Monday, 30 January 2017

The Rolling Stones: Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Three 1989-2015





"The London Singles Collection"

(Abcko, August 1989)

CD One: C'Mon/I Want To Be Loved/I Wanna Be Your Man/Stoned/Not Fade Away/Little By Little/It's All Over Now/Good Times Bad Times/Tell Me/I Just Want To Make Love To You/Time Is On My Side/Congratulations/Little Red Rooster/Off The Hook/Heart Of Stone/What A Shame/The Last Time/Play With Fire/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/The Under Assistant West Coast Promotions Man/The Spider and The Fly/Get Off My Cloud/I'm Free/The Singer Not The Song/As Tears Go By

CD Two: Gotta Get Away/19th Nervous Breakdown/Sad Day/Paint It Black/Stupid Girl/Long Long While/Mother's Little Helper/Lady Jane/Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow?/Whose Driving Your Plane?/Let's Spend The Night Together/Ruby Tuesday/We Love You/Dandelion/She's A Rainbow/2000 Light Years From Home/In Another Land/The Lantern/Jumpin' Jack Flash/Child Of The Moon

CD Three: Street Fighting Man/No Expectations/Surprise Surprise/Honky Tonk Women/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Memo From Turner/Brown Sugar/Wild Horses/I Don't Know Why/Try A Little Harder/Out Of Time/Jiving Sister Fanny/Sympathy For The Devil

"I said yeah! yeah! yeah! Woooah!"

Released the same month as the big Stones comeback 'Steel Wheels', this three CD set is the single best Rolling Stones album you can buy and the perfect rejoinder to any weary music fan who wondered why a band a quarter century old were being given such fuss. In case you're wondering, 'London' is the Decca subsidiary the Stones were on in America before switching to Atlantic with their own Rolling Stones Records label in 1969 - though clearly aimed at the American market, it's always seemed strange that it wasn't called 'The Decca/London Years'. Though released with typical bandwagon-leaping timing by the Stones' old masters at Decca and without any Stones involvement, it shows a lot more love and care than any of their older sets, including every single A and B side released by the Stones on their label in the right order - even, oddly, the ones released by the label after the band left the label (so you get the outtakes from 'Metamorphosis' released as singles here too, with 'Surprise Surprise' uncomfortably filling the gap between 'No expectations' and 'Honky Tonk Woman', plus the inclusion of 'Sympathy For The Devil' because it once came out as a B-side in the 1980s; normally I'd be cross at such playing around with history but it's the single most important Stones song of the 1960s not already here so I'll let it pass). The result is an intense listening experience where you can hear the Stones grow month by month, as their focus shifts from R and B to blues to rock to psychedelia and through to the country-folk of the 'Beggar's Banquet' and 'Let It Bleed' era.

 The Stones crossed over into being an 'albums' rather than a 'singles' band relatively late on compared to their rivals - sometime around 'Beggars Banquet' in 1968. As a result a good two-thirds of the most vital work they made in the 1960s comes from the singles, which had never before been collected in such bulk and in the 'correct' chronological order. Tracks like 'Satisfaction' and 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' are, of course, some of the most famous songs of the decade but equally good - if less immediate - are some of the rarer singles that never seem to get the same kudos or airtime in our day and age: 'Little Red Rooster' (still the only blues song to ever get to #1 and curiously absent from most Stones compilations), the most inventive Stones recording 'Paint It, Black', the full on funk and fizzle of '19th Nervous Breakdown', the always overlooked 'Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?' and the wicked sarcastic delight of 'We Love You'.


Better yet though is the inclusion of so many rare B-sides, many of which are the equal of the better known 'A' sides ('Spider and the Fly' 'Dandelion'  'Child Of The Moon'). Though a handful of the flipsides did make it onto album, most never had and it seems odd that in their desperation to rummage through the Stones' 'yesterday papers' that Decca had never hit upon a B-sides compilation. Oddly enough, some had only ever been released on one side of the Atlantic anyway, with some singles represented by three tracks not two: that's why 'Get Off My Cloud' is followed by four songs only fans know and in some cases features singles taken from albums only released in the States (such as 'Tears Go By' and 'Mother's Little Helper'). This means that we get both the Stones at their best and their most creative, as like so many other 1960s acts the Stones used their flipsides as a chance to stretch themselves without the need to worry about their audience or reputation, with some real hidden gems from the back catalogue allowed to sparkle all over again. Collectors also get the bonus of 'Memo From Turner', the song from the Mick Jagger film 'Performance' and technically credited to the singer alone and while no carat gold classic it makes sense nestled in between 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' and 'Brown Sugar'. Though the packaging could have been better (just a boring monochrome shot of the band's picture sleeves, which on the CD edition is so small you really can't see them at all and no real sleeve notes), this is a first class set that fills many missing holes and includes some of the best music ever made in the 1960s. If you don't have anything by the band at all then start here and you'll be a fan for life. 

"Live At The Tokyo Dome"

(Promotone, Recorded February 1990, Released July 2012)

Start Me Up/Bitch/Sad Sad Sad/Harlem Shuffle/Tumbling Dice/Miss You/Ruby Tuesday/Almost Hear You Sigh/Rock And A Hard Place/Mixed Emotions/Honky Tonk Women/Midnight Rambler/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Can't Be Seen/Happy/Paint It Black/2000 Light Years From Home/Sympathy For The Devil/Gimme Shelter/Band Introductions/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll/Brown Sugar/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Jumpin' Jack Flash

"Now you're sad sad sad - but you're gonna be mine"

The sixth release in the Stones archive series of CDs and DVDs is probably not from the era Stones fans were expecting. The 'Urban Jungle' tour wasn't many people's favourite era of Stones live touring and the 'Flashpoint' album already covered the era pretty comprehensively. So a standalone concert from the era would have to be pretty amazing to be worth releasing - and sadly this isn't. The band sound tired and fed up, Mick sounds awful (he sounds like he's trying not to be sick during 'Mixed Emotions') and both Keith and Ronnie seem as if they're about to fall over. The massed sea of backing singers and pyrotechnics distract rather than add to the enjoyment and the old songs are given some truly horrific makeovers ('2000 Light Years From Home', especially, sounds at least another 2000 light years further away than normal). The only reason for buying this set - and it's a relative measure - are the stronger songs from 'Steel Wheels' which didn't make the 'Flashpoint' album. 'Sad Sad Sad' features a far better Mick Taylor-style guitar groove than the chugging rhythms of the original and 'Almost Hear You Sigh's is a sweet moment of reflection in the middle of a sea of noise. However there's no escaping the fact that the loudest noise on this album, even over and above Charlie Watts' most thudding drumming, is the sound of a barrel being scraped. Perhaps aware that they were onto a loser, this is the first Stones release only available through iTunes as a digital download. If you're a vinyl or CD specialist, you're really not missing much.

Mick Taylor "A Stranger In This Town"

(Maze Records, '1990')

Stranger In This Town/I Wonder Why/Laundromat Blues/Red House-Goin' Down Slow//Jumpin' Jack Flash/Little Red Rooster/Goin' South/You Gotta Move

"You can dance and I'll play all tonight - come and see me!"

A unexpected return after a decade of silence, 'Stranger' is a live album that marks something of a renaissance for the guitarist. The set was recorded live in Sweden and Germany across the end of 1989 and brought Mick a whole new audience. In a sop to fans nearly the entire second half of this show is taken from the Stones repertoire - though perhaps tellingly only the blues cover 'You Gotta Move' dates from after the time he joined the band with no sign of the slow ballads Mick always claimed to have a hand in. It's the first half of the show, which mainly features new songs, that really excites though. After being haunted by various demons since making his first solo album, the guitarist is on top form, with a vocal much stronger than in the place and his guitar skills undimmed. Most of the songs here run close to the ten minute mark and occasionally over, usually a good sign in a live LP when bands just want to keep on playing, with this a pretty full CD for containing just ten tracks. The title track is glorious, Stones-like and Stones-referencing ('I want a drink from your loving cup!') without falling into the ruts of many of the band's modern day work and with an extended solo that's the equal of anything in Taylor's past. Taylor also proves to have an inventive flair too, with the ten minute original 'Goin' South' proving a far better grasp of reggae/ska rhythms than anything the parent band ever managed, even if it is all played on a synth. Only a set of repetitive blues songs leftover from the John Mayall days in the middle mars this return to form which is the rival of any Stones concert set - and arguably contains a more energetic 'Jack Flash' than any Stones live set into the bargain, even if Mick T doesn't quite have the voice of Mick J. Don't be a stranger, Mick - when are we getting a sequel?

                                                                
"Flashpoint"

(Virgin, '1991')

Continetal Drift (Intro)/Start Me Up/Sad Sad Sad/Miss You/Rock and A Hard Place/Ruby Tuesday/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Factory Girl/Can't Be Seen With You/Little Red Rooster/Paint It Black/Sympathy For The Devil/Brown Sugar/Jumpin' Jack Flash/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Highwire/Sex Drive

"If you want to change your style and live a life more versatile, we could be a smash!"

The 'Steel Wheels' keep on turning, with yet more merchandise from the Stones' biggest attempt at a comeback album. This fifth live Stones record made sense when we feared it might well be the 'last time', but has become rather more redundant with each and every passing Stones tour since. The 'Urban Jungle' tour as it was nicknamed, with its steel grey hubcapped stage and massive big blowup tongues, was the biggest Stones spectacle yet and went toe to toe with Paul McCartney's touring band as the biggest earning tour the rock world had ever seen, playing to massive crowds in mammoth arenas. Unfortunately all this makes the Stones play big in response, which is great if you're there and the band only look like dots on the horizon a mile away, but doesn't make for easy listening. Though it's not particularly loud, there's so much going on in a messy mix and so much echo from the oversized halls that this album 'feels' loud, overpoweringly so at times. With this a concerted attempt to re-launch the Stones as the biggest band in the world there's an understandable reliance on their biggest hit songs, with very few tracks in this running order that hadn't already been heard on any of the previous four live LPs. If it's merely the hits you want, though, this seems like a good place to start with sloppy but always committed performances of more classics in one place than any of the other live LPs and barely a chance to draw breath before some other classic gets released from the cupboards. Nice to see relative obscurities like 'Little Red Rooster' (with a guesting Eric Clapton) and 'Ruby Tuesday' back in the setlist too, ballads that offer a nice balance to the up-tempo classics, though neither performance is exactly careful. The best song is an unexpected revival of 'Factory Girl' though, last heard back in 1968 and given the added push of a full live touring band.  If you have to sit through performances of 'Satisfaction' and 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' again this is the way to hear them, although there are less surprises on this set than any of the others. Even the cover seems streamlined, looking like one of those health and safety notices you get on the back of fire extinguishers.

There are two new songs recorded in the studio stapled to the end here too which offer a sort of belated 'oh yeah and we're still going!' coda to the album. The music of 'Highwire' and especially 'Sex Drive' do the band no real flavours, adding to the bloatedness poured on top of Chuck Berry riffs that have already been assaulting your ears for over an hour, but lyrically 'Highwire' at least deserves more credit than it ever got at the time. Only perhaps the band's fourth or fifth political commentary, it features Jagger commenting on the Gulf war and how funding terrorists and getting a quick buck for cheap weapons is bound to backfire on us eventually. How right he was - and how tragic that it took a supposedly out of touch rock star to make the point over politicians who are paid to consider that sort of thing. Both tracks bode well, being up to the better half of the 'Steel Wheels' album, though they seem slim pickings as the only new songs released in the ever growing gap between albums - 'Voodoo Lounge' won't be along for another three. Not quite a 'flashpoint' then - more a 'waiting for the fuse to light' kind of a release - but this live set makes more sense than 'Still Life' ever did and kept the Stones in brown sugar long enough to come back for a stronger 1990s than many were predicting.



Mick Taylor and Carla Olsen "Too Hot For Snakes" aka "Live"

(**, July 1991)

Who Put The Sting On The Honeybee?/Slow Rollin' Train/Trying To Hold On/Rubies and Diamonds/See The Light/You Can't Move In/Broken Hands/Sway/Hartley Quilts/Midnight Mission/Silver Train

The CD re-issue 'Too Hot For Snakes Plus...' adds the following bonus tracks: Loserville/Ring Of Truth/Friends In Baltimore/Great Black Hole/Kinderwars/Reap The Whirlwind/Justice/Fortune/Within An Ace/World OF Pain/Is The Lady Gone?/Think I'm Going Mad/Winter/You Gotta Move/Sway

"When I hear such a heavy song I think come on baby and let's get it on!"

An unexpected return for the Stones' old guitarist after over a decade of playing small pubs and clubs, in tandem with country singer-songwriter Carla Olsen, who seems to have made a specialist career out of helping 60s survivors with their rehabilitation back to their old audiences (she recorded a studio album with The Byrds' Gene Clark shortly before this). This live album is, in truth, more her album than his, with Mick adding some nice but compared-to-the-old-days slightly anonymous guitar behind her usual set. Mick does write and sing a few older songs, though, which are up to the standards of his one and only solo album, especially 'Broken Hands' which is a nice Stonesy-sounding song about the healing power of music and possibly the Stones themselves as Mick recounts his confusion at the band giving him everything - yet nothing, depicting a band 'hiding behind their shades' never communicating with him and 'fools all around me, devils inside - so much craziness to excise'. Mick's voice, like Keith's, is not a natural lead vocal instrument and is similarly squeaky in places, but it conveys enough emotion and drama which is all a vocal really needs to do. The album works best, though, when Carla gets to indulge in her favourites as a Stones fan with Mick as the perfect karaoke band: 'Silver Train' rocks as hard as the band cut on 'Goat's Head Soup' and 'Winter' is a nice try at a complex song the Stones never attempted live, though it's a monumental epic version of 'Sway' -a song Taylor has always claimed to have had a major input on whatever the Jagger/Richards credits say - that impresses most, with Carla going for drunk and disorderly in a spot on match of Jagger's original delivery (only you can actually hear the words on this version!)

 Interestingly Taylor avoids all the Stones hits he played on, paring back his legacy to just the songs he feels most comfortable with or enjoyed playing the most - needless to say he has good taste. There are however a few things that prevent this album from being a classic: there's a very bright shiny and clean 1980s production style with booming drums and twinkly synths that sounds even more awkward than on the Stones' own live albums (even 'Flashpoint', the nearest Stones equivalent, isn't quite this bad). There are also far too many Carla Olsen songs which can't match the talent of the Stones (though the 'Bridges Of Babylon' style studio track 'Ring Of truth' comes close) and the country stylings don't suit Mick's playing as much as the rock and roll does. What you end up with, then, is a rather boring double set full of lots of tracks you'll want to skip, livened up by some sudden moments of magic. That's particularly true for the two-disc set doing the rounds that adds a few additional songs rejected for the original album - goodness knows why, as most of the 'extra' disc is better, especially the trio of Stones offerings at the end. Too hot for snakes maybe - but only because snakes are cold-blooded; for humans this is a little lukewarm, though no worse than any of the post-Ya Yas live Stone sets it has to be said and better than some. 

Keith Richards "Main Offender"

(Virgin, October 1992)

999/Wicked As It Seems/Eileen/Words Of Wonder/Yap Yap/Bodytalks/Hate It When You Leave/Runnin' Too Deep/Will But You Won't/Demon]

CD Bonus Track: Key To The Highway

"A little bit is missing - I wonder where it's gone? Ah pay not attention to me babe, I'm just rambling on and on"

Released after it was clear the Stones would indeed be an ongoing entity, 'Main Offender' is an altogether calmer and more measured attempt at a solo album from Keith. However certain patterns can still be heard: just as 'Primitive Cool' sounded like putting his statement of intent out before the 'Voodoo Lounge' sessions ('we can't keep doing the same old things!'), so 'Main Offender' sounds like Keith saying 'Well, yes we can'. Though the album never moves away from its template Stones Chuck Berry riffs and the odd ballad - a pattern that had kept the band going since at least 'Emotional rescue' - the template is put to better use than normal, with more emotion about the lyrics and slightly more going on behind the riffs than average. Keith also sounded far more comfortable as a frontman, learning how to make his unusual lived-in voice reflect the songs ('Look at the state of me, baby!') rather than coming off as a poor man's Jagger. Though 'Offender', like 'Cool', doesn't quite live up to what the Glimmer Twins could do together on album, it also avoids the worst excesses of 'Steel Wheels' or 'Voodoo Lounge' and is a more consistent record than either. Even Mick was impressed, telling Keith the song 'Wicked As It Seems' was the best he'd written in years and 'using' it as the template for where he wanted the next Stones album to go.

