; 2) Hot Foot Blues; 3) Hit That Jive Jack; 4) Love Letters; 5) Love's Down The Drain; 6) I Can't Dance; 7) Snap Your Fingers/What A Friend We Have In Jesus; 8) Get In The Kitchen; 9) Boogie-Woogie All Night Long; 10) Do You Or Don't You/I Wanna Know; 11) Trust In Me; 12) Turn On Your Lovelight; 13) The Joint Is Jumping; 14) Brownskin Girl; 15) Tired & Sleepy; 16) Lonely Blue Boy; 17) Bye Bye Blues; 18) Where's The Money; 19) Jellyroll Fool; 20) Jealous Girl; 21) My Handy Man; 22) Rollin' & Stumblin'; 23) Keep On Truckin'; 24) Breakin' Up The House.

You know, if I keep so frantically spending my cash on Rhythm Kings releases, I'll eventually have to set up an entire page for them. And I sure will, if Bill and the boys and the girls keep releasing them at this rate. The title doesn't deceive you - it's a double album indeed, a double album with twenty-four new tracks recorded by Wyman's lovers of jazz/blues/R'n'B/soul whatever.

In fact, I have a hypothesis right here and now. I have a hypothesis that the Rhythm Kings have decided to take over the world! Find me another outfit today, retro or non-retro, that pushes forward stuff at the same rate; there's none, at least among the better known ones. And look at the reviews that Wyman gets - just about every critic alive feels it necessary to laud the Rhythm Kings in some way almost as if they were the saviours of the planet or something (in fact, I read up a few rave reviews of Double Bill even before it was released).

Getting serious, it indeed becomes apparent that as we near and then bypass the end of the century, there appears to be a rising demand for retro stuff. There's nothing extraordinaire about all these albums, except for nice professionalism and a good feel for retro music, apart from whenever Bill Wyman finds us some particularly nasty cheap pub-jazz stuff to plunge ourselves into. But come on, guys, does that mean that in twenty years people will yearn for synth-pop and hair metal and albums of people who get a 'feel' for bands like Europe and Poison will release 'tribute' albums and get rave reviews from critics for "bringing back the beloved spirit of the Eighties", just as the Rhythm Kings are now bringing back the spirit of the Fourties and the Fifties? I friggin' hate the whole trend-following idea. Just because you do a by-the-book album of covers of music played half a century ago with nothing to add does not make you a superhero. It's fun, yeah, and may appeal to those who don't like hearing their Fourties' music with crackles and hiss, but then again, at least crackles and hiss give it a certain "aura of anciency" that is completely lacking on Bill's immaculately produced product.

That said, I still give Double Bill a higher rating than all of its three predecessors, not because it's that much better, but rather because a) since it's a double album, it has more good material on it; and b) I don't find Beverley Skeete's presence on the album so overbearing and tedious as on the other records. Georgie Fame and Gary Brooker have the lion's share of singing on here, plus there's Wyman himself singing on a bunch of tracks, so you can tell Beverley isn't so overrepresented at last. Not to mention that on a few tracks like 'Bye Bye Love' she gets multi-tracked and overdubbed and doesn't sound so annoying, while songs like 'My Handy Man' are so hilariously smutty in a very euphemistic kind of way that I don't even mind her voice. And, of course, Double Bill is the most stylistically diverse album of all - the original idea of a 'stylistic trilogy' being buried deep for a long time now, Bill just prefers to go all over the place, so for every jazzy stinker you get yourself one or two nice strong R'n'B excourses.

One thing I can't understand at all is why they chose 'Love Letters' to be the single from this album. It's arguably one of the most boring and thoroughly generic stinkers on it. Just because George Harrison shows up to play some slide guitar on a song doesn't mean that it's hit single material, Bill, not to mention that the slide guitar part doesn't even become obvious until midway through. For my money, the song that immediately follows it, Bill's own 'Love's Down The Drain', is tons better, an excellent J. J. Cale/Dire Straits stylization (apparently, Bill's been singing J. J. Cale for so long he's now begun writing like J. J. Cale) that really has that unbeatable menacing edge which transforms a simple forgettable lightweight tune into something you can actually, like, insert a jet of expressivity into, not to mention have some actual fun with it.

I can hardly say anything special about the other songs, though. I kinda hoped 'I Can't Dance' would turn out to be a Genesis cover (wow, that'd be really cool and unpredictable), but instead it's just an old jazz standard with a really stupid refrain. The first disc also ends in the classic 'Turn On Your Lovelight' which you probably all know from the Grateful Dead's Live/Dead, or, at the very best, from Dick's Picks Out Of The Vault Live At The Knick Live At The Knack Vol. Five Hundred And Thirty Seven. But I actually like this, more traditional, rave-up better, and Brooker's hilarious delivery seems more engaging than Pigpen's, at least to these Dead-untrained sloppy ears of mine. By the way, Brooker really shines on the entire album; their distribution with Georgie Fame seems to be in the way that Fame naturally sings on the cabaret-style jazz-pop stuff, and Brooker sings on the more rock'n'rollish/R'n'Bish numbers, which are naturally the best. Procol Harum fans, track this stuff down - in fact, all of you snub-nosed art-rock lovers should get this just to realize that, unlike so many of you, "serious" artists, including your idols, do not think they have 'overgrown' the 'lightweight' stuff even when they're over fifty or more.

So, anyway, with their next release the Rhythm Kings approach their dream of conquering the universe even further. Wait with impatience till the year 2002, when the Kings will be releasing two triple albums and a 5-CD boxset of rarities and outtakes at that, not to mention a couple "Live Bootlegs" and a bunch of promo videos. Bill Wyman's life is only starting, ladies and gentlemen.




Year Of Release: 2004
Overall rating = 11

Well, here's something that rocks at least as efficiently as it "CABARETS". Suits me.


Track listing: 1) Disappearing Nightly; 2) Roll 'Em Pete; 3) Down Home Girl; 4) Mississippi Flyer; 5) That's How Heartaches Are Made; 6) Booty Ooty; 7) Cadillac Woman; 8) Town Living; 9) This Ain't United Nations; 10) Memphis Woman; 11) Taxman; 12) Just For A Thrill; 13) Cry Baby; 14) You Don't Know.

Yeah right. Just as he's finally getting hot again, and releasing music that's actually honestly enjoyable rather than sporting a museum-like character, what's that I read on his official site? That he's retiring AGAIN, putting the Rhythm Kings to rest with family preferences taking over! So long, my sweet dreams of that 5-CD boxset of rarities.

Actually, Wyman did release a boxset in between this and Double Bill. Only it wasn't his boxset; entitled Rude Dudes, it was a collection of 'golden rarities' from them old dusty years, featuring bluesmen, blueswomen, jazzmen, jazzwomen, and all those in between singing that same material the Rhythm Kings were interpreting for them more than half a century later. Bill was later quoted as saying something to the effect of "this is done in order to let people know that 'blues' isn't necessarily bluesy, but can be pretty hilarious as well" (my cumbersome paraphrasing). Well, same goes for Bill's own nature: he certainly has always been quite "bluesy" from a technical point of view, but his blues was of the unequivocally hilarious variety.

And on Just For A Thrill - for once, of pretty solid quality, too! For a number of reasons, the Rhythm Kings' last album speaks the finest to yours truly. (Provided, of course, that it's really their last, and that once Bill Wyman's offspring come of age and start marrying the consorts of their father's band members or something, he won't be hitting the road again). Of these reasons, the easiest to formulate is also the most personal one: there's very little Beverley Skeete on here. Maybe the crush has faded away or maybe, in this somber era of open war against PC, with smelly male chauvinism on the rise and all, the rest of the Rhythm Kings have gone on hunger strike in order to increase their presence in the vocal department; regardless of the speculations, Skeete gets only three lead vocal parts on here (out of 14!), and besides, she isn't even too obnoxious on them.