Thematically it's an extension of Keith's earlier songs slipped into Stones albums here and there. Most of the characters are outlaws on the reason for one reason or another, but rather than being proud of the fact (a la 'Before They Make Me Run') there's a weary and haunted feel about this album, as if Keith had long ago got tired of doing the running. Though Richards spent sizeable chunks of his autobiography 'Life' boasting about how easy it was for him to quit his drug addiction, this record tells a different story, with life a series of metaphors against the dark forces: beaten at a roulette table, the struggling druggie realising that all his willpower is 'not enough' and a whole zoo full of monkeys (slang term for heroin) fighting to stay on his back. Unlike 'Talk Is Cheap', which could easily have been another Stones album in the same vein as 'Dirty Work', 'Main Offender' feels as if it's a more personal album only Keith could have sung, a confessional to match any in his compositional cupboard. The record deserved better, hitting only the bottom end of the charts as the public figured a new Stones album would be along soon anyway and they'd better save their money, and is well worth the time of any Richards fan who longs for more insight as to what makes their idol tick.

'999' is a cry for help ('999' being the phone number you dial in Britain if you want one of the emergency services), a paranoid rocker which features the usual Keith style riff but on top of a bucking bronco backing track that seems to be forever throwing it off. Keith quotes from old blues songs, proclaiming his 'dixie cup' is empty, that he's haunted by 'monkeys on my back' and that he feels like a 'lion and a lamb locked in embrace', one side of his personality about to get torn to shreds. The ugliest addicts song since 'Sister Morphine', it's amongst the better Stones-related rockers of the second half of their career.

'Wicked As It Seems' is very much the prototype for 'Love Is Strange', with the same eerie slowed down angular riffs. Keith can't make as most of this unusual new sound as a growling Jagger will later on, but it's another strong track as Keith sings about either his fading love life or his growing drug addiction 'it's a two way street with no way out!' Keith sings about 'softening the blow so the bruises don't show' and he's become an expert at hiding the signs, but still he feels the addiction gnawing away at him, what he gets no longer 'enough for me'. A glorious guitar solo channels much of that fear and doubt into music highly successfully too.

'Eileen' would in other circumstances have been the Mick-sung catchy lead single, a declaration of love not unlike Dexy's Midnight Runners' 'Come On Eileen' had it been recorded in a rock t-shirt rather than dungarees. Even here, though, Keith sings about her being the reason he's 'coming clean', using the line as a pun for bearing his heart as well as coming down off the drugs. For all the song's sweet groove and supportive lyrics ('You can lean on me!') it's clear this song too comes from a darker place than usual ('Baby, I'm dead in a cruel world without you!')

'Words Of Wonder' is less immediate than the other tracks, a muted reggae where Keith's vocal is so low he sounds like he's mumbling rather than singing. Once again though there's a sense of paranoia that works rather well against the usual laidback reggae sounds and this is easily the best of all the Stones' many takes on the genre. The lyrics are strong too when you can finally decipher them, Keith telling us 'I'm half dead, maybe only a quarter alive' (we never find out what the other quarter is!)

'Yap Yap' is a laidback variation on the usual Stones riff and bluster, or at least it is musically. Lyrically this is Keith at his nastiest, telling a loved one to shut up or he's walking away as his only way of getting peace. The odd combination kind of works though, as if Keith only thinks she's talking too much because he's moving soooo verrrrry slooooowly.

'Bodytalks' is the Keith equivalent of Mick's track 'Primitive Cool', an unusual stripped bare blues song that takes simplicity to new levels. Keith reckons he can 'read' body language and gets about a book's worth out of how his loved one walks into a room on this track.

'Hate It When You Leave' would be the song Keith would normally sing on a Stones album, the slow romantic ballad. Admitting he's lost and waiting for someone to guide him to a better place in his life, this is an unusually heartfelt and vulnerable song from Keith who admits he can't bear being alone.

'Runnin' Too Deep' is back to the Stones riffing for one of the album's lesser songs, simply because it sounds more like what you'd expect a solo Richards track to sound like without the depth of the rest of the album. The latest inversion on the 'Start Me Up' riff sounds rather good, though, and the lyrics are unusual, mixing the idea of a relationship over Keith's head and the state of the Earth together into one big metaphor.

'Will But You Won't is, however, lazy writing - it's the exact same riff. The song itself is better though, returning Keith to the defensive mode of 'Talk Is Cheap' with a complaint that 'you've always got it in for me - you always did'. I'm tempted to see this song not as a take on Mick this time though but on the complicated relationship Keith had with his father, who'd recently re-entered his life and was living at the end of Keith's own estate. 'You're big but you're bad, Sensitive words are driving me mad' sound more like an authority figure to me, while the happier chorus longing for acceptance that never comes fits too.

The album ends with the sleepy 'Demon', another naked and vulnerable ballad. Though more lifeless than the rest of the record and with less going on, this is another strong song with Keith torn between 'wanting you to stay and forcing you out' which could be about either his love life or his diet of drugs. 'Hammers in my heart show me where to go' sounds very much like a withdrawal symptom, though, with the laidback vibe perhaps summing up the moment after the latest hit has begun to work, with only a lingering sense of frustration following on.

The CD also includes a bonus track in the shape of period B-side 'Key To The Highway'. A slurry blurry country-blues song with honky tonk piano, it's the sort of things the Stones were always putting on B-sides and Keith lacks Mick's vocal authority and harmonica playing.

Overall, though, bonus tracks or not 'Main Offender' is a strong album. Keith has more scope than normal to sing about what's on his mind for a change and the answer is a lot, at least in this period. Deeper than any Stones album since 'Goat's Head Soup', if only Keith had been brave enough to take these songs to the band to dress up it might have been the comeback album of all time. Instead the album loses out slightly thanks to his slurred vocals and an X-Pensive Winos backing band that, however, worthy, are nowhere close to the Stones in terms of musicality or emotion. In terms of songs, though, 'Main Offender' comes highly recommended and along with 'Primitive Cool' and 'Wandering Spirit' is a Stones solo album that deserves to be loved and cherished every bit as much as the band albums.

Bill Wyman "Stuff"

(**, '1992')

If I Was A Doo Doo Doo/Like A Knife/Stuff (Can't Get Enough)/Leave Your Hat On/This Strange Effect/Mama Rap/She Danced/Fear Of Flying/Affected By The Towns/Blue Murder (Lies)/Stuff (Alternate Take)/Blue Murder (Alternate Take)

 "You've got this strange effect on me....but I Like it. I think"

A collection of outtakes partly stretching back to 1988 - when sessions were interrupted by 'Steel Wheels' and the bassist's last work with the Stones - this set became Bill's first post-band work, released to coincide with his book 'Stone Alone'. At first the set was only released in Argentina and Japan where the Stones remained particularly big, only getting a wider release a year or so later. Even more 1980s sounding than usual, this album sounded quite dated by the time it came out and features the usual Wyman strengths of quickiness and melody offset by the weaknesses of his voice and the slightly flippant tone of the compositions. Like 'Bill Wyman' it's hard to tell if the joke's on him or us, as Bill parodies current musical tastes so convincingly this just sounds like every other period pop album, tinny and silly for the most part. The cover of 'You Can Leave Your Hat On' years before Tom Jones' hit is weird even for Bill, while 'If I Was A Doo Doo Doo' (next line 'I'd read Kubla Khan in Zulu!') is surely his weirdest original composition. There are a couple of unexpected emotional highlights buried underneath all this 1980s noise though: a gorgeous cover of Ray Davies' 'This Strange Effect' that really suits the sweeping 1980s synths and the atmospheric paranoia of 'Fear Of Flying', which is better than anything similar David Bowie ever recorded. For the most part, though, this is more an unfinished collection of songs not good enough for record that says 'Stuff You' to the listener than an album over-stuffed with good ideas. Bill should have made this a single, not a full album. 
Mick Jagger "Wandering Spirit"

(**, **1993)

Wired All Night/Sweet Thing/Out Of Focus/Don't Tear Me Up/Put Me In The Trash/Use Me/Evening Gown/Mother Of A Man/Think/Wandering Spirit/Hang On To Me Tonight/I've Been Lonely For So Long/Angel In My Heart/Handsome Molly

"I was walking on clouds, talking so loud that I did not hear"

Between 1993 and 1994 Mick Jagger sang lead vocals on 27 released songs (and quite a few more unreleased ones judging by bootlegs). He hadn't a workload like that since the heady days of 1972/73 and was clearly on something of a personal high. The Rolling Stones had formed an uneasy truce and with the band still recovering from the hard work of 1989 through to 1991 this time Mick's solo work wasn't getting in the way of any band release (he'd also kindly waited for Keith to get his second record out of the way in 1992 so that the pair wouldn't compete with each other directly). 'Wandering Spirit' is the sound of a man who has finally found what he wants to do, with the confidence to experiment with the sound he came up with last time. As a result 'Wandering Spirit' is an album that finally makes sense of Jagger's solo career, allowing him to try his hand at all sorts of new genres and make a record that the 1993 period Rolling Stones could never have come up with, even if it can't quite match the highs of last time. The title track is even a rare return to Mick's blues notes, an original that wouldn't have sounded out of place amongst Alexis Korner's band in 1962 back in the days when Mick was their occasional lead singer. He's also back writing on his own for most of the album, coming up with an impressive nine songs solo, plus two co-writes and no less than four covers (this album also has a very long running time, which might be where the later Stones albums get it from). Like the band's psychedelic years this experimentalism doesn't always come off but when it does it makes for the best solo album in his back catalogue. Thankfully, too, the noisy contemporary sound of 'She's A Boss' and 'Primitive Cool' has faded to be replaced by something much more palatable, with real drums and everything. Of course it's still a pale shadow of his 'day' band - but the difference between the two isn't so much of a chasm now.

For once in this book there isn't any real theme on this record. There's a kind of half one implied by the title, of people needing to be free and of relationships 'going their separate ways', but this is actually less of a theme here than on 'She's The Boss'. The cover hints at a record about 'duality' - Mick seen in both front and back view in a mirror (why has he got his top off by the way? He didn't do that when he was 21, so why is he starting now he's 51?!) but this never actually crops up anywhere in the album. Instead 'Wandering Spirit' is like a cornucopia of Mick Jaggers music, with the mixture of all the past styles he's been identified with (fast guttural rockers, summery pop, passionate ballads, gentle psychedelia, earthy blues and a sprinkling of soul). Given that by 1993 the Stones have largely become stuck in a rut, it's clear that Mick is desperate to write himself out of his straight-jacket and it is perhaps the new confidence the album gives him that allows him to push for the more stylistically adventurous moments on 'Voodoo Lounge' the next year. Though there's less immediately loveable moments on this album than either 'Voodoo' or 'Steel Wheels', this record is more dating than either of them and probably about as consistent, a most overlooked record that's second only to 'Primitive Cool' in the Jagger solo collection.

'Wired All Night' is the sound you will be expecting: a modern style Rolling Stones rocker based around a grungy riff and featuring some high energy strutting. All Stones albums from 'Voodoo Lounge' onwards will start off with a song that sounds like this one. There's a nice catchy chorus and a Keith Richards-style guitar solo from ** too which just about raises thsi song above the level of Stones tribute band.

'Sweet Thing' proves that Mick has been keeping an eye on then-modern trends, with a slinky hip-hop style number that features Jagger's famous 'Miss You' falsetto for the first time on one of his solo albums before he suddenly starts growling in the chorus which is rather affecting. How you feel about this song though depends on whether you feel that 1993 was the height of sophistication in music - or not.

The gospelly 'Out Of Focus' is back in 'Shine A Light' territory (there's even  line about a 'light shining on a hill'). Actually Mick is rather convincing as a gospel singer although this is a hymn to love rather than religion, although the song isn't quite as convincing as it ought to be.

'Don't Tear Me Up' is one of the better songs on the album, a teary ballad (in both meanings of the word) of the sort Mick has always made his own. The deepest of his original songs for this record, it finds the singer making the shocking assertion that he's growing old, that 'life is rich but it's much too short'. He's trying to split up from a girl but reveals in an emotionally charged middle eight that his plan isn't working and that 'I dream of you constantly'. Other lyrics are quite clever too: 'Unlike a politician, I can't be bought'. Another convincing faux-Keith guitar solo pushes this song above the average.

'Put Me In The Trash' is more up-tempo heavy power rock. The grungy backing is quite impressive in a 'Some Girls' type way, although Mick's 'oo-ey oo-ey' falsetto harmonies and 'uh huh yeah alrights' are a bit on the tacky side.

The Bill Withers duet 'Use Me' is the oddest song on the album. A funky song more like something George Clinton would record, this song doesn't sound like either man's usual style. Jagger's attempts to improvise his way out of trouble is rather embarrassing, sounding like a car engine starting at one point. Both men can usually do better than this in their sleep.

The pretty 'Evening Gown' is another genre switch, this time to somewhere between folk asnd country. Mick sings lower here than he's ever allowed himself to before, sounding closer to his 'real' age than his 'Stones' singing, although his fake American accent is still cause for concern. The narrator is a drinker but he adds that he's 'sober half the time', content to drink his life away waiting for his girl to come back to him, 'counting the colours of your evening gown while waiting for your blonde hair to turn grey'. A powerful middle eight finally gets tired of waiting and sweeps her off her feet before a quick pedal steel solo.

'Mother Of A Man' features a rough attempt at re-creating the Jagger/Wood 'weaving' guitar trick and Mick sounds understandably more comfortable here than the rest of the album, with a brief return to what he's been doing as a living for years. However Keith would never have allowed a lyric like this through, one that basically kicks the poor and asks what's happening to the youth of today ('I know it's hard, but why do they have to do it in their own back yard?)' For what seems like the umpteenth time, Mick tells us that it's a 'crazy world out there'. He's not kidding when songs like this get through onto solo albums, with a brief harmonica solo the only welcome highlight.

'Think' is more noisy contemporary pop of the kind designed to make Keith laugh. Mick is back in shouting mode on a song that sounds more like one of the ones from 'Primitive Cool', asking a partner to think about what they say before putting him down because 'of all the good things I've done for you'. The song was actually written not by Jagger but by Lowman Pauling but he must have chosen it for a reason and Mick could well have Keith in mind here once again. In that case giving his old partner a song that's very Jagger and very un-Richards seems a very pointed decision, as if showing how much further the Stones sound could have been pushed all these years (although on this evidence that isn't necessarily a good thing). However this isn't as clever or as emotionally powerful as the similar songs from the past record.

Title track 'Wandering Spirit' is the best thing on the record by a country mile. An authentic sounding attempt to re-create the feel of a pre-war blues, Mick sounds in his element on a song about the glories of being a rebel and the band turn in easily their best performance o0n the album, especially the backing singers. You can almost hear the ghost of Brian Jones giving a thumbs up from the control room.

'Hang On To Me Tonight' is a folk-pop ballad that's another of the record's highlights. This is another song that would be much loved had it appeared on a 'band' record instead of a 'Jagger' one, with Mick asking for his loved one to stay close to him forever. Another of this album's better-than-average middle eights adds a classic key change and piles tension into the song as Mick waits for an answer to his question that his girl can 'choose to go away...or stay'. The reference to the 'love scenes shot in shades of grey' takes on quite a different meaning now in the 21st century after a series of best-selling erotic novels!

'I've Been Lonely So Long' is a third straight decent song in a row, psychedelic gospel if there is such a thing, with some intriguing sound effects on the guitar-work and that gospel choir back again. Mick's latest character is in a bad way with nothing turning out right and in one of his stranger lines complaining that 'everyone keeps throwing rocks at my bed' (!) The rawer backing, without so much glossy production, sounds like a good way to go on a simple but pleasing and catchy song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on any 60s Stones album.

'Angel In My Heart' is even more unexpected: the first time Mick has used the harpsichord as backing since 'Lady Jane'! This song isn't quite as prim and proper or as original, but the unusual backing does give this sensitive ballad an edge, especially when some eerie strings kick in. This attempt to get Bach to basics is another unusual but good idea that suggests that it isn't Mick holding the Stones back from experimenting more on their later albums.

'Handsome Molly' is the album's oddest moment though. Mick conjures up the spirit of Ned Kelly (an Irish outlaw Mick played in a 1970 film) with a variable Irish accent that's at least more convincing than his American one and a traditional Irish backing of multiple fiddles. It's a quirky end to a quirky album and couldn't sound less like the album the Stones are about to make...

Overall, then, 'Wandering Spirit' is a mixed album indeed. Interestingly it's the parts where Mick tries to have fun with his legacy and change people's perceptions of what a Mick Jagger solo album should be that work best (perhaps he took Keith's disappointment that his first record turned out to be just a weak-kneed version of the band's own sound as a belated challenge). The parts that try to sound like the Stones are the ones that fare worst - perhaps because, however good they are as impersonators, Mick's session men backing band just don't have the same musical charisma. There's half a good album here, though, which together with the half a good album from 'Primitive Cool' and half a good album from 'Goddess In The Doorway' would make one of the greatest 60 minutes of Mick's career. Once again this album deserved to do better - and sadly Mick will never push himself quite this much again, returning to his 'diluted Stones' recipe for an entire album next time around...

"Jump Back - The Best Of The Rolling Stones 1971-1993"

(Virgin, November 1993)

Start Me Up/Brown Sugar/Harlem Shuffle/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It!)/Mixed Emotions/Angie/Tumbling Dice/Fool To Cry/Rock and A Hard Place/Miss You/Hot Stuff/Emotional Rescue/Respectable/Beast Of Burden/Waiting On A Friend/Wild Horses/Bitch/Undercover Of The Night

"I can't stand it when the music stops"

After the run of Decca re-issues in the early years of the CD it was the turn of the band's 1970s and 1980s material to get the digital treatment. The Stones' new paymasters at Virgin (who'd just bought up the rights to everything released on the Stones' own label dating back to 'Sticky Fingers' in 1971) wanted a compilation to go with the set as a sort of trailer. They could have done what Decca did and released the period compilations the same way that the two 'Hot Rocks' series had done, but the two 1970s compilations 'Made In The Shade' and 'Sucking In The Seventies' both felt a bit overwhelming. So instead we got this curious little set, which expands the track listing to the then-present day with the 'Steel Wheels' material and runs for a full CD length/double vinyl album for the first time for this later material. It remains by far the most palatable way to experience this period, with interesting sleevenotes from Mick or Keith or both about the making of all these songs, not something they'd ever really done before - or since sadly (the choice of who spoke about what was also telling over how much they'd actually had to do with each song!) Most of the singles from the 1971-1989 era are here (though 'Happy' 'Respectable' 'She Was Hot' and 'She's So Cold' and the live take of 'Going To A Go Go' are notable by their absence - though none went top twenty, all of them outsold 'Waiting On A Friend', while 'Bitch' was only ever a B-side). There are, however, a couple of curious things that prevent this set from being the first-class set it ought to be. One is the running order, which sacrifices chronology for a truly mindboggling switch of styles and production values so that, for instance, we move straight from the retro-50s-rock-with-a-very-80s-production 'Rock and a Hard Place' to the 70s disco of 'Miss You'  into the very mid 70s funk of 'Hot Stuff' and onto the pure 90sish pop (a year early) of 'Mixed Emotions' without a chance to catch our breath. Throwing the early 70s 'classic' sound of 'Wild Horses' and 'Bitch' in new the end before ending unconvincingly on 'Undercover' (one of the best tracks here in terms of composition but also one of the most dated in terms of pure production values). There's also the problem of that title and that cover: who seriously listened to every single recording the Stones made in the eighteen years represented by this album's chronology and went 'yeah I get it now - it's all about the footwear!' For the record the closest I can find is Sweet Virginia's 'gotta scrape the shit right off my shoes!' which probably isn't the image sweet Virgin were going for with this best-of! Though slightly redundant after the release of '40 Licks' and now 'Grrrr!', this set probably has a better run of songs than  either set, though, for this era and is cheaper too if you already own a decent set of the Decca stuff and you're sane enough not to fancy sifting through 'Black and Blue' and 'Emotional Rescue' in their entirety...

Charlie Watts "From One Charlie"

(**, 1993')

Practicing, Just Great!/Black Bird White Chicks/Blue Bird/Terra Da Pajaro/Bad Seeds Rye Drinks/Relaxin' At Camarillo/Going Going Going Gone

"Bird soon found out he looked different to other chicks. This bugged him!"

You all know the drill by now - Charlie's earnest commitment to teaching Stones fans about his heroes such as this album's inspiration Charlie Parker will please those of you with a leaning for jazz and confuse others wondering how one of the foremost rock drummers of his generation had forgotten to add a proper beat. Most albums come entitled 'with love' - this one comes subtitled 'with strings'.  Actually this gift set contains two earlier releases, both available separately: Charlie 1964 book 'Ode To A High Flying Bird' had become increasingly rare since its first publication, while 'A Tribute To Charlie Parker' had been released the previous year. This is, perhaps, the Watts album to buy if you want to see what these records sound like. Charlie has always been open about his admiration for Charlie Parker and suits his sound a little better than some of his jazz comrades, while you also get the bonus of the rare 1964 Watts-written book on Parker's life 'Ode To A High Flying Bird' (it's listed as a children's book in most places, but it isn't really - it's effectively a graphic novel from decades before anyone knew what one of those was with Parker drawn as a bird). There's also a framed photo of Parker - most fans would have preferred one of Watts. Alas at twenty eight minutes the record feels more like a sketched in cartoon than a proper album too, feeling like it's other before it's begun. Charlie's affection for his subject shines through and does a strong job of trying to reflect why he's so obsessed with Parker; however until the day the jazz world starts playing in rock and roll bands and does the same in reverse this feels an unequal swap, as if the jazz world is unfairly looking down on a rock world that has even greater places to take jazz musos if only they'd properly listen to what we have to offer them. 

"Stripped"

(Virgin, November 1995)

Street Fighting Man/Like A Rolling Stone/Not Fade Away/Shine A Light/The Spider and The Fly/I'm Free/Wild Horses/Let It Bleed/Dead Flowers/Slipping Away/Angie/Love In Vain/Sweet Virginia/Little Baby

"I felt like a hillbilly for a minute then - just a minute, though!"

Live album number six was met with a universal cry of 'well at least they're trying a little something different this time, bless!' An MTV Unplugged album in everything but name and the lack of that horrendous music channel logo, 'Stripped' is one of those interesting ideas that never quite lives up to its promise but was well received and the single 'Like A Rolling Stone' was - against the odds - the best selling band single in fourteen years. Still unsure of their format post-format, it's effectively the Stones during the end stages of their 'Voodoo Lounge' tour without much of a bass - which makes more difference to the overall sound than you might imagine - and Keith and Ronnie playing acoustic. For Mick and Charlie it's business as usual as they sing and play with full power and the Stones might have done even better to go the whole hog rather than this halfway house of acoustic-electric performances. Tracks like 'Street Fighting Man' and 'Let It Bleed' are as near to the originals as makes no difference anyway, while this is only the Stones' quietest live album by a decibel or three. Too many superfluous instruments fill up performances that would have sounded better stripped a little further - there are too many piano players, backing singers and horn parts for comfort (who'd have thought the Stones would have worn so many layers of thermals under those trousers?) However, inconsistent beast as it is, the best of 'Stripped' is about the best of modern Stones, good humoured good natured and a whole lot of fun. We never thought we'd hear this level of stones interaction post-World War III and Mick especially is having great fun, breaking off from lyrics to 'introduce' the solos or the backing crews or just having a joke.

The best thing about this set though is the chance to hear at least half an album's worth of great songs you just don't hear outside this album, with some 60s tracks even the period Stones had never done. The revival of a gloriously funny older widow tale 'Spider and The Fly' is inspired (complete with lyric change from 'she was flirty, dirty, looked about thirty' to 'nifty, thrifty, looked about sixty!'), the youth anthem 'I'm Free' is softer and sadder, as any song celebrating its thirtieth birthday ought to be and 'Wild Horses'  - a surprising absentee from every Stones tour - is played with love and care. It's a shame the same can't be said for an over-gospelled 'Shine A Light', an over earnest 'Angie' and a torturously slow 'Love In Vain' (with the most off key note of Jagger's career right when the train comes into station), but at least the Stones are somewhere past the auto-pilot of most of their previous live sets. Most interesting, perhaps, are the two exclusive songs, a knowing postmodern take on Bob Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone' which is so obvious you wonder why the band took thirty years to work up a version of it and a so-so shrug through Willie Dixon's 'Little Baby'. An outtake rehearsal version of 'Tumbling Dice', complete with breakdown near the beginning, later appeared on the 'Rarities' set and deserved to be here as one of the better and more inventive arrangements on the set, appearing alongside - for some bizarre reason - this album version of 'Wild Horses', which only as rare as all the other tracks.

"No Security"

 (Rolling Stones Records, November 1998)

You Got Me Rocking/Gimme Shelter/Flip The Switch/Memory Motel/Corrina/Saint Of Me/Waiting On A Friend/Sister Morphine/Live With Me/Respectable/Thief In The Night/The Last Time/Out Of Control

"My hands are bloody - I'm dying on my feet!"

Enough already! The seventh Rolling Stones live album (not even counting the archive series) was released only three not-that-busy years after the last and is surely at least four too many.  Though I like the 'Bridges To Babylon' album more than most fans (hey, at least they were trying to do something a bit different), even I can't find much to recommend about the attendant tour and live album. The band sound tired and arena-weary, with every song playing slightly slow and even on record where the band members have been pushed back together in the studio spectrum you can still somehow 'hear' the gulf between the band as they prowled their separate ends of a huge stage. The Stones continue to try to give value for money by only really releasing songs that hadn't appeared on a live album yet, but they've stretched themselves so thin over the years that the best they can manage is a horribly shrieky version of 'Gimme Shelter' with backing singer Lisa Fischer on co-lead warble and a 'Respectable' so unlike it's storming punk original it's hardly respectable at all. To be fair there are some high points in this set and most of them stem from the 'Babylon' album, which works rather better live with the rough edges left in: 'Saint Of Me' sounds even more like a modern-day classic, 'You Got Me Rocking' is a good try at more high octane strutting than the band have managed in years and 'Thief In The Night' at the end of a long show entices a gloriously unhinged and late-night vocal from Keith. Only 'Flip The Switch' loses out on its studio counterpart, performed at mere half-speed.

 It's nice to see neglected classics like 'Live With Me' and 'Memory Motel' back in the set, neither of which sound particularly good but are at least preferable to hearing the same old hits all over again not sounding good.  The set's one exclusive song 'Corinna' is effectively a guest spot by the band's former Stones Circus partner Taj Mahal with minimal Stones backing - alas it's no more convincing than Flashpoint's update of the songs the band played themselves back on that 1968 night. Worryingly the songs are taken from gigs spread across five separate dates from between October 1997 and July 1998, begging the question that if these are the highlights what on earth were the other versions of these songs like? To sum up, the Stones sound even worse than they did on 'Flashpoint', but at least the track listing is better and more interesting. In fact the Stones seem to have aimed this one squarely at fans who already own everything else - significantly two of them appear on the cover, rather than the band - which shows some sort of understanding of their market I suppose, though I can't help thinking that the fans' nonchalant pose represents their under-whelming disappoint with the show a bit too accurately. You have to be pretty committed or daft - or both - to buy it unless you find it cheap (I bought mine in a £1 cassette sale, honest I did!) 

Mick Taylor "A Stone's Throw"

(**, February 2000)

Secret Affair/Twisted Sister/Never Fall In Love Again/Losing My Faith/Morning Comes/Lost In The Desert/Blues In The Morning/Late At Night/Her Comes The Rain/Blind Willie McTell

"It's an empty, helpless feeling"

At last, after twenty one years of live albums and silence, we get what's only Mick's second solo album. Closer in style to what fans were expecting from the first, this is less introspective singer-songwriter and more noisy gritty pub rocking only a Stone's throw from the band's own sound. While you can understand why the album turned out this way in terms of commercial clout, it's a shame because Mick is much closer naturally to the quieter, more thoughtful sound of his first album - here he just sounds like Mick Jagger without the bounce of the charisma. The backing too is of that curiously 1980s-but-not-the-1980s bracket, made with leftover synths and production sounds which tended to hang around for a while in the 1990s but not usually right up to the millennium as here. However, there are two things that remain undiminished by the years: Mick's ability to express so much through his guitar playing that he never could through his vocals and his knack of writing strong, memorable melodies. The quiet intimate ballads or the slow blues songs work best though, when Mick is at his own and isn't trying to fight his way through the power of a sometimes over-enthusiastic band, even if they do include such AAA alumni as 'fifth Who-ligan' Rabbit Bundrick.

The theme of the album is sad and depressing, building on the slightly down in the dumps mood of the first album to go almost totally into a down mood. Though Taylor had struggled with a drug addiction since the end of his days with the Stones it reached its insufferable peak in the 1990s and left Mick unable or unwilling to tour or record for quite a period. Things were looking far better by the time this album was released, after a move to California and a part in American Stones 'tribute' band 'Tumbling Dice' alongside Nicky Hopkins, with Mick back on an even keel again but you can tell that many of these songs were written during the late nights of doom and gloom when nothing seemed to be working out. There are a lot of songs on this album about struggling, of 'losing your faith', of trying to make a living when everything seems to be against you and of trying to find shelter in the pouring rain - none of them very original ideas perhaps, but Mick is never less than sincere when singing these songs and his vocals, though not 'top 40 radio' friendly, convey the emotion well enough when he sings. It's just a shame about that artificial backing tacking away so much of the power for so much of the album, though the sounds of Mick alone with only a piano and his guitar, are exquisite and enough reason alone for digging out this rare album.

'Secret Affair' is a bouncy 80s style pop song  that's deeply commercial and less about the idea of extra-marital affairs than the hidden peculiarities of life that make the world a much stranger place than people tend to realise. Mick sounds good on this one, but his guitar is a touch too rock-heavy for such a simple song and the backing strangely dated.

'Twisted Sister', a collaboration with two of Mick's friends, is the best rocker on the album highlighted by a storming guitar solo and at six minutes is quite an epic. A shame about the very tinny production, though.

'Never Fall In Love Again' is a pretty song, one of the best on the album as Mick bears his heart over never finding anyone to replace his ex Rose (who he split with shortly after he quite the Stones). Mick portrays himself as a 'victim of circumstance', having failed at the rules of life's 'song and dance'.

'Losing My Faith', co-written with Hillary Briggs, is an unusual song made up of several sections stapled randomly together. One minute an intense rocker making noise for the sake of it, the next a sad plodding blues, it's a frenzy of activity that isn't distracting enough to cover up the empty hole at the heart of this song. Unfortunately the result is more like you make you dizzy than impressed.

'Morning Comes' is another joy though, a slow blues featuring just Mick and Bundrick, with some gorgeous jazzy piano chords and some gorgeous guitar as Taylor wonders whether he'll ever experience love in his life again.

'Lost In The Desert' tries hard to nail a 'Sympathy For The Devil' style groove and sports another intelligent lyric about being lost without a relationship as a map to point the way, though the dated backing rather hides the song's strongest suits.

'Blues In The Morning' is a second and rather more generic blues about everything going wrong, one which only really gets going on the typically superlative guitar solo.  

'Late At Night' continues the theme but with a little more life about it, as Mick experiences the tug of a rebound relationship and tries hard to fight it, 'to have more time to find myself before you can come away with me'. A nice gospel organ part puts this song firmly in 'Shine A Light' Stonesy mode.

'Here Comes The Rain' may well be the saddest, soggiest song ever written. Though a little on the generic side, you can tell this song comes from the heart and it sounds rather fine, with a Stones-style sax bleats wearily in the background and Taylor's guitar not-so-gently weeping.