Another reason is that perhaps it's simply the most energetic of their releases. There's plenty of rockabilly/early rock'n'roll sendups here, settling down fine and dandy in between the slower numbers. And moreover, they seem to have finally overcome that nasty "novelty" flavour that fucked up so much of their early work. I mean, where Wyman once wrote these cornball parodies like 'Stuff', now he's writing straightforward, "honest"-sounding song material. And even when he's ironizing, he does it in his own wicked way, as on the Beverley-sung 'This Ain't United Nations': 'Have you ever loved a man/Who treats you like a dog/This ain't United Nations/He don't use dialogue!'.

Certain subtle changes might be due to yet another (expected) shift of lineup. This time, Gary Brooker is out (probably touring with Procol again?), and in comes Cocker veteran Chris Stainton on piano and "bass synth". He's as good as ever, although the two best piano passages still come from a certain Axel Zwingenberger rather than Stainton, yet again proving for every perfectly normal paranoid inhabitant of our little planet that Zionists take the lead everywhere, from the US government to minor retro-flavoured bands led by former Rolling Stones members. The rollicking barroom piano on 'Roll 'Em Pete' (hey, that turn of phrase was pure coincidence! see? roll 'em - rollickin'! doesn't that spell success?) is particularly enthralling. You gotta hear that.

Okay, now let me just name five things worthy of my honourable mention and that'll be it for the Rhythm Kings:

a) Best song - unquestionably 'Disappearing Nightly'. Mark Knopfler plays guitar on it, next to Albert Lee and Terry Taylor. This is the second guest appearance of his I've heard from this year; on Fogerty's 'Nobody Here Anymore', he played in the 'Sultans Of Swing' style, with the natural result being that I really yearned to hear 'Sultans Of Swing' itself and forget about this pale imitation. Here he plays in a less personalized, more rock'n'rollish way, hardly reminiscent of anything particular (well, the guitar tone is rather close to 'Money For Nothing', but that's it), and does it with gusto. Besides, the 'disappearing nightly, oh yeah' chorus is the catchiest chorus the Rhythm Kings ever performed.

b) Best Wyman-penned song - unquestionably 'Mississippi Flyer'. Such a fun, inventive country rocker - inventive mostly in the chorus department, simple, but so effective. Too bad they didn't let the Axel guy solo more, but he does a brilliant job even when "covered" by the vocalists.

c) Weirdest choice - their rendition of Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's 'Booty Ooty', in memory of the former, not just because the Rhythm Kings aren't exactly Funk Kings, but also because they are able to actually spice up the bare funk structure of the song with lots of cool vocal overdubs. (The 'whoops! - excuse me - whoops! - excuse me' bit is pretty giggly). Plus, it's probably their most modern-sounding song ever. Add a couple turntables, a couple lines from a stray Wu-Tang Clan member, and you're ready to hit it with the young 'uns.

d) Most moving choice - their decision to play a song in memory of the late George Harrison. Was probably a hard task, too: the Rhythm Kings don't do much sentimental or "seriously spiritual" material, unless they give it to Beverley Skeete to ruin it, and there's little else you can find in George's catalog. So in between 'Sue Me Sue You Blues' and 'Taxman' they made the right choice, I guess, which they also managed to funkify and give an extra brass angle to. Not just an angle, but actually a brand new vocals-based shiny brass riff! It's certainly smoother round the edges now than when it used to be, but that's to be expected if you have an unspoken ban on power chords in your outfit.

e) Biggest surprise - believe it or not, I actually liked Beverley's singing on 'Cry Baby'. The way I see it, that song still belongs to Janis Joplin (as does every song by any artist she ever did), but Beverley's singing style really really suits this interpretation. Then again, perhaps I was wrong all along blaming it on her voice - it's just that the material she was being given was all wrong. She's certainly more natural at big arena-like Soul Anthems than at the "Kitchen Blues Mama" image.

It'd be hard to single out any other particular surprise or particularly attractive moment, but then I'm not sure I could have given out a similar list for any of the preceding four albums, one of them double. For these five songs alone, plus 'Roll 'Em Pete', I'd happily trade in most of the rest of the band's stuff. And, uh, serious misfires? Well, nothing that rubs my "booty ooty" the wrong way. Sure Bill can't really make 'Downhome Girl' as monstrous and menacing as he used to in the company of Mick and Keith back in 1964. But who could make that song monstrous and menacing today? Nobody. Not even Nickelback! (Well, come to think of it, monstrous, perhaps. But not menacing!).



(released by: KEITH RICHARDS)

Year Of Release: 1988
Overall rating = 10

Keith gives this album all that he ever had as a Rolling Stone - unfortunately, it also proves that the Rolling Stones never equalled 'Keith Richards'.

Best song: TAKE IT SO HARD

Track listing: 1) Big Enough; 2) Take It So Hard; 3) Struggle; 4) I Could Have Stood You Up; 5) Make No Mistake; 6) You Don't Move Me; 7) How I Wish; 8) Rockawhile; 9) Whip It Up; 10) Locked Away; 11) It Means A Lot.

Keith Richards probably never ever even dreamt of making a solo album - until he was hard pressed to it by Jagger. He gave everything he ever had to the Rolling Stones, and he never had or, at least, always controlled his ambitions within the band. But when Mick dissolved the band (and yes, everybody knows that it was primarily Mick's fault), what was a poor boy to do except to sing in a rock an' roll band - his own rock an' roll band? So, as much as good ol' Keith hated it, he was simply forced to assemble his own bunch of musicians, come up with some lyrics and croak out most of the vocals - himself, because, ambitionless as he was, he really didn't want to become the next Jeff Beck. The guys he plays and jams with are mostly nameless, honest studio workers, and the 'big star' of the album is Keith's co-producer Steve Jordan: he plays bass, drums and probably something else, plus he co-wrote most of the tunes with Keith.

Critics loved this album - and I can easily understand them. History has probably overrated it, but there's no denying the fact that Talk Is Cheap was an astonishing accomplishment for Keith: nobody thought he would be able to do a record at least half that good. Now see here, it doesn't always sound like the Stones, this one. First of all, it has no Mick Jagger on vocals. A banality, yes, but an important one. I'm not the biggest fan in the world of Keith's vocals. I mean, I certainly don't have to bring up the fact that the guy can't sing worth a dime - that goes without saying; and sometimes, his dreamy, croaky and soulful vocals can be an interesting distraction from Mick's harsh, sly tone. But when he sings throughout a whole album, that's damn hard to take still. Also, if you already enjoyed my Stones' reviews, you probably already know that I'm not a fan of what I'd call 'typical Keith-style boggy ballad', stuff like 'Sleep Tonight', 'Coming Down Again', all that crud, which is very soulful and emotional, for sure, but lacks strong melodies completely. Of course, Keith couldn't miss the chance to insert a couple of such babes onto this record: 'Locked Away' and 'Make No Mistake', to be exact. The former just drags at five minute plus, and does nothing for me, although I understand perfectly that devoted Keith fans will get additional years of life out of listening to it. 'Make No Mistake' is a little better, maybe just because there's something endearing in the way Keith gurgles out these 'make no mistake... abooooout it...' lines all the time.

But in any case, it's not the ballads that are gonna make this album. For an ex-Rolling Stone (soon-to-be-Rolling-Stone again), the general tone on the album is remarkably soft: most of the rockers are subdued and subtle, with little distortion or 'ass-kicking' to get in your way. Nevertheless, Keith still plays that six-string in a way that no living man on Earth can. Listen to his pulsating, incredible licks on 'It Means A Lot' to know what I mean. How on Earth can he achieve that incredible rock-rock-rockin' effect by playing just a few chords in a few places? Over the years, he'd learned that famous 'syncopated' style of his that could only be equalled by Pete Townshend in his prime days - but Townshend's prime days are long over, while Keith is still in perfect form for a rhythm guitarist (not for a soloist, though). And most of the songs here display his guitar playing talents, thank you Lord - after all, the back cover of the album, with the famous fingers, the famous skull-ring and the famous guitar, should really tell you something.

Apart from 'It Means A Lot', there's a great funky opener, 'Big Enough', that at first seems like a more self-assured, real-song-like rewrite of 'Hot Stuff' - but it isn't, it's actually a separate strong song in its own rights. 'Take It So Hard' is the song that rocks out the fiercest on here - with lots of prime riffage, some cool vocals and a great party atmosphere. And don't bypass the jolly Fifties sendup on 'I Could Have Stood You Up' - together with some doo-wop harmonies and funny lyrics. Yeah, Keith is no great lyricsman, but he does well for a beginner. He even summons all his forces to write a venomous, How-Do-You-Sleep-ish message to Mick ('You Don't Move Me'), and succeeds - come to think of it, it isn't even venomous, it just sounds like an innocent, angry, but not really thoroughly pissed off scolding of an older brother who's always been an example but isn't any more. 'You made the wrong motion, drank the wrong potion'.

All in all, no Rolling Stones fan will ever be disappointed by this record. Arguably, it is considered the best offer by a solo Stones member that money can buy - and while I certainly disagree, because, shame on me, I enjoy Mick's solo output a lot better, it is quite decent and, well, definitely better than Dirty Work, at least. It is, however, obvious that Keith really needs Mick. The Beatles' solo careers proved that John didn't need Paul, and Paul didn't need John - they could get on by themselves just as well, even if with a diminished commercial and artistic success. Keith and Mick cannot successfully function without each other, not for a long time period of time, at least. Mick needs Keith's great riffs and his 'primal' sense of melody; whereas Keith certainly needs Mick's vocals and sense of experimentalism. The latter is especially important: perhaps the greatest flaw of Talk Is Cheap is that it is horrendously formulaic. People complain about the Stones' mythic 'formula' (although I hardly ever understand what they're talking about); well, this album certainly has a 'formula', and it gets a bit tiring near the end, though on this particular release it never gets too tiring. Buy it still! And get Keith to autograph it to you! Hurry up - he's still alive, miraculous as it may seem!



(released by: KEITH RICHARDS)

Year Of Release: 1992
Overall rating = 9

Now I'm really tired. Keith must have been really tired, too.

Best song: YAP YAP

Track listing: 1) 999; 2) Wicked As It Seems; 3) Eileen; 4) Words Of Wonder; 5) Yap Yap; 6) Bodytalks; 7) Hate It When You Leave; 8) Runnin' Too Deep; 9) Will But You Won't; 10) Demon.

Gee, I'm bored. Not that I ever expected much. You see, many people complain about the Stones getting back together in the late Eighties and Nineties and putting out 'worthless product'. Well, regardless of whether their complaints are grounded or not, I say it's a good thing, because if Mick and Keith hadn't patched it up and managed to reconvene from time to time, we would probably be subjected to a stream of Keith solo records instead. And Main Offender proves one thing: Keith sticks to the formula so hard and proud that in such a case we would just witness one record being redone over and over and over again.

Indeed, Offender sounds like a carbon copy of Talk Is Cheap, only less diverse, less fresh and less inspired. In other words, I can only recommend it for diehard Keith worshippers: if you really can't get enough of his playing, singing and overall spirit (and I fully understand such a position - Keith is one of my favourite rock'n'rollers, so I certainly like this record more than I'm generally supposed to), get it at all costs and you won't be disappointed. But once again, this album emphasizes the crucial role that Jagger plays in making Stones' records: where Keith provides the musical backbone and is responsible for the meat 'n' potatoes, Mick produces the spice that keeps the meat so intriguingly tasteful and surprising all the time.

What can I really say about the record? First of all, go and consult the review of Talk Is Cheap above; this will give you the main idea. Keith's team on here is more or less the same (at least, Steve Jordan is still co-credited for all of the songs); the main addition is that of guitarist Waddy Wachtel who would go on to have quite a few guest relations with the Stones later on. And when Keith gives the sign, the band rocks pretty hard: the opening number, '999', rolls along fast and steady, with lots of thick riffage and a solid amount of jamming power, while songs like 'Will But You Won't' feature a lighter, more laid-back kind of sound, borrowing their lax charm from Fifties' boogies rather than the Stones' trademarks. Unfortunately, there are too few tunes on Offender that rock till they bleed: for the most part, the tone is just dreadfully monotonous, and there's not a single great riff to be found. Which is preposterous - the Riffmeister running out of ideas? Just your basic unimaginative R'n'B. Okay, 'Bodytalks' does have a good riff, and it's about the only truly memorable tune on the album as a result. Fans usually choose the passionate rocker 'Eileen' as their favourite, but to me it reeks a bit too much of a 'Wanna Hold You' rip-off, and I was never a big admirer of that one in the first place. Just a fast, good-natured rocker with some moody backing vocals. Well?

Of course, no Keith album can do without a couple of his patented Soulful Ballads. The most generic of these is 'Demon', continuing the line of 'All About You' and stuff. Gee, you know I love Keith, but I'm really overfed with these melodyless wailings. I'd better take 'Hate It When You Leave' - it's a little bit faster, it's a little bit more interesting in the way of instrumentation (funny synth backing up, for instance, as well as a credible, unruptured guitar melody going on), and it features Keith singing, not just mumbling. Not that it's a great song, mind you; it's just a little less usual for Keith and thus, more intriguing.

Any experimentation or peculiarities? Really hard to tell. 'Words Of Wonder' is usually considered to be highly unusual for Keith, but I don't see that; it's just a typical reggae number in the vein of 'Too Rude' (later on, Keith would slightly perfect the formula with 'You Don't Have To Mean It' on the Stones' Bridges To Babylon). Not to mention that six and a half minute for a reggae tune really tries my patience.

As a result, the honour of 'best tune on the album' falls to 'Yap Yap'. At first listen, the song might not seem a great deal to you; just another mid-tempo ballad in the endless stream of Keith's mass productions. But its mood is, in fact, very different from anything else: with the gentle background vocals, echoey guitars and atmospheric piano tinkles around, it manages to borrow certain stylistic elements from prime Dire Straits and from Dylan, and the result is an introspective masterpiece. I'm absolutely sure of that, because as rare as Keith's songs make me want to cry, this tune does just it - the refrain, where he sings 'yap yap, you talk too much' to his partner, is just plain beautiful. Which makes me wonder - why the hell did Keith so rarely want to put his ballads into a more concise, rhythmic form, so that they wouldn't just be perceived as unstructured, disjointed, melodyless rants?

Even so, two good songs like 'Yap Yap' and 'Bodytalks' aren't gonna save this overtly mediocre album. I repeat, though, that no true Keith fan would want to be without it, and I wouldn't call purchasing it a meaningless act. But in the context of the Stones' work in general, this can only be regarded as a pathetic excuse for getting back to the band - Voodoo Lounge is so many light years ahead of this stuff that you really start to believe that a band as a whole should definitely be much more than just a sum of its parts.



(released by: MICK JAGGER)

Year Of Release: 1985
Overall rating = 10

You can't deny the cheese. You can't deny the fine melodies, either.

Best song: SECRETS

Track listing: 1) Lonely At The Top; 2) 1/2 A Loaf; 3) Running Out Of Luck; 4) Turn The Girl Loose; 5) Hard Woman; 6) Just Another Night; 7) Lucky In Love; 8) Secrets; 9) She's The Boss.

I have this nasty love-and-hate relationship with Jagger's solo career, at least, Jagger's Eighties career. See, She's The Boss is essentially, hmm, how do I put it, well, a bunch of solid Stones-like melodies crossed with Rod Stewart-style Camouflage-like production. In other words, none of the songs on here are bad; worse, all of them are memorable just like you'd expect from a decent Jagger composition, hey, the man's a master of hook, after all. But the production and the arrangements date this stuff really, really badly. The vibe is rotten, and without the vibe, you know, 'tain't just da 'ting. Same problem is active on the follow-up, Primitive Cool, but to my mind, it's not as acute on there, what with soothing ballads like 'Party Doll' and a more straightforward rocking style.