The album ends on a surprise with a cover of Bob Dylan's 'Blind Willie McTell', which pays tribute to two heroes. This would have been a fairly new song at the time, the original having been recorded - with Mark Knopfler doing the guitar breaks - on Bob's 1997 comeback 'Time Out Of Mind'. Less wordy than most Dylan compositions, it's a song about the old blues singer which doubles as a tale of American slavery and freedom and is based around the traditional song 'St James Infirmary Blues' (The Animals recorded a cracking version of the original in 1968). It's a good fit, with some excellent playing from Mick, but once again the backing boxes him in rather than let the music shine.

The end result, then, is a great album with several heavy flaws. Taylor's songs and guitar remain strong, the softer gentler songs on the album work exceedingly well and Taylor's grown in confidence a little bit as a lead singer. had this album been recorded another way it may well have been a classic, but some stilted production and one or two too many generic rock and blues songs mark it down. Even if this wasn't quite the comeback we were hoping for, though, make no mistake about it: Mick Taylor is a highly under-rated talent who deserved better rewards in his career and 'A Stone's Throw' does more to further that view than contradict it, only a stone's throw from greatness.

Mick Jagger "Goddess In The Doorway"

(**, **2001)

Visions Of Paradise/Joy/Dancing In The Starlight/God Gave Me Everything/Hide Away/Don't Call Me Up/Goddess In The Doorway/Lucky Day/Everybody Getting High/Gun

"Tell me the names of the stars in the sky and the name of your favourite song"

So far Mick's solo career has been surprisingly muted. Having got the public mood in 'World War Three' wrong with 'She's The Boss' - unsold copies of which clogged up many a record shop for years afterwards (although ironically it's really hard to get hold of now!), albums two and three really didn't sell all that well at all. 'Goddess' was meant to be different: Mick did a bit of touring to promote the record, worked with some big name guests, hit every music magazine he could think of (the ones that hadn't taken sides with Keith anyway) and even made a TV documentary on the back of it (a rather sycophantic affair as it happened). However this record didn't quite catch the public mood either and while it sold better than any of the last three had still missed the crest of a public wave of nostalgia for the Stones kicked off by 'Bridges To Babylon'. The singer hasn't made one since, perhaps figuring that they're harder work than they seem. The general perception of 'Goddess In The Doorway' has been tainted by the record's poor reception. While that perception's not entirely wrong (critics were about right when they compared this set unfavourably with 'Babylon', which is a more inconsistent record but with much higher peaks) and this out and out pop set stretches Mick far less than the less two solo albums, it's actually another rather good, badly under-rated record. If nothing else, by returning more heads-on to the Rolling Stone sound (during an agreed break in touring this time, so as not to cause the ire of the rest of the band) Mick proves that Keith isn't the only engine in the band: there's at least two. This album contains more than its fair share of heavy rocker riffs, passionate ballad lyrics, tight little raw rockers and polished orchestral ballads. He even stands on the album cover (with back to us, unlike the full frontal of the past album) leaning on...a guitar! (Proof more than ever that he doesn't 'need' Keith: Jagger's guitar playing across this record - for the first time to any length since 'Some Girls'** - is one of the highlights of this collection).

Just as Mick tried to distance himself, sort of, from the Stones' misogynist past with the title of first record 'She's The Boss', so this record is a neat nod of the head back to where his solo career started: simple pop songs with a contemporary sheen the Stones aren't really that interested in anymore. The drum tracks are still largely an abomination (soulless and cold, compared to the warmth of Charlie Watts), but in other ways that's an advantage. Every Stones album from round about 1980 on has the same core sound, with only a few experiments into blues/hip hop/ The Pan Pipes Of Joujouka** to remind you what year it is (or the band wants it to be). 'Goddess' - the first Stones-related project past the millennium - is an album that's very 21st century: compared to the 1990s and especially the 1980s it's a softer, subtler version of what came before, but still with an emphasis over 'rhythm' and overdubbing and lots of heavy open chords rather than riffs, grooves and tight backing tracks played live. (Or at least most of it is: 'Everybody Get High' starts off as a 'rave' song, of all things, ten years after everyone stopped making them before ending up in more familiar territory). 'Goddess' is what the Stones might have sounded like had they started 50 years later, when all the R and B clubs had closed, but still had the same distinctive writing styles and overall 'sound'. There's nothing on this album you couldn't picture the Stones doing - but equally there's nothing you can picture the Stones doing before the end of the 1970s. 

Despite promoting this album with a documentary that did it's best to make Mick look like the God in the doorway, this is a notably humble record. Mick and Jerry Hall had finally filed for divorce in 1999 and while he still spoke highly of her she took him to the cleaners, talking about extra-marital affairs that had continued for years. 'Goddess' is far from a confessional - the biggest song about their split won't be heard till the next Stones album - but it does have a slightly deeper feeling than normal. The title track, for instance, has the love of the narrator's life still being praised in idolised terms standing 'like a Goddess in a doorway', preparing to walk out and sighing 'how much can I take?' For once Jagger's quick wit and his ego fails him - he just looks back at her, feeling guilty. A song titled 'God Gave Me Everything' sounds like it ought to be a typical Mick Jagger strutting peacock sort of a song and most of the lyrics are indeed upbeat; but there's an emptiness and even a bit of paranoia about this track too: Mick doesn't ride over a bank of swirly synths so much as drown in them, complaining that its actually a curse: the gifts he was given came when he was 'too young' to realise what to do with them. Mick even imagines his stern father's face telling him that - and 'hears it in the music' too, presumably referring to whenever he plays back old Stones recordings. 'Don't Call Me Up', the album highlight, is a classic Jagger ballad that tearily admits to moving on - being asked how he is by well-meaning friends, seeing his loved one in his dreams and wanting to turn back the clock - but knows the past will never be again and pleads with her to stay away for her own good; an amazingly 'grown-up' lyric for the writer of 'Under My Thumb' 'Stupid Girl' et al to have written (anyone who doubts whether this song is real hasn't heard the chorus, where 'you left me on an empty stage dealing with the pain'). 'Gun' - the final 'emotional' song of the set - is Mick getting his own back, spilling the beans over how badly he feels he's been treated over the years, egging his ex to stop slagging him off and buy a gun instead - it's a quicker way of putting him out of his misery.



Elsewhere though this is a very happy album. The opening three song titles alone - 'Visions Of Paradise' 'Joy' and 'Dancing In The Starlight' - point at this also being a happy time in Mick's life (perhaps taking to the life of being single more than he expected). Call me crazy, but could it be Mick is stepping away from the 'devil's shadow' here for the first time in his life? The first of these talks about a 'garden of delights', the second finds Mick's latest character out on a journey to find himself where he half-expects to see Buddha but ends up 'making some noise' with Jesus instead, the third simply basks in the beauty of a natural world that has never seemed so bright before to a joyful gospel backing. This last song is particularly interesting: Mick starts by admitting as close as he ever has to feeling below-par, 'tossing and turning like a ship out in a storm...a thousand miles off course' and no longer feeling the 'spirit' that had driven him on since his teens but the chorus points at a spiritual light that comes and saves him. Has Mick found spirituality - and peace - at last? His pained lyrics for 'A Bigger Bang' suggests not, but for a fleeting moment here Mick sounds back in touch with his 'mystical' summer of love years and it's a very beautiful sound. Yes, 'Goddess In The Doorway' is no classic: we haven't mentioned the truly awful songs like the poppy 'Hideaway', the dance track 'Lucky Day' or the I'm-at-a-club-taking-illegal-substancers-irreponsibly-aren't-I-great? 'Everybody Getting High' yet and for good reason: these are nothing songs dressed up to sound even worse than they really are. Generally speaking though, this is a very under-rated record that deserved to have done a lot better and been received a lot more gracefully than it was. Had this album come out under the Rolling Stones banner it would surely have done an awful lot better both critically and commercially yet in many ways Mick is better on his own, writing without 50 years worth of rock and roll baggage  and confined to a set style. While not quite offering up a convincing argument that every Stones album should sound like this one, 'Goddess' does at least prove that there's a lot more to Mick Jagger than fans of purely the band records ever get to hear. The fact that Mick seems to have abandoned his solo career nowadays - partly thanks to the mauling this album received - is a great shame; it never quite grew to the point where it replaced his day job but across four albums (err, perhaps not so much the first one) Mick showed an awful lot of promise and occasionally fulfilled it.

'Visions Of Paradise' is the catchiest song on the album, a late love song where Mick lists all the things he can't go through in a relationship again ('Don't tell me how to speak to my friends') and longs to hear instead how wonderful the world is when he's together with a new flame. A nice yearning melody, some maturer-than-usual lyrics and an impressive Mick Jagger vocal add up to a nice album opener which even the tinny drums and modern production can't spoil. Note too the repeated refrain of 'tell me...'  which may be co-incidental but sounds like a nice nod back to Mick and Keith's first ever song.

'Joy' is a little funkier and more of a specific time period song than the timeless opener (that sort of jangled criss-crossing guitar stings was on everything for a few years in this period). Mick's 'religious' song is heard as a duet with ** - who sounds remarkably like Keith actually - and features a really oddball metaphysical lyric form one whose usually such an 'earthy' writer ('I looked up into heaven and light was in my face, I never ever thought I'd find this state of grace'). What with 'Saint Of Me' from 'Babylon' are we looking at a 'religious conversion' here? Surely not! Only another weak production and a clichéd gospel choir singing the title over and over prevent this being another top-notch release.

'Dancing In The Starlight' is the most Stonesy thing here, a blues/rock/pop/gospel hybrid that sounds at times like 'Exile On main Street' played on fast forward. Mick was lost, now he's found - and the warm aural hug the listener receives at the same time his latest character discovers salvation is delightful indeed. It's a shame, though there isn't a little extra something here: like many of the album's songs it simply goes back round again past the magnificent opening verse/chorus, pretending that we don't already know where the song is going.

'God Gave Me Everything' is the most interesting song here. Sounding very like the Stereophonics during their heavier moments (four guitars all screeching on an angry, unrelenting riff) Mick basically kicks himself for a full three and a half minutes of being such a brat. The narrator has been given everything he ever wanted and is reminded of it from every source - from the symphonies that play in his head to the ghost of his father who visits him. But he was also given it all at an age where he was 'much too young', that led him to abuse his power and not work hard at his talents. It's deeply unusual to hear Mick quite as lost and scared as he sounds here - yes this track is sung with his same aggression, but the production is so huge on every side he sounds like a lost little boy rather than a rock and roll sex God.

'Hide Away' has the loveliest hookline on the entire record, a lovely yearning roll of notes that greet us double-tracked at the start, which is squandered for a synth-heavy backing that tries to groove but gets stuck in a rut instead. Mick's latest hard-done-by character has retreated to nurse his wounds, but this song is less about being 'Down In The Hole' as how he's going to get out - Mick imagining a better future where he can wear a disguise and take things casually without the world looking at him.

'Don't Call Me Up' is the album highlight, an 'Out Of Tears' style ballad where Mick clearly addresses his split with Jerry. The narrator is actually desperate, despite spurning his well-meaning friends, but he knows that the relationship will never be like it was before and he'd rather not know. For the sake of someone he still clearly loves, he urges her not to call him 'because I might let you down' and he only wants her to be happy. Ahh. A fiddle part and a full orchestra of sweeping strings gets dangerously close to being twee, but the single best Jagger vocal for a long long time keeps this song on the straight and narrow and the 'push' of tension from each verse into each chorus gets you right here, every time. After years of portraying himself as having a 'heart of stone' this is Mick revealing it's actually made of treacle and it's all rather sweet.

Title track 'Goddess In The Doorway' continues the last two album's tricks of making the title track the 'oddball' of the album - the experiment quite unlike anything else. This is a turbulent song with the narrator 'hiding in the basement, looking for the truth' while his loved one stands in the doorway looking sad. Mick still loves her and spends an entire verse listing how wonderful she is but that's no longer enough - he's done her wrong and a whole sea of noisy gritty guitars appear to chase him as he tries to hide her scary gaze. You wouldn't want every Jagger song to sound like this thudding combination of 70s funk with 90s dance grooves, but the melody is an arresting one and the sentiments sound entirely genuine.

'Lucky Day' is a filler song about feeling happy. Mick's back to his sultry vocals again, using his falsetto for the first time in a while on the harmony part and briefly comes up with an interesting verse about feeling like a loser, ready to 'cash in your chips now you're on the slide'. However this song just doesn't go anyway, even with a fine harmonica solo, simply drifting it's way to an elongated fade.

'Everybody Getting High' is noisy and unlikeable, a football chant of a song that extends the word 'high' into an eleven syllable word. To be fair the lyrics to this one are actually quite fun ('My dress designers, they want to doll me up in blue - pretty! - next for collection they're gonna show it in a zoo!') and an earlier Jagger would have done it well. Here, though, it's all too noisy and loud and lacks the crunch of the Stones at their best. Remember, this man advocating you all to get 'high' was given a knighthood by the Queen the very next year (well, actually, not by the Queen - Jagger is supposed to be the first person she ever refused to see personally: yay go Mick!) Sometimes the world is a very strange place...

Closer 'Gun' is a tense angry final blast of noise that sounds like the opening to TV series 'Dragon's Den' with its sequel of guitar and while we aren't quite there yet in another five years or so is going to sound a lot more dated than any Stones release of the 60s or 70s. This time, though, the grittiness and loudness suits the song - a tense song about betrayal in which being shot would be better than being lectured or mentally tortured. A track that couldn't be less like 'Goddess In The Doorway', it points to the idea that Mick's relationship with Jerry had been fragile for a while before the split came.

Overall, then, 'Goddess In The Doorway' isn't quite a towering achievement of such high proportions, although the more accurate title 'Slightly tall person standing in a slight hole' wouldn't be quite as catchy somehow. The worst of this record is a mess, perhaps even more than the lower moments of solo albums two and three. But the half a dozen or so really strong tracks prove that Mick is far more than just the weak-kneed Clegg to Keith Richards' bullying Cameron and a strong reminder of just how much natural musicality the singer possesses. Above all else, 'Goddess' is a highly revealing album quite unlike any other he's ever made before - and it's those confessional elements of the album that work best. If the next Stones album shows half as much care and poignancy as these songs I'll be one very happy fan...

"Forty Licks"

(Virgin/Decca/Abcko, September 2002)

CD One: Street Fighting Man/Gimme Shelter/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/The Last Time/Jumpin' Jack Flash/You Can't Always Get What You Want/19th Nervous Breakdown/Under My Thumb/Not Fade Away/Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow?/Sympathy For TRhe Devil/Mother's Little Helper/Get Off My Cloud/Wild Horses/Ruby Tuesday/Paint It Black/Honky Tonk Women/It's All Over Now/Let's Spend The Night Together

CD Two: Start Me Up/Brown Sugar/Miss You/Beast Of Burden/Don't Stop/Happy/Angie/You Got Me Rocking/Shattered/Fool To Cry/Love Is Strong/Mixed Emotions/Keys To Your Love/Anybody Seen My Baby?/Stealing My Heart/Tumbling Dice/Undercover Of The Night/Emotional Rescue/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)/Losing My Touch

"A poor girl in a rich man's house"

For their 40th birthday the Stones gave us an expensive party bag: the first time that the band had ever combined their Decca recordings from the 1960s and the Rolling Stone Records/Atlantic/Virgin years from the 1970s onwards. This was a big deal at the time, even though it's already been replaced more or less than 'Grrrr!' - their 50th birthday celebrations, only made possible by the death of Allen Klein who'd been holding their earlier material to ransom. Those who'd only vaguely heard of the Stones before this found it a useful little entry into the band's canon, full of all the songs they'd wanted to hear and even the American hits like 'Mother's Little Helper'. However for long term fans there was a fair bit of head scratching going on with neither the first 60s disc not the second 70s-00s disc as long or as detailed as individually available sets. Absent, shockingly, are such gems as opening singles 'Come On' and 'I Wanna Be Your Man', #1 hit 'Little Red Rooster' and unforgivably the genius that is 'We Love You', on a CD that contains a good half hour of empty space to fill. The lack of fan favourite songs that weren't hits ('Time Is On My Side' 'Heart Of Stone' '2000 Light Years From Home' 'She's A Rainbow) also makes this less interesting for 1960s collectors than either of the 'Hot Rocks' LPs. The modern Stones too gets reduced to the bare hits, which few fans rate as their best moments of the decade. 'Angie' and 'Fool To Cry' between them slow the second disc down to a crawl, while 'It's Only Rock and Roll' heard at the end, barring a final Keith encore, seems more like an insult than a celebration. By contrast there's no 'Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)' 'Silver Train' or 'Waiting On A Friend', a  sizeable hits, nor key album moments like 'Sister Morphine' and 'Rocks Off'. The fact that the discs are kept separate keeps us from hearing the joy of these songs all mixed in together and yet the set doesn't so the other obvious thing and keep to a proper chronological order either, the first disc starting in 1968 and ending in 1967. And don't even get me started on that hideous cover, which reduces forty years of one of the most colourful and photogenic bands that ever lived to a logo.