That said, She's The Boss is clearly a well-written set of songs, and it's obvious that Jagger's heart was lying here, not with the sagging Stones career, at that particular time. He gets in a whole swarm of guests, but almost intentionally keeps every single Stone out of it; and I don't just mean Keith, not even Charlie comes along to lend a hand. Instead, you get lots and lots of BIG names. Jeff Beck was Mick's main guitar foil for the sessions, even if the two guys never really saw eye to eye with each other due to their heavy tempers. Apart from that, you get guest appearances from Pete Townshend ('Lonely At The Top'); Jan Hammer, Chuck Leavell and even Herbie Hancock contribute keyboards; Sly Dunbar is on drums, and Ray Cooper adds percussion blasts on several tracks as well. If I'm not mistaken, She's The Boss also marks the first apparition of Bernard Fowler on backing vocals, the guy who'd be sticking with the Stones regularly for both session work and live performances since then.

And all of it for naught. Or - for mixed results, at best. I can just go through the track listing and you'll see the songs are just about all melodic and all shittily recorded and produced. 'Lonely At The Top' is a very Stonesy rocker with a nice contrast of 'angry' and 'ironic' in Jagger's vocals and a bit of self-ripping off when Mick 'quotes' the melody of 'Hang Fire'; but it's put down by the stupid robotic drum track, cheesy synths and Beck's guitar solo... yeah, Beck was in that crappy mid-Eighties phase at the time when he really sounded like a hair-metal kind of guy. '1/2 A Loaf' is the one track on the album that can really be taken as a serious social statement, but what's up with the metal guitar again? And the synth-pop backing? Oh, and, by the way, it seems to me that the basics of the melody had been later reworked into 'Terrifying', a far, far better song.

'Running Out Of Luck' is one of the most tolerable numbers on here, funky and cool, with a relaxed and unarrogant tone, and for once, Beck prefers to play some thought-provoking moody passage instead of the generic diddli-diddli-diddli hair metal pssh-solo. Some harmonica on here, even. But then we get 'Turn The Girl Loose' which is one of those deeply annoying songs you can't stand even if you know you can't really pin anything objective on it. Maybe it's just the repetitiveness that gets down on me. 'Turn the girl loose! Turn the girl loose! Turn the girl loose! Turn the girl loose!'. Who's that gal that joins Jagger in a proto-rap duet at the end? 'Urrible. Mick should refrain from those minimalistic "sssss-s-s-exy" funk rants.

'Hard Woman' is a nice breather because it's a ballad, but it's a bit too sappy compared to the far superior 'Party Doll' on the next album; funny, isn't it, this newly found passion for the soft sappy country sound? It's one of those sounds you shouldn't joke with. On 'Party Doll' Mick's vocal delivery helps to elevate the song, but 'Hard Woman' is a hard song (to take), and the anticlimax would be reached four years later on the hideous 'Blinded By Love'. Still, you gotta admire the vocals anyway, I say; the diversity of tones and pitches Mick shows on here is sure impressive.

Oh, but then there's the hit, there's 'Just Another Night'. Ever seen the video for that stuff? The one where a slightly optically challenged type could easily take Mick for Bowie? That's the Eighties for you, ladies and gentlemen. Glam-synth-pop, smoke rising from your feet, paranoid quasi-robotic pseudo-guitar-strumming, and, of course, over-over-over-emoting. The song itself ain't bad and could have been worked into something better; as it is, it stands as one of the key symbols of the tackiness of the era, tee hee. Then again, I guess 'Dancing Queen' stands as the key symbol of the tackiness of the Seventies, and it's still a classic, so let's live on and see what happens.

'Lucky In Love' would be an okayish danceable track with a cheesy, but fun guitar riff underpinning it, if only for some reason Mick hadn't decided to bookmark the song with this ugly "card game dialogue" to illustrate his luck in love (and unluck in games) with an obvious example. And the title track is kinda childish, if you axe me. After eight tracks of "serious pretentions", Mick ends the album on an offensively idiotic note, but I'll be darned if that song isn't catchy. It's just that I don't wanna be caught on the street muttering 'Come on! SHE's the boss! SHE's the boss! SHE's the boss!'. This all leaves me with 'Secrets' as my candidate for best song on here; maybe its melody isn't exemplary, but it's the most mercifully produced track on the entire album, and that's good enough for me. The subject is older than God: again, Mick's beloved topic of "proud rich girl doing nasty things" - hey, if all we do is listen to the words Mr Jagger is singing, we'll soon be thinking that the upper classes, though 'prim and proud', don't do nothing but copulate with everybody in reach and smell cocaine all day. Isn't that kinda like a 'middle class boy complex'? Ne'er mind, it's really fun to think so. Anyway, 'honey honey honey do it for the money' is, I suppose, the catchiest chorus invented since the 'money money money all is honey in the rich man's world' days, so it works for me.

But seriously, I kinda understand how it was possible to go ahead and make an album like Dirty Work after spending precious time on this stuff. Proceed here ONLY if you're a Jaggerhead and think all those Stones diehards are lumpy for their Richardsmania.



(released by: MICK JAGGER)

Year Of Release: 1987
Overall rating = 11

What a great album title! This is indeed a record that's 'primitive cool'...

Best song: PARTY DOLL

Track listing: 1) Throwaway; 2) Let's Work; 3) Radio Control; 4) Say You Will; 5) Primitive Cool; 6) Kow Tow; 7) Shoot Off Your Mouth; 8) Peace For The Wicked; 9) Party Doll; 10) War Baby.

Many people simply write off Mick Jagger's solo career as something totally unpalatable and offensive to good taste, and this album is often used as the main pretext. I expected to hate it; I got surprised because I loved it at first listen. To me, this seemed what the Stones' Dirty Work failed to be - a happy, joyful rag-bag of various styles, dumb in some places, intelligent in others, relatively diverse and full of hooks and crunchy guitar riffs all over the place. Jagger almost seems to be happy to finally get out of the Stones, and this is his statement to the whole wide world. Where his first solo album was kinda insecure and ultimately so over-commercial that it became dated within the year of its release, this is an entirely different matter. Not a masterpiece, for sure; and certainly just an ordinary (not bad, though) release by the Stones' own standards, but enjoyable as hell. Why critics tend to dismiss it is way beyond me.

I mean, nobody's gonna pretend that Primitive Cool is not commercial. It is; more than that, it's overtly commercial, it employs just about every type of generic Eighties' production devices, it employs hi-tech synths, it employs drum machines (sometimes) and soulless metallic guitar riffs that Keith Richards would never have used. Not to mention Jagger barking all over the place and the ridiculous "gay video" for 'Just Another Night'. But here's the marvel and here's the wonder: as Mick engulfs himself in all this shit, it actually helps that there's no Keith around. On Dirty Work, it wasn't the horrible production itself that annoyed the shit out of me; it was the realisation that Keith's trademark riffage style and modernistic production are so dang incompatible, reducing all the songs to tuneless, dissonant meshes of cacophony. On Primitive Cool, Mick proclaims 'vocal hook' the day specialty; you may dislike the production and everything, but trying to accuse the actual songs of being poorly written, unmemorable garbage just means a biased attention (which I can't blame anybody for - I used to hate this kind of music, too, before I understood that things are actually more complex than they might seem at first glance).

Seriously, now, there ain't a single song on this album that Mick should ever be ashamed of. He's got himself a fairly impressive band, with Jeff Beck doing much of the guitarwork and Simon Philips bashing out on the drums, when they are drums, not machines, and wrote some fairly impressive songs. Okay, if you've heard this album, I know your complaint: 'Let's Work'. This is often pointed out as one of the hugest missteps in Mick's entire career - a stupid dance beat over which Mick, in his best DirtyWork-tone, barks out lyrics about how his fans should get off their butts and 'let's work, kill poverty'. In my opinion, condemning Mick over this song is about the same as condemning him for Satanism based on 'Sympathy For The Devil'. Can't you seriously see this is tongue-in-cheek, almost a comedy number? There is totally no ugly aggression in his barking this time, and me, I simply have a good laugh while listening to this song. Not to mention that he really does an outstanding job - on no other album, Stones' or solo, does Mick bark as convincingly as on this one.