However, the news tracks - oddly scattered across the second disc instead of being heard in bulk at the end - are better than almost anyone was expecting post 'Babylon'. 'Don't Stop' was the band's biggest hit in seven years and their biggest original song in nearly twenty, 'Keys To Your Love' is a country ballad that beats all previous Stones country ballads since 'Wild Horses', 'Stealing My Heart' has a nice riff and Keith's most gravelly voices performance yet on 'Losing My Touch' hints is a nicely reflective closer. There's half a decent LP's worth here, which already matches most of the last few albums - the 35 hits almost come as an extra. The selections from the 1980s and 1990s are better handled than most and sound surprisingly good compared to some of the bloated 70s tracks. Despite hearing and seeing the band through their baby pictures and adolescent scowls, the Stones haven't seemed this healthy in a long time and '40 Licks' impressively looks forward as well as back. You just wish that someone somewhere hadn't taken that title quite so literally: had this been two full CDs worth of classics rather than two half albums not quite so stuffed with classics it would have been a truly comprehensive Stones collection. Instead it's just a money-spinner and time-filler before we get to buy these songs all over again. To quote the replacement that made 36 of these 40 songs redundant in a stroke: Grrrrrr!

"Live Licks"

(Virgin, November 2004)

Disc One: Brown Sugar/Street Fighting Man/Paint It, Black/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Start Me Up/It's Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)/Angie/Honky Tonk Women/Happy/Gimme Shelter/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Disc Two: Neighbours/Monkey Man/Rocks Off/Can't You Hear Me Knocking?/That's How Strong My Love Is/The Nearness Of You/Beast Of Burden/When The Whip Comes Down/Rock Me Baby/You Don't Have To Mean It/Worried About You/Everybody Needs Somebody To Love

"Rock me baby, rock me all night long..."

Does the world really need an 8th Rolling Stones live album (barring historical releases long after the event?) Probably not and 'Live Licks' has rightly been consigned to most Stones collector's basements as a souvenir of a 2002 tour bought purely out of loyalty on which the band played absolutely no new material but still wanted a CD of something to promote.  Most of it is indeed inessential, with the most hideous versions yet of classics like 'Satisfaction' 'Brown Sugar' and 'Street Fighting Man' and the band not getting properly warmed up until as late as 7th song 'Angie' (the band have been taking longer and longer with every live LP to date). Jagger even manages to patronise the audience, dividing them into the 'good singing' and 'bad singing' halves before a truly wretched version of one of the band's most wretched songs 'It's Only Rock and Roll' (and in this version I don't like it like it at all!) However where 'Live Licks' improves on its predecessors is a second disc of material rarely if ever heard played live by the band before. For great chunks of the record you understand why - 'Neighbours' sounds even dafter live than in the studio while 'Monkey Man' is transformed from a song of vague menace to a comedy novelty song where the Stones do The Planet Of The Apes. But other tracks here make for the most interesting live Stones release since 'Ya-Yas': the band return to their early years on a jaw-dropping 'That's How Strong My Love Is' and 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' (both of which were dropped from the band's set list for good circa 1965). The latter revival was especially good timing, coming just before the death of writer Solomon Burke, who appears here as one of the band's more suitable 'special guests' and got another burst of songwriting royalties from the band he inspired so much just in time. Two other songs are even more unexpected: 'Worried About You' (never played live and appearing on 'Tattoo You' after five years in the vault) and a ten minute 'Can't You Hear Me Rocking' with Bobby Keyes back on saxophone, a song which fans have requested for years but which the band have never felt fully comfortable with (the seismic shift in the middle, taking the song from tight groove to spaced out Santana jam, is what worried them most: actually they cope rather well with it here). The 'Some Girls' album is served particularly well too, with noisy but 'respectable' versions of 'When The Whip Comes Down'  and 'Beast Of Burden'.

The first disc of hits, though, loses the album several marks. The opening 'Brown Sugar' is horrid even by recent Stones standards, with such a poor and messy start it's a wonder the band don't stop and start again, with Mick clearly struggling to work out what key to sing in given that the band are playing in about three at once. The set stays like that too, sadly, actually getting worse for an 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' that sounds more like sabotage than rock and roll. Only by seventh track 'Angie' does the set settle down and even then there's only a nicely spooky 'Gimme Shelter' that's worth hearing even once. Thankfully the second set is a major improvement, with an impressive 'Rocks Off' that would be great without the unnecessary backing singers, a sleepy 'Beast Of Burden' and a fierce 'When The Whip Comes Down' in addition to the glorious surprise of 'Can't You Hear Me Rocking?'

The biggest talking point was four new songs - all covers. None them are worth paying a fortune for, but they at least offer a little something extra over the last few live records. Interestingly most of them are songs the band could easily have done back in the 1960s, especially during the period when Mick was convinced he was Otis Redding with bigger lips. 'That's How Strong My Love Is' is one of Otis' loveliest songs and it's a good vehicle for Mick forty odd years after 'Pain In My Heart', though the rest of the band don't seem to understand the track quite so well. Hoagy Carmichael's 'The Nearness of You' is, similarly, a good showcase for Keith's softer side though none of the other Stones seems to quite share his passion for it. A bluesy 'Rock Me Baby' is less interesting, but still preferable than, say, a 19th '19th Nervous Breakdown.
Overall, then, 'Live Licks' tries a little too hard to cater to everyone: casual fans won't realise the significance of the rarer songs here and will simply wonder why such odd songs were revived at all. Long-term fans will resent the fact that they had to buy so many lame-duck versions of the same old boring songs again - with slightly less care and attention paid to them than last time round. Both sets will wonder what on earth is going on with the cover and the title - clearly meant to resemble the '40 Licks' compilation, as it happens only nine of the twenty-three songs were featured on that set and the tacky sleeve with a near-naked girl sitting atop a grotesque tongue is one of the single ugliest Stones album covers (making even the brightly coloured lycra of 'Dirty Work' appear dignified by comparison!) The band are also very unchatty - or at least the final mix has intended them to be, with the interaction with the audience reduced to 'yeah yeah yeah whooh' on 'Brown Sugar' and a bit of murmuring before 'It's Only Rock and Roll' and 'Everybody Needs...'. As a final document it's badly flawed - and yet the idea of giving the fans a bit more value for money than usual with a disc of rarities was a very good one and automatically makes 'Live Licks' more palatable than 'Flashpoint' or 'No Security', whilst it's also better performed than 'Love You Live' 'Still Life'  or 'Stripped'.  Rather shockingly, then, 'Live Licks' ends up being the best non-archive Stones release since 'Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!', although that is a relative measure before you get too excited. If only the band had the guts to push their rarer material (perhaps squeezing in a couple of new songs too) this could have been a fantastic appendage to the '40 Licks' compilation, proving that even after reducing the band's catalogue to a double disc set there are still many other gems to hear including some new ones. It's not quite what our 60s and 70s selves hoped the band would be doing in their old age, but it demonstrates more care and thought for the fans than any live Stones set has in years. Ironically the Stones live album with the big tongue is about the only one that isn't sticking out at us.

Mick Jagger/Dave Stewart "Alfie" (Film Soundtrack)

(EMI, October 2004)

Old Habits Die Hard/Blind Leading The Blind (Acoustic)/New York Hustle/Let's Make It Up/Wicked Time/Lonely Without You (This Christmas)/Darkness Of Your Love/Jack The Lad/Oh Nikki/Blind Leading The Blind/Standing In The Rain/Counting The Days/Old Habits Reprise/Alfie/Old Habits Die Hard (Sheryl Crow Version)

"I dream of such humanities, such insanities!"

So, 'Alfie', what's it all about? Yes it is that film that with Cilla Black soundtrack, but a re-make made forty years later with a Stone and a Eurhythmic doing the soundtrack instead - something that would have been unthinkable back when the original came out and the Stones were too cool for film school. It's a tale of a Jaggeresque man in his thirties who adores his playboy lifestyle and assumes he's never going to grow up until he falls in love, hard and falls seriously ill which rather changes his life's ambitions. Though Jude Law is a lot less irritating than Michael Caine, there's not a lot less else to recommend about the film to be honest, with the soundtrack score easily the most forgettable of Mick's extra-curricular releases so far. The film's 'signature' tune, Golden Globe winner and near-hit single 'Old Habits Die Hard' is kind of ok in a catchy slowed-down 'Undercover' without the sound effect kind of a way, but even here Mick's voice sounds strained and old in a way he never does with The Stones. Sheryl Crow actually outperforms the pair of writers with her own earnest delivery included at the end of the album - and under-rated talent as she undoubtedly is (her single 'Home' is as good a ballad as any in the 1990s) it's a worrying sign when someone out-Jaggers Jagger for almost the only time in his career. Other appearances by Joss Stone and a very young Katy Perry singing Mick's songs fare less well it has to be said. I actually prefer the second single 'Blind Leading The Blind', which is a sweet guilty ballad at one with Mick's 'Bigger Bang' songs about the guilt over his split with wife Jade and is the one that should have won the Golden Globe, being both emotional and memorable, love going wrong because neither partner quite knows what to do with it. The song works well in the film too, which is more than can be said for most of the material such as bland filler 'Let's Make It Up' and a bonkers jazz-with-synths take on 'Lonely This Christmas' which is eccentric to make even the original a stick-in-the-Mud. The end result, much like the re-make, is a patchy affair that all seems terribly uninvolving compared to the sights and sounds of the original 1966 film, but Mick and Dave make for a sympathetic writing team and this set does have its moments. Given how tricky it is to get the feel of a film in a soundtrack recording, this isn't too bad at all for a first go, even if Mick's full-on solo albums are better. 

"Light The Fuse"

(Promotone, Recorded August 2005, Released October 2012)

Rough Justice/Live With Me/19th Nervous Breakdown/She's So Cold/Dead Flowers/Back Of My Hand/Ain't Too Proud To Beg/Band Introductions/Infamy/O No Not You Again/Get Up Stand Up/Mr Pitiful/Tumbling Dice/Brown Sugar/Jumpin' Jack Flash

"Tonight is all about small beginnings and here is the start of 'A Bigger Bang!'"

Perhaps the most pointless of all the Stones archive sets, this first gig/rehearsal on the 'Bigger Bang' tour finds the band playing to their smallest crowd in years with an audience of just 100 people. Unfortunately, instead of tailoring their sound to the fact as the band did in 1981, this is just the usual Stones arena setlist and without the visuals seems like business as usual. Most of the setlist is of the usual tired old favourites, though understandably there's a lot of the 'Bigger Bang' material in here that hasn't been released on any other live album (so far anyway!) Most of it sounds rather good live, with a nice slide guitar crunch on 'Rough Justice' and a fuller blues sound on 'Back Of My Hand' that features a far stronger Jagger vocal with an audience to play to rather than studio walls. A vibrant 'She's So Cold' and an unexpectedly tight 'Dead Flowers' have their moments too. Some of this set, however, is truly awful and amongst the worst yet (even after 'No Security' is taken into consideration!): a slowed down '19th Nervous Breakdown' is bringing on a breakdown of my own given how wonderfully this song used to glide before it hit old age, while 'Tumbling Dice' definitely gets a low score this time around, unfocussed and messy with too many background singers and not enough swing.  Of the two exclusive songs here, Bob Marley and the Wailers cover 'Get Up, Stand Up', is also appalling as only a Stones reggae cover can be, though 'Mr Pitiful' is a surprise and partly successful return to Mick Jagger covering his beloved Otis Redding, a little too rushed and noisy but good fun. Released as an 'exclusive' set on iTunes in 2012, you can't help but feel that it's because this set wasn't good enough to release 'properly' - perhaps recorded by the band in the hope of getting yet another live album before they listened back to the tape and realised how awful it all was. Call me 'Mr Pitiful Reviewer' because I was one of the few people who still cared enough to buy it. 

"Rarities 1971-2003"

(Rolling Stones Records**, November 2005)

Fancy Man Blues/Tumbling Dice (Live)/Wild Horses (Live)/Beast Of Burden (Live)/Anyway You Look At It/If I Was A Dancer (Dance Part Two)/Miss You (Dance Version)/Wish I'd Never Met You/I Just Wanna Make Love To You (Live)/Mixed Emotions (12" Mix)/Through The Lonely Nights/Live With Me (Live)/Let It Rock/Harlem Shuffle (New York Mix)/Mannish Boy (Live)/Thru and Thru (Live)

"You're not the only one with mixed emoooooooootions!"

Released to keep the Stones wheels rolling in the wake of 'A Bigger Bang', the release of the 'Rarities' album feels more like barrel scraping. It's not that the Stones don't have some great tracks strangely still absent from CD in the year 2005 including some fine flipsides and a whole load of really good EP/live stuff from the 1960s. But frustratingly most of it has been passed over (to be fair the 1960s stuff probably for contractual reasons) for this set, which doesn't even include a complete set of 1970s B sides. Where, for instance, is the lovely 'I Think I'm Goin' Mad' or the nicely bluesy 'The Storm'? Instead of these minor gems we get more cod blues than a blues fishmongers, more 12" remixes than anyone would ever possibly want to hear outside the 1980s and several track that really don't qualify as 'rarities' at all. Last time I looked the 'Stripped' live show had sold in the millions, so why is the 'Wild Horses' recording from that show on here? Didn't the 'Brown Sugar' single win gold record status, meaning that it's B-side 'Let It Rock' can't really be called 'rare' either? The 'No Security' album might have sold poorly compared to most Stones products, but two songs from that record again, so soon? hat looks from the outside like a generous 16 track set of songs you can find anywhere else has only nine recordings exclusive to this set in CD terms, tewo of them merely live recordings. More a reminder for how trivial even as great a band as the Rolling Stones can be, this is a release that should have been cut in half and added to or started entirely from scratch.

Keep digging though and there is some buried treasure worth bringing up to the surface. I'm very pleased that the band's best post-sixties flipside 'Through The Lonely Nights' got the belated attention it deserved back in 1974 when it was so much better than it's A' side 'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' it hurt, while 'Wish I'd Never Met You' is too good a song to be lost on the fourth single from 'Steel Wheels' long after the album had come out and 'Dance Part One' is a lot better than 'Dance Part One' (a relative measure, admittedly). 'Tumbling Dice', rehearsed for 'Stripped' but never used on that set, is a nice little extra - especially the warm up before the song starts proper. A full 7:32 of 'Miss You' is, depending on your feelings for that track, either a gift from God or a reason to feel sympathy with the devil. Similarly, a six minute 'Mixed Emotions' that's simply a drum solo for half the song is either Charlie Watts' greatest moment or the band's worst - I'm not quite sure. The 'NY' (presumably New York, though I'd love to think it stands for 'Neil Young') mix of 'Harlem Shuffle' makes a bad song worse, though. The cover - actually a still from the rare promo video for 'Respectable' and tinted black and white everywhere except for Mick's 'tongue logo' T-shirt - is also far superior than the other period Stones compilation covers: big tongues, gorillas with big tongues, a bigger tongue bang... There is the basis here for a great set, but instead there's a mere twenty minutes of strong stuff merged with an hour of filler, made all the more maddening by the memory that back in 2005 we hadn't had any of the 'deluxe' re-issues yet and there were a sea of releasable outtakes clamouring for release (never mind the missing B-sides). Released though the Starbucks coffee franchise 'Hear Music', which represents everything that seems to be wrong with modern music selling (wake up and smell the coffee, record buyers - what are we doing buying CDs from coffee shops anyway?!) even when the source materials are sound. Personally I'm beginning to think the plethora of tongues on the last twenty years of Stones products are aimed at fans rather than the establishment nowadays...