And then there are the 'real' rockers. Okay, songs like 'Say You Will', 'Peace For The Wicked' or 'Radio Control' might not be among his best. But they're all solid, okay-ish tunes with loads of energy, strong, memorable riffs, and plenty of amusing and tricky production gimmicks to keep your attention set in - I can't really see what's wrong with that, people. And 'Kow Tow' is really good - I love it when he roars out the lines 'I won't bow down, I won't kow tow'. Good lad.

And yeah, I forgot to tell you that this record features at least two blistering classics that should by all means earn their gold status in the Stones' legacy - a pity that fate placed them on a Jagger solo album. First, there's 'Throwaway', a song that was brilliantly chosen to open the album. Essentially, it's just Jagger's 'confession' about how he used to play the Casanova but, well, he's finally found a love to stay (apparently, that love - Jerry Hall - got divorced from him several month s ago, but what the heck, it's 1987 we're talking about). But there's just something moving in the song, particularly in its refrain ('a love like this/is much too hard/to ever throw away'), and the way it bounces along with all these tasty guitar lines thrown in is just enthralling. And next, there's 'Party Doll', a brilliant country stylization along the lines of 'Sweet Virginia' and 'Love In Vain' (something in between the two, actually); I mean, it's still worse because it's spoiled by the booming drums and everything, and it'll sure as hell be much too melodramatic for somebody else's tastes, but you can't deny the melody because it's right there, by gum! And the harmonica and fiddle parts are dazzling.

Perhaps the only time when Jagger really goes somewhat overboard (if you don't count 'Let's Work', of course) is the 'epic' 'War Baby', an overblown peace anthem that goes on for too long and I mean it - it's like seven minutes long, for Chrissake! And there's too much gunfire involved, blah. It's still better than Paul McCartney's 'C'mon People', though - maybe because it sounds more sincere. And in any case, it's fully compensated by the brilliant title track, with some of Mick's most interesting lyrics ever, about a child looking back on his parents' past and on the Fifties and Sixties in general. And for some reason, nobody even knows the song. What a pity, what a shame. It's rockin', tender and intelligent at the same time, and who has ever heard of it?

All in all, the album's definitely a blast, at least by Mick's own standards. It's easy to say banal things about how the album lacks a Keith Richards in control to strip it of its dated, ridiculously over-technophilic production (to be frank, though, this record isn't as technophilic as, say, some of the contemporary David Bowie albums, with whom Mick was quite close during the decade), and to bring in a straightforward, retro rocker. You want to have a Keith Richards, you go listen to Dirty Work. And at least the fact that the album is a solo effort saves us from the necessity of digesting yet another soggy Richards ballad...



(released by: MICK JAGGER)

Year Of Release: 1993
Overall rating = 12

Perhaps the closest thing to a Rolling Stones album you'll find whilst meandering through the guys' thin solo careers.


Track listing: 1) Wired All Night; 2) Sweet Thing; 3) Out Of Focus; 4) Don't Tear Me Up; 5) Put Me In The Trash; 6) Use Me; 7) Evening Gown; 8) Mother Of A Man; 9) Think; 10) Wandering Spirit; 11) Hang On To Me Tonight; 12) I've Been Lonely For So Long; 13) Angel In My Heart; 14) Handsome Molly.

All Rolling Stones fans are heartily welcome to this album - in fact, more welcome than to any other solo project by any other band member. You like Voodoo Lounge? You think it was a pretty decent return to form after all those years? Well then, you'll be pleased to hear that Mick, at least, was basing that album on the artistic success of his previous solo effort. Because I, for one, really, really love this record. Sure, it gets thin in places, but it's also ample proof to the undeniable talents of Mick as a composer and musician. On the previous albums Mick was trying to be 'cool' and overabuse all kinds of accessible Eighties' gimmicks - things that have proven to be dated, silly and overly commercial. Which is why Primitive Cool, for instance, doesn't hold all that well over the years - it was a good one, but you have to understand that it's good after you've sifted out all the production crap.

By 1993, however, fashions have changed, and the world was just going through a 'retroization' brought about by the likes of different 'alternative' bands and stuff, and if 'cool' is danceable and electronical to you, then no, Wandering Spirit ain't cool. But if 'cool' to you means 'a solid, enjoyable, clever and arse-kicking album with interesting melodies and catchy hooks', then you're right on the spot! At least half of these songs could easily rate as Stones classics, and almost none of the others are bad or sleazy or anything. The album cover, in fact, is probably the most off-putting detail o' the whole show, but hey, we all need a bit of bare chest to look on, right? And if you want it - well you can look at the bare chest of Mick!

The rockers are mostly fabulous - similar to the Stones' numbers on later albums, sometimes worse, sometimes better, but of the same quality in general: Mick steps away from the metallized sound of Steel Wheels and adopts a more grungey sound, with multi-tracked, but perfectly distinct and tasteful-sounding guitars creating a 'thunderstorm' effect (ever heard 'I Go Wild'?) 'Wired All Night' is the best of these: it opens the album on the wildest note possible, as Mick raps through the angry lyrics and makes the best of his voice - a no-holds-barred genuine rocker, the first Jagger rocker to sound like a pure Stones artefact without Keith at the steering wheel; but then there's 'Put Me In The Trash' that's accompanied by these hilarious 'oo-wee-oo-wee-oo' backing vocals, and 'Mother Of A Man' (kind of a precursor to 'Gunface' off Bridges To Babylon) roars and tears!

Yeah, and the title track - how can I forget that one? It's weird - starts off as a plain retroish rockabilly number, with thin echoey guitars a la Gene Vincent, then picks up steam, then picks up a little more steam and goes into the fast'n'furious refrain. And I really wouldn't know about it, but ain't the song some kind of a 'sequel' to 'Sympathy For The Devil'? Same kind of travelogue, and the spirit ain't all that good and kind, it seems. Yes it IS nowhere near as convincing or spooky (it's rather funny, in fact), but at least it's worthy and ain't no self-parody, you know? Like... 'tie me up the pain of love'. Oooh. Don't hurt me, baby, I'm just a wandering spirit...

But in fact, there's quite a lot to this album - more than loud, brawny rockers. A couple of ballads are just fine - hey, ain't 'Don't Tear Me Up' some kind of a 'prequel' to 'Saint Of Me'? They share the same kind of melody! Hear that organ in the beginning? Mick sure ain't no big original... nevertheless, I actually like this one more than 'Saint Of Me' because it ain't no stupid 'hymn'. Just a good old power ballad. I don't ever want to see your picture again. 'Angel In My Heart' is kinda good, too, though I've never thought much of the cheesy, sentimental 'Evening Gown'. Then there are a couple of not very memorable songs near the end, a swell R'n'B number ('Out Of Focus'), and a dreadful, slow, fiddle-enhanced country number ('Handsome Molly') where Mick sounds so horrendous that it almost makes the song great. Well, I'd say he still tries to make it sound good, so it sounds dreadful anyway.

Hmm. I suppose these two last sentences didn't make a great deal of sense, now did they? You try to figure it out when you have a bit of free time, then. And if you still don't get it, take a hint: I really hate 'Handsome Molly'. That's about the only thing, though, that I hate about this album. On the contrary, I'm really amazed at how fresh, strong and invigorating it sounds. Funny, too. Oh! Silly me! And I have even forgotten about 'Sweet Thing'! That's a cool dance number where Mick sings in his unique falsetto about really loving his sweet thing and the All-Music Guide says his falsetto is strained and the All-Music Guide can go to hell now. Meanwhile, I'd advise you to buy this album if you've run out of Stones' artefacts. You won't regret it.