"Shine A Light"

(Polydor, Recorded October and November 2006, Released April 2008)

CD One: Jumpin' Jack Flash/Shattered/She Was Hot/All Down The Line/Loving Cup/As Tears Go By/Some Girls/Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)/Far Away Eyes/Champagne and Reefers/Tumbling Dice/Band Introductions/You Got The Silver/Connection

CD Two: Martin Scorsese Introduction/Sympathy For The Devil/Live With Me/Start Me Up/Brown Sugar/(I Can't Get No Satisfaction)/Paint It Black/Little T & A/I'm Free/Shine A Light
Some Editions Include Bonus Track: Undercover Of The Night

"Make every song you sing your favourite tune"

Official Rolling Stones live album number eight and what do we get that we didn't get before? A film this time actually, a Martin Scorsese directed concert-with-a-documentary that made a Stones show actually interesting to watch as well as listen to for the first time and which featured a band unusually at peace with each other and their own legacy which was heart-warming to see. The DVD is well worth buying - the band are calmer, the performances more intimate and there's an air of casual cool hat hasn't been heard in live form since 'Ya Yas'. Unfortunately none of that makes the soundtrack album any more interesting than the seven albums that preceded it and less interesting than most of them. Scorsese memorably started his career as a music director - 'Gimme Shelter' was one of his earliest credits as a director - so that might be why there's so much older material here (though there's a notable absence of most of the songs played at that Altamont gig, such as 'Under My Thumb' and 'Gimme Shelter' itself; this is a gig with a self-congratulatory, not an evil, vibe with even 'Sympathy For The Devil' turned into a song of celebration not horror). There was much hoopla made in the press about how Scorsese had encouraged the band to revive forgotten and neglected songs, but once you've sat through 'Little T&A' (the Stones' most dated song, even if it was only from the 1980s and thus relatively recent) and 'Far Away Eyes' (the only song off 'Some Girls' nobody wanted to hear again) you'll be asking yourself if this was such a hot idea. To be fair the Stones do revive some nice rarely heard songs from 'Exile On Main Street', the forthcoming deluxe edition and documentary clearly on their minds, Keith shines on 'You Got The Silver' only patchily heard since 1969 and there's a surprisingly tight rendition of the sloppy 'Connection', an obviously energetic 'live track' that strangely never made its way to a concert stage. There's one exclusive track too, the Muddy Waters song 'Champagne and Reefer' (well, I say it's exclusive - the band did perform it while backing it's composer at the Checkerboard Lounge in 1981, but this is the only place you can hear Mick's fake transatlantic accent performing it an octave higher than his hero). The rest though is Stones by numbers, only older and feebler without any of the sense of power of 'Flashpoint', the newness of 'Stripped' or the rocky energy of recent album 'A Bigger Bang' (a record that doesn't feature here once tellingly - in fact all of the material here dates back to 1983 or earlier). Worryingly, there are also special guests, a fact which automatically raises alarm bells on this site and they're all badly mis-cast: Jack White proves to be a second-rate Gram Parsons on 'Wild Horses', Buddy Guy is near enough inaudible on 'Champagne and Reefer' and Christina Aguilera misses the irony of 'Live With Me' Mick's laying on with a bucket and spade. Where do they find these people and why are they here? (The Who fare even worse in this period for bandwagon jumping, making poor Roger Daltrey a spare part at his own shows). This may well be the Stones' most pointless live album yet, even if it's also the most inevitable given the money invested into the film. The concert may well shade an extra light on the Stones past, but by now most of us are eager for them to just paint it black and put some mystery back on the old bones again. 

"The Very Best Of Mick Jagger"

(Rhino, October 2007)

God Gave Me Everything/Put Me In The Trash/Just Another Night/Don't Tear Me Up/Charmed Life/Sweet Thing/Old Habits Die Hard/Dancing In The Street/Too Many Cooks/A Memo From Turner/Lucky In Love/Let's Work/Joy/Don't Call Me Up/Checkin' Up On My Baby/You've Got To Walk And Not Look Back/Evening Gown

"You put me in the trash, you gave me up for lost, take a look at me and count the cost"

Actually this album should be more rightly called 'The Very Best And The Very Worst Of Mick Jagger, along with some stuff not good enough to release the first time round', containing as it does a more or less 50:50 split between the moments of genius and experimentation that prove that Mick was right to release his own solo albums and the crass toothless sub-standard Stones that drove Keith to distraction. On the plus side, 'Put Me In The Trash' is Mick in strong confessional mode, guilty after getting a touch of his own medicine, 'Don't Tear Me Up' is a pretty ballad in 'Saint Of Me' mould and the self-mocking 'God Gave Me Everything' are the equal of anything the Stones have released in the past twenty years, with Mick a far more rounded, thoughtful human being than his Stones caricature. But then there's the painful cod-funk of 'Lucky In Love', the tinny 80s middling-hit single 'Just Another Night', the horrendous falsetto hip hop of 'Sweet Thing' and the cod country of 'Evening Gown', all of which sound like low budget poor man's Stones. The compilation is welcome as a way of getting the better songs from the hard-to-find songs from the 'Alfie' soundtrack though and Rhino - always good at this sort of thing - go the extra mile by licensing 'Memo From Turner' from Decca, the 'Performance' soundtrack number first released in 1970. Rather less essential are the three 'new' recordings unearthed for the first time on this set: 'Too Many Cooks' is the most interesting purely for the historical context, being recorded in Los Angeles with a load of guest stars and being produced by John Lennon during his 'Lost Weekend' phase, the first time the Beatle and Stone had worked together since running away from the 'Circus'. Alas musically, though, it's awful: more weak-kneed cod blues that's closer to Lennon's 'Rock and Roll' than his 'Walls and Bridges' album. The Red Devils collaboration from 1992 'Checkin' Up On My Baby' turns Sonny Boy Williamson into a noisy stomp that 's going to earn Mick a stiff talking to the next time he sees Brian Jones. Finally 'Charmed Life' is a 'Wandering Spirit' outtake removed from the album because it 'didn't fit', which is true - it's more like the noisy empty rock of 'She's The Boss'  or 'Goddess In The Doorway' than that rather deeper album. Cementing rather than destroying the idea that Mick's solo career was something of a wasted effort, fans who want to know what the best of Mick's solo work is really like should go straight to his middle two albums, which provide by far the best material here.


Bill Wyman  "Stone Alone: The Anthology"

(**, **2007)

CD One: I Wanna Get Me A Gun/Monkey Grip Glue/What A Blow/White Lightnin'/I'll Pull You Through/It's A Wonder/A Quarter To Three/Soul Satisfying/Peanut Butter Time/If You Wanna Be Happy/What's The Point?/Ride On Baby/A New Fashion/Nuclear Reactions/Come Back Suzanne/Girls/Si Si (Je Suis Un Rock Star)/Stuff (Can't Get Enough)/This Strange Effect/Blue Murder (Lies)

CD Two: Baby Please Don't Go/You Never Can Tell/Let's Talk It Over/Mystery Train/Tear It Up/Land Of A Thousand Dances/Let The Good Times Roll/Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu/Georgia On My Mind/I'm Ready/Lead Me To The Water/Baby Workout/I'll Be Satisfied/Chicken Shack Boogie/Love Letters/Jitterbug Boogie/Melody/Stop Her On Sight (Sos)/ Midnight Special/Jump Jive 'n' Wail

"Hey everybody let's have some fun, you only live once and when you're dead you're gone"

Though the thought of spending two and a half hours in the company of a bassist without much of a voice who specialises in writing novelty songs might not sound like the sort of purchase you want to run out and buy, actually 'Stone Alone' is good fun and a lot more impressive than many of the period Stones sets. Divided into a disc of solo work and a disc of Rhythm Kings (many of the track taken from the lesser known 'official bootlegs', a boon for collectors), this set really does feature the best of Bill's three 'normal' albums (if you can call songs about Monkey Grips and Peanut Butter 'normal'!) plus his unfinished album 'Stuff' and the metronomic regularity releases of the Rhythm Kings. With so much of the repetition and filler removed, Bill suddenly goes from curse-you-for-making-me-spend-my-hard-earned-money-on-something-so-insubtantial self-indulgent rock star to eccentric genius. Cutting each album down to its strongest four or five songs is a good idea and Bill is a surprisingly good judge of his own material, peaking at the end of the first disc with the electronic straight faced ha-has of the hits 'Si Si Je Suis En Rockstar' and 'A New Fashion'. Better yet might be the rare 'Willie and the Poor Boys' album, released to raise money for Ronnie Lane's MS charity. The rarities are impressively strong too, with a typically weird yet more emotional than usual take on Ray Davies' 'This Strange Effect' perhaps the outstanding moment of the entire set, having its own strange effect on the listener (but we like it). The only real problem with this set is that the two discs of comedy pop originals and earnest blues covers really don't go together at all - Bill barely sings at all on the second one (with Georgie Fame and Gary Brooker handling most of the lead vocals between them) and fans of one aren't necessarily going to like the other, though both have their merits. It's a good one stop shop sampler for fans to try both sides of Bill's persona however which collects all of his best material in one handy container; just be aware that both formats are an acquired taste and neither have anything to do with the Stones' sound. 

"The Rolling Stones" (Box Set)

(Polydor, May 2010)

CD One: Sticky Fingers

CD Two: Exile On Main Street

CD Three: Goat's Head Soup

CD Four: It's Only Rock 'n' Roll

CD Five: Black and Blue

CD Six: Some Girls

CD Seven: Emotional Rescue

CD Eight: Tattoo You

CD Nine: Undercover

CD Ten: Dirty Work

CD Eleven: Steel Wheels

CD Twelve: Voodoo Lounge

CD Thirteen: Bridges To Babylon

CD Fourteen: A Bigger Bang

"Are you all tied up? Put in a box? Dangerous;ly given electric Shocks? Yeah, I feel the gloves coming off..."

The mother of all Stones box sets, this thick and massive set contains everything the band ever recorded for their own label and later for Virgin, with Virgin by now having bought up the rights to all the material dating back to 'Sticky Fingers'. It's a bumpy ride, full of repetition and sub-par recordings while the dip in the middle is unavoidable. Collectors, too, receive nothing in the way of extras - not even a 'Rarities' style disc mopping up the songs that aren't here such as B-sides, the 'new' songs recorded for compilation '40 Licks' and 12" mixes, not to mention any of the unheard outtakes which are about to be released in a frenzy across the next few years' worth of deluxe albums. The supposedly revelatory sound quality is only a smidgeon clearer than the original CD mixes - and in some cases, such as 'Exile', the remasterers have had a little too much fun re-focusing blurred edges that were supposed to be there. You're also missing four official live albums released in the intervening years and copious archive sets, although to be honest that's probably a blessing in disguise ('Stripped' and the two 'studio' tracks from 'Flashpoint' are at least as crucial as anything in the set post-'Some Girls', mind). However, for all of that, this is a good value way of getting hold of a lot of great music all at once (yes it costs £90, which is a lot to spend on anything that isn't made of pure gold, but separately each CD would probably cost you twice that) and the set caught many by surprise for being a lot more eclectic and adventurous than people were expecting. Even if the records everyone needs to own dies out as early as disc three, there are gems hidden away on all of these albums and it's good to hear these records out again. The packaging is well handled too, the albums coming in a massive big box which looks a lot classier than I was expecting: a plain red box with just a glittery tongue on top which you can almost fool your family and friends into believing is a high-falluting box set of high art (actually, it kind of is if you ignore the occasionally collapses into parody and 'Black and Blue'!) What we really need, though, is a similar set from Decca containing all the band's eight studio and two live records, with all the A sides, B sides, EPs, outtakes and released-in-America tracks restored to their allotted period.

"Exile On Main Street" (Deluxe Edition)

(Polydor, '2010')

CD One: Rocks Off/Rip This Joint/Shake Your Hips/Casino Boogie/Tumbling Dice/Sweet Virginia/Torn And Frayed/Sweet Black Angel/Loving Cup/Happy/Turd On The Run/Ventilator Blues/I Just Want To See His Face/Let It Loose/All Down The Line/Stop Breaking Down/Shine A Light/Soul Survivor

CD Two: Pass The Wine (Sophia Loren)/Plundered My Soul/I'm Not Signifying/Following The River/Dancing In The Light/So Divine (Aladdin Story)/Loving Cup (Alternate Take)/Soul Survivor (Alternate Take)/Good Time Women/Title 5

Some CD Editions: All Down The Line (Alternate Take)

"It's all good - can't write, understood it's outta site, skydiver in quality maybe,  slip rope for jumps so hazy, judge and jury agree such a feat a second walk down the main street..."
If you'd have told a Stones fan in 1972 that you'd come from the future where you could buy deluxe sets of all the Stones' albums on shiny little discs smaller than vinyl singles, they'd have treated you as mad. They'd have probably locked you up if you'd then explained the albums given this deluxe treatment: not heralded classics like 'Beggar's Banquet' or 'Let It Bleed' but that recent record with the trouser zips, a not-yet recorded amble through a genre that hadn't even been invented yet and first of all this: a record even fans at the time had greeted with confusion. 'Exile' has slowly gained in stature ever since its release, the tales of debauchery in a French villa with special guests dropping in transforming a so-so double album full of boozy hangovers into a classic tale of modern rock and roll. Re-mastering and cleaning up this, of all albums, seems like an oxymoron somehow: if the Stones had really wanted to improve the listening experience of this record they should have put ever more blurred edges back in. Re-mastering, after all, is effectively hi-fi double-glazing to help maintain the property and keeps the draughts of the passing years at bay; it shouldn't change the way you look at things except for giving albums a double-glazed, slightly more 3D sound and a bit of a wipe. 'Exile' sounds best through dirt and grime - replacing the old style windows with stained glass ought to be the single worst idea the Rolling Stones have had since the lycra wardrobe on the front cover of 'Dirty Work'. 

Yet it works: even the tracks that before only kinda-worked (like the voodoo boogie of 'I Just Want To See His Face' or the retro groove of 'All Down The Line') work far better than they ever used to. 'Rocks Off', which used to be a gloriously muddy noise, now sounds like a clever detailed rocker full of glorious moments  piled on top of each other. 'Loving Cup' actually has words that you can hear and they're great, buried for far too long. 'Casino Boogie' is a stream of consciousness rant to go with the best of them, rather than a silly incomprehensible song. Usually I don't go in for remixes and re-masterings at all (most of the 60s albums were designed to be heard on the most battered equipment available anyway) but 'Exile' is a rare exception that really does feel like seeing an album in colour for the first time after years of only hearing it in monochrome.

Better yet is the disc of outtakes and alternate takes - most of which have been kept safe down the years even from bootleggers (the exception being an early version of 'Tumbling Dice' still known as 'Good Time Woman' of which even better alternate versions exist in the vaults). Who'd have thought that this oh so short double album (which runs at just under the time you'd expect from a three-sided album) would have resulted in so many terrific outtakes, senselessly left behind in the vaults? Not all of the generous ten new songs on the second disc are up to the level of the album and even most of those had to be 'finished' with a set of hurried recording sessions in the present day (well, 2012), but enough of them are up to standard to make you think the Stones back in 1972 were taking the Mick (and Keith) by keeping so much good stuff back. 'Following The River' is superb, a Stones ballad well up to past standards, with Mick trying to work out his complex love life in terms far more mature and adult than normal. The creepy 'So Divine' would have trumped even Ventilator Blues' other-worldly beauty. 'Plundered My Soul' is a wicked riposte that has a girl doing  Mick what the likes of 'Yesterday's Papers' once did to others. There are no less than three alternate takes of album songs: 'Tumbling Dice' and 'Soul Survivor' sounding gloriously different and almost unrecognisable with entirely new lyrics, while an early, more intimate and informal 'Loving Cup' is superb. Though, in truth, there are better albums in the Stones' canon than this one, 'Exile' has never sounded so good and for a while even I was sucked into thinking of it as the Stones' best (especially with the accompanying period documentary - released on a separate DVD - that made the making of the record sound like the most exciting record since the invention of the gramophone). The Stones' deluxe series - which should have been awful after the band had plundered their own archives so many times already to meagre effect down the years - is off to a flying start and, astonishingly, will get even better before the decade is out.
                                                                                 
"Singles 1971-2006"

(Promotone, '2011')

CD One: Brown Sugar/Bitch/Let It Rock

CD Two: Wild Horses/Sway

CD Three: Tumbling Dice/Sweet Black Angel

CD Four: Happy/All Down The Line

CD Five:  Angie/Silver Train

CD Six: Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)/Dancing With Mr D

CD Seven: It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)/Through The Lonely Nights

CD Eight: Ain't Too Proud To Beg/Dance Little Sister

CD Nine: Fool To Cry/Crazy Mama

CD Ten: Hot Stuff/Fool To Cry

CD Eleven: Miss You/Faraway Eyes/Miss You (12" Mix)

CD Twelve: Beast Of Burden/When The Whip Comes Down

CD Thirteen: Respectable/When The Whip Comes Down

CD Fourteen: Shattered/Everything's Turning To Gold

CD Fifteen: Emotional Rescue/Down In The Hole

CD Sixteen: She's So Cold/Send It To Me

CD Seventeen: Start Me Up/No Use In Crying

CD Eighteen: Waiting On A Friend/Little T&A

CD Nineteen: Hang Fire/Neighbours

CD Twenty: Going To A-Go-Go (Live)/Beast Of Burden (Live)

CD Twenty-One: Time Is On My Side (Live)/20 Flight Rock (Live)

CD Twenty-Two: Undercover Of The Night/All The Way Down/Undercover 'Dub' Mix/Feel On Baby (Instrumental Version)

CD Twenty-Three: She Was Hot/I Think I'm Going Mad

CD Twenty-Four: Too Tough/Miss You

CD Twenty-Five: Harlem Shuffle/Had It With You/Harlem Shuffle ('NY Mix')/Harlem Shuffle ('London Mix')

CD Twenty-Six: One Hit To The Body/Fight/One Hit To The Body ('London' Mix)

CD Twenty-Seven: Mixed Emotions/Fancyman Blues/Mixed Emotions (12" Mix)/Tumbling Dice/Miss You

CD Twenty-Eight: A Rock And A Hard Place/Cook Cook Blues/A Rock And A Hard Place (Dance Mix/Dub Hard Mix/Michael Beauer Mix/Bonus Beats Mix)/Emotional Rescue/Some Girls/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll/Rocks Off

CD Twenty-Nine: Almost Hear You Sigh/Break The Spell/Wish I'd Never Met You/Mixed Emotions/Beast Of Burden/Angie/Fool To Cry/Miss You/Waiting On A Friend
CD Thirty: Terrifying (7" Mix)/A Rock And A Hard Place (7" Mix)/Terrifying (12" Mix)/A Rock And A Hard Place (12" Mix)/Harlem Shuffle ('London Mix')/Wish I'd Never Met You/Harlem Shuffle (Album Mix)

CD Thirty-One: Highwire/2000 Light Years From Home (Live)/Sympathy For The Devil (Live)/I Just Want Make Love To You (Live)/Play With Fire (Live)/Factory Girl  (Live)
CD Thirty-Two: Ruby Tuesday (Live)/Play With Fire (Live)/You Can't Always Get What You Want (Live)/Undercover Of The Night (Live)/A Rock And A Hard Place (Live)/Harlem Shuffle (Live)/Winning Ugly

CD Thirty-Three: Sex Drive/Undercover Of The Night (Live)

CD Thirty-Four: Love Is Strong (Album Mix)/The Storm/So Young/Love Is Strong (Seven Remixes

CD Thirty-Five: You Got Me Rocking (Various Mixes)/Jump On Top Of Me

CD Thirty-Six: Out Of Tears (Two Mixes)/I'm Gonna Drive/So Young/Sparks Will Fly

CD Thirty-Seven: I Go Wild (Three Mixes and Live Recording)

CD Thirty-Eight: Like A Rolling Stone (Two Mixes)/Black Limousine/All Down The Line

CD Thirty-Nine: Anybody Seen My Baby? (Six Mixes)

CD Forty: Saint Of Me (Seven Mixes)/Anyway You Look At It/Gimme Shelter/Anybody Seen My Baby? (Two Mixes)

CD Forty-One: Out Of Control (Eight Mixes)

CD Forty-Two: Don't Stop (Two Mixes)/Miss You

CD Forty-Three: Streets Of Love/Rough Justice

CD Forty-Four: Rain Fall Down (Four Mixes)

CD Forty-Five: Biggest Mistake/Dance/Before They Make Me Run/Hand Of Fate

"Things are moving way too slow, but now that the love jusices begin to flow everything is turning to gold"
Blimey. Rather than split what should by rights have been volumes three and four of the Stones' ongoing singles CD re-issues they release the whole bang lot since  1971 on no less than forty-five discs in a box set that's more like a 'stone' than anything else the band have yet released. This is both magic and madness in equal measure, depending on how much of a collector you are. Few fans would claim that the Stones' 1970s singles or even their B-sides are the equal of their 1960s releases, but they are much rarer and harder to find, particularly the modern singles which didn't sell in particular high numbers (only five singles since 'Start Me Up' in 1981 have made the top twenty in the UK - none have made the top ten). As most of these come with exclusive remixes - millions of them by near the end of this set - that is at least more entertaining than just hearing the same old Stones hits all over again. As with the first two sets this is also exquisitely packaged, with replica sleeves of the original releases. However there's a point somewhere around the 'Voodoo Lounge' mark when going through this box stops being a labour of love and starts becoming a chore. How many variations of the likes of 'Anybody Seen My Baby?' and 'Saint Of Me' do we really need to have when none improve on the album versions anyway? How much input did the Stones actually have on some of these ghastly drums-up, tape-looped monstrosities? Should a band who were so integral to rock and roll really be spending so much time making sure they're still 'hip' on the club scene? The Stones nailed what the A and B sided single meant to the 1960s on the first two sets in the series - like their albums the effect has become slightly more desperate by the time of their later singles, which for the most part were just treated as trailers for the long-playing albums in any case. An expensive purchase that's often excellent but is all too often infuriating - and there are far cheaper ways of being infuriated (you're not far off being able to buy every Stones studio album since 1971 for the price this set is selling for, for instance...)

"Some Girls" (Deluxe Edition)

 (Universal, November 2011)

CD One: Miss You/When The Whip Comes Down/Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)/Some Girls/Lies/Faraway Eyes/Respectable/Before They Make Me Run/Beast Of Burden/Shattered

CD Two: Claudine/So Young/Do You Think I Really Care?/When You're Gone/No Spare Parts/Don't Be A Stranger/We Had It All/Tallahassie Lassie/I Love You Too Much/Keep Up Blues/You Win Again/Petrol Blues

"Now we are respected in society we don't worry 'bout recordings that aren't quality, you're the simplest plays, you make me yawn, you're the biggest bore not on the White House lawn!"

The second deluxe edition isn't quite up to the first in terms of quality but you can see why it was the next in line for are-issue, with a lot more left behind in the vaults than for 'Exile', most of it leaving Stones fans scratching their heads over why none of it was revived for 'Tattoo You. In truth there are only a few songs here that really enhance our understanding of the album: 'Claudine' is a fun and controversial rocker about the supposed manslaughter of a champion skier by his wife, dropped from the album at the eleventh hour on the orders of the Stones' lawyers, 'Do You Think I Really Care?' sports a delightful poppy melody and 'When You're Gone' is arguably the greatest Stones blues song of the 1970s - not that there's an awful lot in terms of strong competition. However fans expecting a second disc as breathlessly, brilliantly energetic as the first will be disappointed: for once all the good stuff really was chosen for the album, with nothing here up to the standard of any track over or above the wretched 'Faraway Eyes' and none of it reaching a tempo any quicker than the Stones average. Once again the band were brought in to add modern overdubs to the unfinished backing tracks, with Mick Jagger adding most of his vocals during sessions in 2010 and again the joins are largely seamless, the old Mick and young(ish) Stones going together surprisingly well. The packaging too is exquisite, keeping in with the 'joke' of the original with yet more cut-out heads and Stones haircuts. However there's more here that detracts rather than enhances our impression of the album: this is surely the weakest version of 'Tallahassee Lassie' out there and even the excuse that this only a mere warm-up for the sessions proper doesn't wash; this song wouldn't warm-up a snowman. 'You Win Again' is a horrendous country cover that makes even 'Faraway Eyes' sounds like a work of art. 'Keep Up Blues' is what happens when a band run out of ideas and don't want to go home. Some girls, it seems are born for greatness, but others are decidedly average. This girl is sadly too pricey and doesn't quite deliver on her promises - our advice is to skip ahead to the superb 'Sticky Fingers' re-issue instead...

"Superheavy" (Various Artists Including Mick Jagger)

(A & M, September 2011)

Superheavy/Unbelievable/Miracle Worker/Energy/Satyameva Jayathe/One Day One Night/Never Gonna Change/Beautiful People/Rock Me Gently/I Can't Take It No More/I Don't Mind/World Keeps Turning

"Give me the kind of cat to cause a real revolution, don't care about your race culture or fashion!"

With the Stones on hiatus and Keith busy scribbling for his book, another Jagger solo album looked inevitable. The 'Bigger Bang' sessions seem to have worn Mick out though, who'd written himself dry on the subject of his split with Jade. In to the rescue comes former writing partner Dave Stewart who put to Mick the idea of a supergroup, a loose affiliation of people who were all big names but in very different fields. Though Jagger's name was the most famous to the rock and pop universe, world music aficionado Dave Stewart also managed to hire the services of Bob Marley's son Damian and Eastern classical music specialist A R Rahman, as well as pop newcomer Joss Stone. The result was a band perhaps too big to fit onto one normal-length LP and inevitably full of members too wide apart musically for any lasting union, but despite the dismissive and sneering remarks made by the music press at the time of release there's much here to respect if never quite love. It's great to hear Mick away from the usual tired cycle of Chuck Berry riffs and he gets pushed way past his comfort zones here, choosing Rahman as his main writing partner and who ends up turning out 'Miss You' style 'grooves' with a distinctly Indian vibe. Written largely on a massive holiday together, with the songs later pared down in size and scope, it's a shame that Superheavy didn't simply go the whole-hog and embrace the hugeness of their concept.

Instead it sounds like just another 21st century rock album, with Stone's over-enunciated 'soul' persona and Stewart's reliance on keyboards meaning that this album is going to date horribly in a way that the best of the Stones never will. Jagger, however, has regained some of his swagger and is clearly having fun away from the spotlight and without the pressures of expectation resting on his shoulders. He's always had an interest in Indian rhythms and music of other cultures - something you can hear on '2000 Light Years From Home' and 'She's A Rainbow' particularly - and the sound suits him well, although it's a pity that it brings out his 'modern pop' side rather than his 'inner mystical hippie' one. Be warned that even though Mick is the only band member given a writing credit on every song, he doesn't sing on much of the record and is too often drowned out by the others. 'Unbelievable' though is a fine modern pop song in the 'Bridges To Babylon' mould, 'One Day One Night' is another Jade Jagger 'guilt trip' ('You never should have abandoned me!') which would be a pretty ballad is sped up to a listenable tempo, the 'Undercover' style politician-bashing 'I Can't Take It No More' and 'I Don't Mind' features some nice synth-strings. Best of all is the one song on the album that comes 'straight' and unadorned with extras, with the near solo 'Never Gonna Change' the best song Mick's written in years, passionate and sorrowful as he figures a relationship was doomed from the start, but had so many things right with it he didn't want to accept the fact. 'Superheavy' isn't really 'super' or 'heavy', but it's an intriguing concept that did well to make the top twenty of both the US and UK charts on minimal publicity and is at least preferable to hearing 'Start Me Up Part 94' all over again. Let's hope that though the gap since its release is getting bigger, this isn't the last we've heard from a promising band who have everything except an earthy, rooted guitarists of Keith's calibre to stop the whole concept floating away.

"Grrrrrr!"

(Abkco/Interscope, November 2012)

Eighty Track Version:

CD One: C'Mon/I Wanna Be Your Man/Not Fade Away/That's How Strong My Love Is/It's All Over Now/Little Red Rooster/The Last Time/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Heart Of Stone/Get Off My Cloud/She Said Yeah!/I'm Free/Play With Fire/Time Is On My Side/19th Nervous Breakdown/Paint It Black/Have You Seen Your Mother Baby Standing In The Shadow/She's A Rainbow/Under My Thumb/Out Of Time/As Tears Go By

CD Two: Let's Spend The Night Together/Mother's Little Helper/We Love You/Dandelion/Lady Jane/Flight 505/2000 Light Years Go By/Ruby Tuesday/Jumpin' Jack Flash/Sympathy For The Devil/Child Of The Moon/Salt Of The Earth/Honky Tonk Women/Midnight Rambler/Gimme Shelter/You Got The Silver/You Can't Always Get What You Want/Street Fighting Man/Wild Horses

CD Three: Brown Sugar/Bitch/Tumbling Dice/Rocks Off/Happy/Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (heartbreaker)/Angie/It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)/Dance Little Sister/Fool To Cry/Respectable/Miss You/Shattered/Far Away Eyes/Beast Of Burden/Emotional Rescue/Dance/She's So Cold/Waiting On A Friend/Neighbours

CD Four: Start Me Up/Undercover Of The Night/She Was Hot/Harlem Shuffle/Mixed Emotions/Highwire/Almost Hear You Sigh/You Got Me Rocking/Love Is Strong/I Go Wild/Like A Rolling Stone/Anybody Seen My Baby?/Saint Of Me/Don't Stop/Rough Justice/Rain Fall Down/Streets Of Love/Plundered My Soul/Doom and Gloom/One More Shot

Bonus Disc: Diddley Daddy/Road Runner/Bright Lights Big City/Honey What's Wrong?/I Want To Be Loved (1963 IBC Session)

Bonus Vinyl 7": Route 66/Cops and Robbers/You Better Move On/Mona (You Know That I Need You) (BBC  Session 1964)

Two-disc 40 track and three-disc 50 track versions are also available!

"This could be the last time - we won't be shelling out for much more!"

Grrrr indeed! The Rolling Stones finally get round to doing the sensible thing and celebrate their 50th birthday by putting all their hits in one place at last, after the 'nearly' set of '40 Licks'. Only, this being the Stones they can't quite bring themselves to stop there and end up releasing multiple versions of the set too - a forty track version that's effectively '40 Licks' again with even worse packaging (what's worse than an ugly big tongue? A gorilla with an ugly big tongue! The only logical development of this idea is if the Stones' 60th anniversary set has The Spice Girls all with Stones tongue logos) and an 80 track version that's superb but hideously pricey and you just know that somewhere down the line the two 'bonus discs' will be out separately at a price you don't have to sell your children to a zoo for. Most people, sensibly, elected to buy the 'middle' ground version 50 track edition - but that one's only slightly more palatable than '40 Licks', cutting off the 1960s classics in favour of lesser 1970s singles after 25 songs instead of 20.Clearly this set still doesn't match the brilliant As and B sides comp 'The London Collection', but after that it probably is about the best set out there for the 1960s collector, giving the casual fan everything they probably expect to find on CD - and full marks both for putting them in strict chronological order this time and for finally giving room to both 'We Love You' and 'Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?' (possibly the two greatest Stones singles of the 60s, obscure as both of them are). 'Come On' and 'Little Red Rooster' get to join the party too for once, though not 'I Wanna Be Your Man' oddly enough. If you're a 70s, 80s or 90s Stones fan, though, feel set to be disappointed: once again the Stones stick religiously to the singles which really aren't the best of the band's material from the period believe me and of the 23 songs here from the same period covered by '40 Licks' the only things 'extra' you get are 'Rocks Off' 'She was Hot' 'Streets Of Love' 'Highwire' 'Love Is Strong' and 'Anybody Seen My Baby?' (though to be fair if they'd thrown in 'Out Of Tears' these would have been about all the songs you'd needed from 1980 onwards). 'Don't Stop' is the only one of the five 'new' songs for '40 Licks' included here. As for the pair of new songs, stapled on the end the same way as '40 Licks' and 'Flashpoint', they're a paltry offering after a seven year absence. 'Doom and Gloom' is an ugly Jagger-led song about the state of the world in the wake of the financial disaster, a decade of misery diluted into a catchy chorus and a Chuck Berry guitar riff. 'One More Shot' is more Stonesy but sounds too close to the opening of 'Mixed Emotions' for comfort, without going to as many interesting places.