Oh, and that was a pretty stupid tone I'd used in writing this review. I suppose I could go over it all again and rewrite everything in a deadly serious and ice cold manner, but that's what the Internet is designed for, anyway: accumulating all kinds of trash like this. Let's all value our garbage-shaped streams of conscience. Let yourself loose and you'll need no further psychotherapy, that's for sure.



(released by: MICK JAGGER)

Year Of Release: 2001
Overall rating = 8

"Why don't you just get a gun and shoot it through my heart"? Hmm, not a bad idea.


Track listing: 1) Visions Of Paradise; 2) Joy; 3) Dancing In The Starlight; 4) God Gave Me Everything; 5) Hide Away; 6) Don't Call Me Up; 7) Goddess In The Doorway; 8) Lucky Day; 9) Everybody Getting High; 10) Gun; 11) Too Far Gone; 12) Brand New Set Of Rules.

Fate has been mean to Mr Jagger. Fate has also been kind to humanity, because the fact that this miserable piece of dinky shit that I don't have the force to spell as "the fourth solo recording by the main Rolling Stone" sold fewer than a 1000 copies on the first day of release, despite all the heavy promoting, shows that the general public - the good kind of general public, the one that actually buys records for their artistic value and not for their sticking to contemporary trends - still has retained some level of quality control.

Fact is, Mick Jagger sold out. Wait now, don't let me hear you go "big surprise, he's been doing it for thirty years now". Because this time, he's done it for good. Yes, his previous three records were mighty commercial as well: She's The Boss and Primitive Cool played along with the synth-pop trends of the Eighties, while Wandering Spirit capitalized on the early Nineties hard-rock revival (grunge and stuff like that). But none of these trends were incompatible with Mick's main strengths, which is, ability to write competent melodies and ability to actually rock out and sound mean and tough without seeming a self-parody (okay, so there are some dorky exceptions like 'She's The Boss' and stuff, but they only prove the rule).

Goddess In The Doorway, on the other hand, plunges Mick face first into the Nineties' world of trip-hop beats, mild techno, dance patterns and what-not. In this context, the presence of an actual melody is not only not necessary, it is not at all recommendable. This record pretty much falls in the general Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys category, with maybe a short touch of Limp Bizkit now and then. Mick's old buddy, Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, hit it right on the head when he said that with this album, Mick finally managed to break down the confining walls of Stonesy blues-rock and head into the 'edgy' (sic!) territory of modern dance rock. Except that he kinda got his accents wrong. If Mick ever sounded confined, restrained, downright humiliating, it's on this poor, wretched substitute for a coaster. You can give out five-star ratings for all you want, Mr Wenner, nobody is going to listen to you anyway, except some of them poor kids with their heads so firmly stuck up MTV's ass they wouldn't know good music if it were living next door to 'em.

There's not a SINGLE track out of the twelve songs on here that can boast a half-decent arrangement. I won't go overboard and say that all the actual melodies here suck balls, though. A small bunch of these songs could be salvaged, and in the hands of a better producer would manage to be listenable (or, better to say, in the hands of a better-minded producer - most of this stuff was produced by Mick himself, with the assistance of a few hacks including such notorious music murderers as Wyclef Jean and Lenny Kravitz; and we know Mick can produce stuff well when he means it). However, even these don't really add anything to Jagger's legacy. Since he hasn't bothered to add that many hooks, most of the ballads sound like inferior versions of the Bridges To Babylon stuff. And if 'Don't Call Me Up' to you sounds suspiciously similar in name to 'Don't Tear Me Up', you'll not be surprised to learn that the main vocal move in the chorus is ripped off from 'Don't Tear Me Up'.

Meanwhile, the rockers - and there aren't too many of them - are suspiciously derivative as well. 'Lucky Day', for instance, can't help but remind me of 'Brand New Car' (granted, it might just be because of a very similar vocal style), and 'Gun' ain't that different from stuff like 'Gunface' and 'Lowdown' on Bridges. Okay, so these aren't the same melodies note by note, of course, but the main difference - I reiterate - the main difference is in the arrangements. Take all that formerly good stuff, replace all the rhythm tracks with techno beats, replace all the distinctive riffs with monotonous acoustic/electric/synthesized "patterns" and you're all set. So, are you really interested in that? And as a final mocking note, the "sensitive" and apparently "introspective" ballad 'Too Far Gone' begins with Mick boldly singing 'Always hate nostalgia, living in the past, no use getting misty-eyed, it'll all screen by so fast'. Puh-lease, Mr Jagger. If only you were sure that nostalgia were in fashion today, securing you the big bucks, that line would sound quite the opposite. Remember Voodoo Lounge, eh?

Low points abound - 'Visions Of Paradise' that's good enough to get your ass shaking but makes absolutely no lasting impression, or the cheesy dinky 'Dancing In The Starlight', or the title track that has just about the stupidest use of Eastern overtones I've ever heard on a record by somebody that respectable. And when Mick goes 'EVERYBODY GETTING HIGH HIGH HIGH UH HIGH HIGH HIGH' on the respectively named track, I get sultry visions of DJ Mick in a sweaty techno club. Ugh. Boy, is that ever ugly.

So, the relatively high rating (and I insist that an 8 is very high for such an album, unarguably the worst ever thing to come out of the Stones camp in forty years) is explained only through this - I can't help it, but I love the singing. This is one thing I really agree with Mr Wenner upon - Jagger's voice still cuts it, both on the ballads and on the rockers, and most of the time it's the only thing that salvages a particular track from total blah. He is still able to bark, but doesn't do it all the time, and his tone is still as 'butter-slicing' as ever... THE voice of rock'n'roll, too bad it's been humiliated so much. Plus, there are some half-assed musical ideas occasionally. The Lenny Kravitz-produced single 'God Gave Me Everything' is actually the most rock'n'roll-like song on the album, for instance, and the only song that can boast some real, not faked energy, as well as a real drum beat, a real gruff punkish guitar riff, and heck, at least the title of the song is totally sincere - I can't imagine what it could be that God has not yet given Mick Jagger. Royal blood? Possession of the British Museum? An opportunity to lay Britney Spears?

In brief - stay away. Of course, what with all the thunderstorms of promotion that Jagger, Jann Wenner and hordes of people are giving this crap right now, it'll be hard to stay away from it completely, but at least don't blow your bucks on it. Hopefully, though, it WILL be a lesson to Mick: you can only sell yourself out that far. There's simply no audience for stuff like that: for one, it is totally offensive to old time Stones fans (at least, those that haven't been brainwashed into the idea that 'it is necessary to progress and move with the times'), and as for the new generation, it has all the Britney Spears and all the 'Nsync and all the Limp Bizkit it already needs - now who'd be interested in shaking their booty to some old ridiculous fart like that? You really and truly miscalculated, Mick. So learn your mistake and get back to what you do best. Better still, just stay away from solo albums in the future.



(released by: MICK TAYLOR)

Year Of Release: 1979
Overall rating = 10

A solid mix of Dylan, Stones and Jeff Beck, together with some boring muzak - well, actually, it's better than I hoped.

Best song: GIDDY UP

Track listing: 1) Leather Jacket; 2) Alabama; 3) Slow Blues; 4) Baby I Want You; 5) Broken Hands; 6) Giddy-Up; 7) S. W. 5; 8) Spanish; 9) A Minor.

Mick Taylor's solo debut is surprisingly good. No, I mean it, really: not 'great' or 'groundbreaking' or 'amazing', just a good, normal, inoffensive record that would be heavily recommended for Stones fans and, of course, especially Stones fans of the Taylor period. To tell you the truth, I never even expected that quality; in his Stones days, the only thing Mick excelled in was immaculate soloing, and I was really somewhat afraid that, being separated from the Riffmeister's basis and Jagger's sly hooks, Taylor would just go down the drain. In a certain sense, he did: Mick Taylor was his only complete solo album with original studio material that he had recorded until the very recent A Stone's Throw, and most of the other time you almost heard nothing of him. He sometimes rose out of the mist to play with Dylan (esp. on his Infidels album and the supporting tour, check out Bob's Real Live for that), and on one occasion he even reunited with the Stones on stage, resulting in a concert whose quality is universally panned by fans (on the 1981 tour). And later on, he had a few remarkable (or unremarkable) collaborations with Carla Olsson, but that's not being discussed at the time.

Anyway, this debut album will pose quite a few surprises for the listener. Out of nine songs, four are instrumentals, and the other five are pleasant pop/roots-rock tunes featuring Mick on vocals. Now he may not have a great voice, and actually, people like to bring on the vocals as the downside of the record, but I find few problems with that - his singing never really grates on you, and he's got enough of a human touch to sound convincing on numbers like 'Leather Jacket' or 'Baby I Want You'. In fact, sometimes I could easily describe him as a 'Dylan without the hoarse'; that's not a compliment, because 'Dylan without the hoarse' is actually not too interesting, but it's not a putdown either.

And the songwriting is tons of fun. He follows the Stones in trying to diversify his approach while at the same time never really venturing out of 'normal' rock - cool experimentation you will find NOT. But he takes on several distinct genres and sounds self-assured and steady in most. 'Leather Jacket' is the most Dylanish tune on the album, a soulful folk rocker with a warm, live guitar tone and a catchy structure - I can easily imagine that one in the hands of the Bobster as one of the better tracks on something like Planet Waves. 'Alabama' steers us into country, and it contains a major misfire in its lyrical content: I can almost imagine Mick punching his head and trying to bash out something that would come out as 'authentic' and failing. Instead, he turned to Colin Allen to provide the lyrics, and the dude couldn't come up with anything better than 'only halfway through Louisiana/on my way home to Alabama'. Ooh, that rhyme makes my hair stand on end. Luckily, Mick compensates for it by inserting a marvelous, inflammatory guitar solo recalling some of his work on Exile On Main St.

'Baby I Want You' probably has some Dylan influences, too, but eventually it comes out as a slick pop song in the vein of, say, something Christine McVie used to write (he even shares the fabulous 'McVie intonation'!) That's okay; I'm a big fan of good old Chris, and if Mick had been listening to a little Mac on his way through the record, well, that's... you know... that's good. What else can I say? The guitar is fine and pleasant, the vocal melody is enthralling, and the rhythm is held all the way through. It's better than some of Keith Richards' balladeering stuff, that's for sure.

Now 'Broken Hands' is more or less the only Stones-sounding track on here - a typical Exile-era rocker underpinned with ferocious slide rhythms and absolutely Stones-like electric licks. Actually, the number it reminds me most of all isn't any Exile track, but rather 'Hand Of Fate' off Black And Blue: some licks are almost played in the same way as on that song, and even the guitar solo is similar. That's all the more funny since I have no information about 'Hand Of Fate' being a Taylor era outtake (remember that Black And Blue was recorded already after Taylor had left). Did they conceive the song pre-1975 with Taylor taking the idea with him as he was quitting? Or did he just rip it off from Black And Blue post factum? Feedback, please! Finally, 'S.W.5' returns us back to folk-rock territory, and it's a good number, this time highlighted by Jean Roussell's piano and a high-pitched solo guitar.

Now I actually have mixed feelings about the instrumentals - don't even know why, they're all quite solid. Maybe it's because I was expecting some tremendous guitar heroics but didn't get it? I mean, 'Slow Blues' bloozes along nicely, but is it all that special? Not at all. 'Spanish', at seven and a half minutes, drags on for too long, and while at times it does give us Mick playing, well, Spanish, it can't really overshadow his Santana stylizations on 'Can't You Hear Me Knocking'. And I don't particularly care for the piano-dominated 'A Minor', either, nice as it is. I suppose this has a lot to do with my passion for Steve Hackett and his Spectral Mornings of the smae year - an album in which the man clearly demonstrated that the possibilities of the electric guitar were not yet entirely spent. Taylor, on the other hand, just often plays generic muzak, forgettable ear-candy that's good for one seance and that's about it.

That said, I really enjoy 'Giddy Up'. It's not too long, it rocks, and with that marvelous descending guitar riff, it just might qualify as my favourite number from the album. It doesn't pretend to be 'highly emotional', like 'Spanish', and it doesn't entirely rely on cliched blues formulas like 'Slow Blues'; it just contains a brilliantly constructed solo that flows perfectly, never grates, and, I suppose, is a great thing for beginning solo players to learn. One thing I always liked Taylor for when he was in the Stones was his inventiveness with his instrument - he was always able to find new fascinating chord progressions and arrange them without having to rely to Hendrix- or Townshend-type gimmicks (in this he qualifies as my second-best preferred guitarist of the type after John Fogerty), and this is the track that best proves this on the album.

Ah, well. 'I believe it's time to go'. Kudos to Mick for not really disappointing us. I don't know anything about his backing band (except that one of the drummers was an ex-member of the British prog-rock Gong, if you're interested), so I won't be naming them - what's in a name, after all? Unless that name is Mick Taylor, of course. Recorded at the Rolling Stones Mobile, by the way - what a friendly gesture.



(released by: MICK TAYLOR)

Year Of Release: 2000
Overall rating = 11

More blues and old-man atmosphere... perhaps the young 'uns won't dig it, but doesn't it scream "GOOD TASTE" all over the place?


Track listing: 1) Secret Affair; 2) Twisted Sister; 3) Never Fall In Love Again; 4) Losing My Faith; 5) Morning Comes; 6) Lost In The Desert; 7) Blues In The Morning; 8) Late At Night; 9) Here Comes The Rain; 10) Blind Willie McTell.

Rock and roll is music for the young, we are told. Forget that. Today, rock'n'roll is music for the old - the young would much better listen to trip-hop and teen pop. And therefore, have some respect towards the wrinkled dinosaurs of days of long ago! This is what I tell you: there are people out there who are simply bound not to put out a shitty album even if they're, like, a hundred and ten years old. You gotta have perfect conditions for that. Eric Clapton, for instance, hasn't had good conditions since God knows when; given good conditions, Eric Clapton never puts out anything below average. The problem with Eric Clapton is he often doesn't care about creating good conditions.

Not so with Mick Taylor. I had a guess this album would be good, and it is. It is exactly what I expected it to be, with maybe a couple minor surprises and almost no misfires. For Mr Taylor, all the exact conditions are guaranteed: an excellent producer in Tony Taverner, who just knows how to get that 'timeless' sound out of the speakers, so you can't guess whether this album was recorded in 2000 A.D. or B.C. (Well, maybe not exactly so, but then again, who knows what kind of music were they producing four thousand years ago?). An excellent backing team, mostly unknown to me, with the notable exception of keyboard veteran Max Middleton, who once played with Jeff Beck and maybe other jazz-fusion heroes who have an even lesser chance of ever appearing on this site, and another keyboard veteran John 'Rabbit' Bundrick who, of course, played with The Who. And most important of all, Mick Taylor fulfills Condition # 1: he records an album for the fun of it, not for lack of money (I suppose royalties from Stones' albums will keep him going forever) or for public acclaim (he won't get any anyway) or for catching up with trends (he successfully ignores all of 'em). And the result? Predictable artistic success.

I mean, A Stone's Throw isn't a whopper by any means, but all of the songs on here are nice enough to guarantee you an hour of pleasant listening and a nice feeling deep inside that Mick Taylor isn't a good-for-nothing after all: he's got moderate composing talent, his guitar playing skills haven't diminished one iota, and moreover, for a guy who only releases one album per three decades, he sure knows how to put enough effort into each track. The tracks themselves are more or less equally divided between bluesy rockers, pure blues numbers, and ballads; eight of the ten compositions are Taylor-penned, and only two are covers - J. Williams' 'Here Comes The Rain' and Dylan's 'Blind Willie McTell', tacked onto the end of the album as if forming a certain 'appendix'.

Dylan influences are felt heavily on here, by the way: after all, Taylor spent a lot of time working with the man in the early Eighties, and the dark, melancholic feel that permeates most of the songs has its undeniable basis in Mr Zimmerman. (Bravo, Mr Zimmerman! Another convert!). Knopfler influences are here, too, but overall this is Taylor. The same Taylor. I listen to his leads and I recognize the same endearing tricks he pulled off on Ya-Ya's and Sticky Fingers...

The songs aren't particularly memorable - naturally, since there are next to no catchy riffs and Taylor isn't the master of the vocal hook either - but that doesn't really matter, they're so involving. Speaking of vocal hooks, Taylor's elderly voice has become far better than before, sounding more competent and introspective than twenty years earlier, and really embellishes such ballads as 'Never Fall In Love Again' (although I'm not a big fan of that number - way too James Taylor-ish for me. Or Gary Brooker-ish, you know, on some of Procol's worst ballads on Prodigal Stranger).

'Losing My Faith' is one neglected gem on here - don't quote me on saying that the melody is ripped off from Ray Charles' 'Hard Times' because maybe it's not, but it's an objective fact that that's the first analogy that came into my head... oh yeah, natural connections with Clapton's 'Running On Faith', too. But it rules anyway; it's warm and touching, and if you're not convinced, it features unexpected shifts in tempo that transform it from country rocker into blues rocker and back again. Presto-change-o, and you don't recognize the song any more... 'Twisted Sister' is also good, with wall-rattling lead work that Mr Ron Wood would certainly have envied. Sheez, why couldn't they have both Taylor and Ronnie in the band? Some late-period Stones songs would have benefited so much from dazzling lead work like that... particularly when I think about Keith soloing on Steel Wheels... Geez, there go my nightmares again.

The acoustic-based 'Lost In The Desert' is another highlight, a rather endearing countryesque shuffle that's certainly twice as energetic and thrice less sterile than any given Eagles' country tune (okay, all bar that debut album of theirs, when they smelled like real live human beings rather than cash-making twaddlers). And out of the pure bluesy numbers, I pick 'Blues In The Morning' with more magnificent guitar work. So far, I haven't yet heard too many year 2000 albums, but I will proclaim this the best lead-guitar album of 2000 now and we'll see if anybody proves me wrong.

Of course, the best lead guitar passages are actually provided on the last track - Taylor had already helped Dylan record 'Blind Willie McTell' a decade and half ago, and it's only natural he would try out the tune on his own. It's definitely an extended gloomy blues masterpiece, and there's a certain thrill and suspense during all of its eight minutes that never lets go. Neither do Taylor's solos: crisp, buzzing, flying around and fluent to impossibility. (And if you listen closely, you'll be sure to recognize some guitar phrases from 'Stop Breaking Down'! Old habits die hard). A shattering climax to an entirely satisfying album, and let us hope Mr Taylor won't disappoint us with his next offering, if he ever gets around to producing one, that is. After all, we need our heroes to give dem young 'uns a heroic example, now don't we?



Each and every one of the Stones' members, past or present, has at least a couple million guest appearances, and I'm not gonna review all of them even if I get paid for this. Actually, I wasn't even planning on this section - but it so happened that I scooped up a cheap copy of Dirty Strangers, intrigued by the fact of both Keith's and Ronnie's appearance, and now I have no choice but to review it. Too late the hero, in other words. Maybe in the future I'll add something else to this section; for now, let it stay as it is.


(released by: THE DIRTY STRANGERS)

Year Of Release: 1988
Overall rating = 9

A not uninteresting gritty R'n'B album. It's easy to see what Keith liked in these guys.


Track listing: 1) Thrill Of The Thrill; 2) Baby; 3) Easy To Please; 4) Wide Boys & Slim Pickings; 5) Oh Yeah!; 6) Didn't Want To Be An Angel; 7) Wild One; 8) Bathing Belles; 9) Here She Comes; 10) Little Miss Vanity; 11) Hands Up; 12) Diamonds.

If you ever fall upon a copy of this extremely rare album (distinguished by half a female naked body on the front cover), you might give it a try: The Dirty Strangers obviously modelled themselves after the Stones, at least, a little bit. On the other hand, they certainly weren't just a 'tribute band'. Vocalist Alan Clayton sports a raunchy, low-growlish tone that ain't too special, but at least he can easily stay on key and he's got enough excitement to last us throughout a whole album; the rhythm section is cheerily pounding away a la late Seventies' Stones (with elements of punkish abandon, of course); and the only figure in the band some might be familiar with is their regular guitarist Paul Fox, better known for his later work as producer with bands such as XTC and others.

The band is obscure, indeed: I haven't been able to locate any information about them on the Web. They don't seem to have had any other releases, and in all, this sounds more like a weird side project that ended as quickly as it began. The album itself is long out of print, but some Web stores still offer used LPs of it, and I suppose that rabid Stones fans might as well be interested. Now for the more pleasant stuff. Indeed, the record features both Keith and Ronnie, albeit they never seem to play together. Keith contributes his playing to six of the record's tracks; Ronnie is present on three; and three more don't seem to feature anyone of them. Now I may be a little heretical here, but it's really hard for me sometimes to tell correctly who's playing on what. For instance, the reckless rocker 'Hands Up' could just as well feature Keith and not Paul Fox or any of the other guest guitar players. What the hell, it's even based on a riff ripped off of the Stones' 'If You Can't Rock Me'.

Some of the tracks are unmistakably Keith, though. For instance, on the Clayton-contributed Berry-ish rocker 'Bathing Belles' Keith really comes to his senses and delivers some scorching solos and riffage that he never really managed to deliver on Talk Is Cheap: apparently, this is an excellent example of nostalgia for those early Sixties' days when Keith did everything to outchuck Mr Berry. And near the end of the track he completely gives himself out, ripping into the famous riff from 'It's Only Rock'n'Roll'.

On most of the other tracks, though, Keith's playing is suspiciously similar to the style he'd forvere incorporate into his playing since Steel Wheels - bombastic, arena-loud metallic riffage and dissonant soloing that certainly mars his work up to the present day. Not that I actively dislike this style - I've gotten used to it, but it's really a far cry from the classic Stones' sound we all know and love them for. Even so, the band is in such a euphoric, energetic state, that even such macho arena rockers like 'Thrill Of The Thrill' or 'Wide Boys & Slim Pickings' go off like firecrackers, and they're certainly great to dance to or to bash your head against the wall to. I suppose. I don't give a damn about generic power ballads like 'Didn't Want To Be An Angel', though: I mean, you can dance to the rockers, but what should you do while these ballads are on? A 'power ballad' is a very fishy thing - it's either offensive and grossly pretentious, or heartbreaking, there's definitely no middle ground. This one's certainly NOT heartbreaking, so it gotsta be offensive. Likewise, I hate 'Diamonds', the track that closes the album: it's written in the grand 'sleepy' Keith tradition ('Sleep Tonight', all that dreck), and the female backup voices, that were corny, but tolerable, on 'Bathing Belles', closely approach unlistenable on here ('wipe those diamonds of your e-e-e-e-e-eyes', they bleat like professional goats).

As for Ronnie, he probably takes on lead playing on a couple of rockers ('Baby', 'Here She Comes') and a 'soul' ballad ('Easy To Please'); not that he's pretty distinguishable on there, either, but well, what could you expect? Ronnie's always pretty lowkey when he's backing up somebody.

In all, I'd say that for people collecting Stones' guest appearances, this should be a good place to start, as both Keith and Ronnie are here and they're here for the most part of the album. Still, I wouldn't want to give it any more than a nine, as it never really elevates high above 'acceptable background music'. The riffs are shamelessly 'borrowed' off various R'n'B and rock'n'roll classics, and Clayton's vocals really start getting tedious after a while. See, this album is much too formulaic. Now if the popular rumours were correct and the Stones' own music were 'formulaic', as well, most of their albums would probably look like this. As such, Dirty Strangers is a perfect proof to the contrary: the Rolling Stones are not a formula. The Dirty Strangers are: a pretty solid formula, too, but ultimately toothless and, well, it's easy to see that the project died as soon as it was born.


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