Best, then, if you can afford it to buy the full 80 track edition spread across four CDs and a bonus slab of vinyl. The 30 extra tracks have been chosen with care - well, about as much care as any compilation that comes complete with a picture of a grinning gorilla with a big tongue can have - and offer a deeper rummage through the Stones' shelves than any previous set has managed. Album tracks like 'That's How Strong My Love Is' 'She Said Yeah' '2000 Light Years From Home' and 'You Got The Silver' snuggle alongside classic B-sides like 'Dandelion' and 'Child Of The Moon' for the 1960s, 'Bitch' 'Shattered' and 'Dance Little Sister' pad out a still slightly underwhelming single disc dedicated to the 1970s, 'Neighbours' 'You Got Me Rocking' 'Saint Of Me' and 'Love Is Strong' brighten up the 1980s and 1990s no end and three songs from most recent album 'A Bigger Bang', plus recent 'Exile On Main Street' discovery 'Plundered My Soul' makes a fitting end to the three main discs. Given that we've never yet had an actual bona fide Rolling Stones box set (one juggling hits, fan favourites and rarities I mean rather than collections of singles/albums) the full version of 'Grrrr!' is about the best they come - or at least as best as an album featuring that cover and selling for that extortionate price ever can be.
That's not all though because the discoveries on the bonus discs should surely have been better publicised and celebrated, as the greatest most important release from the Stones vaults since the Rock and Roll Circus. Disc four contains all five songs from the legendary first sessions at IBC Studios back in March 1963 and is impressively good, the closest we've got to hearing the Stones as they were originally conceived as a blues/r and b act. Brian is in his element, full of confidence on the harmonica puffing and growly backing vocals while neither Mick nor Keith feel quite comfortable in their shoes yet, still nervy of being in front of engineers for the first time. Charlie too sounds most unlike his future self, with a noisy jazz shuffle that takes the songs in a whole different place, something he'll tome down by the time the band start recording properly in June. Better yet is disc five, released as a bonus vinyl single, which contains the first official release for any of the Stones' BBC recordings (some other AAA bands are on their second release by now!) which as well as three nicely thrilling by-the-seat-of-your-pants takes on the band's 1964 set material features a fascinating take on Kent Harris' 'Cops and Robbers'. These two bonus features would have been better yet had they been stuck together on the same CD and padded out with yet more gems from the vaults, but you have this awful feeling that that dreaded tongue logo isn't through with us yet and will be around to haunt us with another more-complete-but-not-quite 100 track compilation in time for the band's 60th birthday. By which time we'll all say 'Grrrr!' all over again and buy it anyway - this is how the Stones seem to work nowadays, sadly. 

"Summer In The Sun: Hyde Park Live"

(Promotone, July 2013)

Start Me Up/It's Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)/Tumbling Dice/Emotional Rescue/Street Fighting Man/Ruby Tuesday/Doom and Gloom/Paint It, Black/Honky Tonk Women/You Got The Silver/Before They Make Me Run/Miss You/Midnight Rambler/Gimme Shelter/Jumpin' Jack Flash/Sympathy For The Devil/Brown Sugar/You Can't Always Get What You Want/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

"If you start me up I'll never stop!"

All you need to know about how the music business works is that this album exists whereas the original 'Hyde Park' gig from July 1969 - one of the key moments in the Stones' career - is missing on CD. This is, though, one of the better Stones live sets of recent years, superior to most in the way that it features one concert complete and unedited rather than a combination of lots of gigs stuck together and full of extra energy and atmosphere thanks to the outdoor setting. There have of course been a lot of changes since the Stones were last in Hyde Park playing a free gig forty-four years earlier. Brian Jones is a part of rock and roll legend not a recently lost hero; Mick Taylor has come and gone - and is back again with a heart-warming return on 'Midnight Rambler' and 'Satisfaction'; the Stones are no longer rebellious spokesmen of their generation but part of the musical establishment, wheeled on for applause every few years. However considering the time that's past, there's also a lot of similarities: the band know how to work a crowd, have a setlist packed with classics and are even writing a few good new ones in terms of 'Doom and Gloom' enjoying its first live appearance after being released on the 'Grrr!' compilation. The band seem even more comfortable working a crowd too, with Mick on top form all night as he jokes to the crowd about finding his old 1969 clothes in a wardrobe ('Still fits! Well nearly...') and just shy of his 70th birthday he seems a lot more comfortable than he did for his 50th or 60th. The performances of old classics and the setlist is more or less interchangeable with every other set out there, but it's important to note that the band are on slightly better form than other gigs they played that year (including the much saluted Glastonbury set). The encores are especially strong, with an actual choir around to sing the opening of 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' in concert for what must surely be the first time, while the closing 'Satisfaction' keeps on going for what seems like hours, the band having too much fun to leave the stage. If in truth this is one of those gigs where you had to be there to receive the full drama - and granted that the Stones' agreement of giving another free concert after so many years was rather undone by the sheer amount of cashing in they've done on it since with a mass marketed CD and DVD release - this is a healthier, happier Stones than we've had for a while and the album outsold all of the band's live releases since 'Stripped'.

"Sticky Fingers" (Deluxe Version)
(Rolling Stones Records, June 2015)
CD One: Brown Sugar/Sway/Wild Horses/Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?/You Gotta Move//Bitch/I Got The Blues/Sister Morphine/Dead Flowers/Moonlight Mile

CD Two: Brown Sugar ('Eric Clapton Take')/Wild Horses (Acoustic)/Can't You Hear Me Knocking? (Alternate Take)/Bitch (Unedited)/Dead Flowers (Alternate Take)/Live With Me/Dead Flowers/Stray Cat Blues/Love In Vain/Midnight Rambler/Honky Tonk Women (Live At The Roundhouse 1971)

CD Three (Super Deluxe Edition Only):  Jumpin' Jack Flash/Live With Me/Dead Flowers/Stray Cat Blues/Love In Vain/Midnight Rambler/Bitch/Honky Tonk Women/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Little Queenie/Brown Sugar/Street Fighting Man/Little Queenie (Live At Leeds University 1971)

"Brown Sugar - and the other songs - how come you suddenly taste so good?"
'A spotlight on Stu's arse please! Ok, now a spotlight on Keith's arse!' Though 'Sticky Fingers' has never been my very favourite Stones LP (it's hard to look past the end of the Brian Jones period of 1967-1968), it's an album I've always been fonder of than the two earlier entries in the Stones archive series 'Some Girls' and 'Exile On Main Street'. Thankfully the Stones pull out all the stops and raid the cupboards to great effect, coming up with even more rarities than on either predecessor and turning a pretty darn good album into a great one. After their year or so off from making records (forced on them by the reluctance to give Decca anything good during the last years of their contract there), the Stones feel like they were 'ready' to make this album, with lots of ideas spilling out in all directions, which wasn't always the case on their more recent LPs. Sadly these sets don't go down the normal path of 'deluxe' sets by featuring backing tracks and studio outtakes, but what we do get is an impressive 'highlights' set of the most different recordings, backed up by two similar but equally thrilling live shows made to promote the album. Like all the best re-issue 'deluxe' sets nearly every song on the original album is given their share in the spotlight though, most of them given slightly new shape and form as the songs are given different arrangements and interpretations both live and in the studio (a shame there wasn't room for the gorgeous slower bootleg take of 'Sister Morphine' mind - did Marianne Faithfull's lawyers get involved? - or the legendary 'Cocksucker Blues', though you sense the world isn't quite ready for that one even now - but otherwise every track from these sessions is well catered for except 'Sway' and 'Moonlight Mile'). The CD remixes are a slight improvement on the 2009 re-issues too, while the cleverly adapted 'trouser' packaging offers several more, umm, layers as the front cover unfolds.
Meanwhile over on the studio disc the Stones have let their trousers down to reveal how the album was made and as with the last two deluxe sets the dirty underwear may be better than what came out. The 'cream' of the crop' is undoubtedly the a vastly superior 'Brown Sugar' featuring special guest Eric Clapton (Cream? Sugar? The perfect combo!) that makes Mick sound louder than ever as he competes against three top guitarists. The song's lyrics still bother me, but this swampy blues performance is definitely the way to go over the brassy-eyed stare of the finished product. An early take of 'Can't You hear Me Knocking' ends at three minutes rather than becoming an extended Santana jam session, but the first half is fascinating; much tighter and aggressive than the finished cut. An acoustic mix of 'Wild Horses' reveals more Gram Parsons, which can only be a good thing, while Jagger's vocal is even purer than the album cut. Most surprising of all is the original unedited take of 'Bitch' which turns a so-so three minute piece of the Stones doing what they always do into a six minute rant that gets hypnotically powerful by the end and puts even the 'Knocking' jam to shame. How on earth where these great additions not used on the original album? Only a slightly deadened early version of 'Dead Flowers' doesn't quite bloom.
The Stones may have been only the second best rock and roll band in the world in truth (The Who had the measure of them most years), but they're at their concert peak here on the live CDs taken from Leeds University in 1971 (the year after The Who's famous set there) and London's Roundhouse later the same year. 'Get Out Your Ya Yas' from 1970 has long been claimed to be one of rock's greatest live miracles, but the alchemy here is even stronger. I've never heard Charlie play this well or this loud, demanding that the rest of the band pull their socks up and start matching him, while the Mick Taylor-Keith Richards partnership is a real meeting of equals with both men pushing each other to new heights and Jagger is at his outrageous, lascivious best with many of his favourite songs from the years 1968-1970 still in the set lists. 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' has never leapt higher than here in only its second earliest live performance officially available;  the society baiting 'Live With Me' turns from slightly jokey comedy song into an aggressive snarl that suits it much better; 'Stray Cat Blues' turns from a purred good time with an underage girl and a wink into a horrified creepy song where both sides are no longer sure why they're doing what they're doing, drenched in bluesy horns; 'Street Fighting Man' actually sounds like a revolution taking place unlike the slightly wry studio cut; 'Satisfaction' is caught at the halfway stage in its evolution from howl of pain into catchy singalong and takes the best of both worlds and 'Midnight Rambler' suddenly switches gears midway through from gentle comedy villain into a song of evil, Mick getting uncomfortably close to his rapist character and the rush of adrenalin that spurs him on. There's a case to be made that the Stones never played better than they did on their 1971 tour and that this is their greatest live album, twice over, with a few other goodies as bonus tracks stapled on. These Stones re-issues just keep getting better - get your sticky fingers on it while you can. At this rate by the time they get to the truly majestic Stones albums like 'Between The Buttons' and 'Beggar's Banquet' my head is liable to come off!

Bill Wyman "Back To Basics"

(**, July 2015)

What and How and If and When and Why/I Lost My Ring/Love Love Love/Stuff (I Can't Get Enough)/Running Back To You/She's Wonderful/Seventeen/I'll Pull You Through/November/Just A Friend Of Mine/It's A Lovely Day/I Got Time

"I lost my way, there's nothing more to say, giving up paradise - what a price to pay"

You know how it is with Bills - they always turn up when you're least expecting it. A late addition to the book, released ten years after the last Wyman-related album and a full thirty-three after his last solo record, carries on Bill's traditional dryly humorous style and is the sound of the Rhythm Kings backing Bill on  a comedy album more like his 'Monkey Grip' style. The result is quite a fun album that has all the usual strengths (it's well played, with a carefully chosen backing glossy band and has some catchy songs and clever one-liners) and the usual weaknesses (Bill is not your normal lead singer and age has not helped, while the songs feel slightly insubstantial compared to the Stones, like a set of clever B-sides rather than a proper meal). The guests are as numerous as on the Rhythm Kings albums, though Bill takes all the lead vocals this time around and include old friends such as Georgie Fame, Gary Brooker and Andy Fairweather-Low. There's also the usual Bill favourite subjects about love and lust, with a track 'Seventeen' that's the most outrageously misogynistic since 'Stray Cat Blues'. That said this record is a little deeper than in the past, with an excellent pair of opening tracks about trying to pick yourself up after things have gone wrong, Bill surely writing about the media onslaught after his relationship with Mandy on songs that were clearly too personal for the Rhythm Kings and had most likely been kept in a drawer all these years. What's more of a surprise is the return of Wyman's beloved synthesisers, with this album paying an equal sonic debt to the 'Bill Wyman' LP of thirty years earlier. The result is an album that's retro in two ways, nostalgic for the 1950s and 1980s, which makes for an album that's surely unique. We wouldn't have Bill any other way, would we?

'What and How and If and When and Why' has a terrific rocking groove that's a tad more modern than most Rhythm Kings style songs. Bill is terrified, desperately trying to get away from the crazy scene outside before chastising himself for 'hiding, even though you're law abiding'. He's completely unready for the sudden media interest in him and his new fiance and clueless as to how to put things right (Bill did, after all, wait for his young bride to be of age before getting married, though the thirty year age gap was still too much for some). An impressive start.

'I Lost My Ring' is surely dated from later, after the relationship went wrong and Bill is feeling sorry for himself now he's on his own again and 'hasn't got a thing'. 'I feel like a bimbo that never went to school' he whispers in a growl as he kicks himself for being so stupid while a nicely rasping sax groove plays behind. Though funny and full of quick-witted rhymes, there's more emotion here under the surface than usual for Bill.

'Love, Love, Love' is slightly less interesting, a parody of every love song ever written as Bill tries to work out what love really is, giving us instead a list of all the supporting items like flowers and rings that love isn't.

Bill must really like 'Stuff' because this is its third release now, after being part of an unfinished 1992 album and a Rhythm Kings record. This is probably the best, caught somewhere between the over-synthed original and the retro swing of the second, but this isn't the hidden Wyman classic I'd have chosen to keep re-recording, repetitive and over simple.

'Running Back To You' is nice, though, with an eerie descending piano riff that contrasts nicely with Bill's over optimistic words. The feeling is that he never had a moment's doubt he'd get back together with his girl - but she's adamant she's not getting back together with him.

'She's Wonderful' is a belated love song full of so many 1980s synths that it seems a fair guess that this song too dated from that decade and his years with Mandy. It's pretty, but also pretty empty.

So far I've given Bill the benefit of the doubt over his complex love life (what's for us to say how deep or real their love was?) but there's something deeply sinister about 'Seventeen'. It's not just that it's a by-now seventy year old man leering over someone a half century his junior: it's that Bill is using that a measurement for his girlfriend being old enough to make up her own mind and that as she's above the age of consent now the relationship is 'legal'. But I knew here when she really was a child and she's so much more of a mature woman now!' Bill argues, which is a stance that somehow makes everything worse, the bassist admitting that Mandy wasn't old enough when they first met but he hung around waiting anyway. The Beatles-borrowed references to a 'movie queen' from 'I Saw Her Standing There' rather miss the point too: Paul McCartney was only eighteen when he first wrote them so Bill's hidden agenda of 'hey, how come when our rivals sing it it's a classic and when I do it I'm a criminal' don't quite hang together either. The flirtatious backing singers don't help much either. Bill's biggest musical mistake?

'I'll Pull You Through' is quite lovely though, Bill offering comfort and support over a nicely urgent pop backing that tries hard to sound happy and joyful, though the mood seems forced - the very sound of someone saying 'it'll be alright' when they don't quite mean it themselves.

'November' sounds like the same song with the same mid-tempo percussion heavy rhythm, as Bill has reached the point in life where time is passing so quickly Bill's lost his grasp on it: 'Is it a Monday? Or a Tuesday? Are we in November?' he nervously asks.

'Just A Friend of Mine' features some strong Fairweather-Low guitar work to raise it up a level but Bill's whispered vocals about another sexual encounter (at least in his head) is slightly off-putting too.

'It's A Lovely Day' is an out and out pop song as Bill and his loved one take a walk down the beach away from the prying eyes of the world and he seems sweetly concerned for her welfare, telling her 'everything's going to be OK!'

'I Got Time' closes the album on the only out and out blues song. Bill complains over the way he's been treated and wonders whether the sentence of ex-communication is equal to the crime, but he's patient enough to know that it will all blow over one day. The mood is enhanced by the fact that, most likely, that's exactly what's happened with this song another old one from decades past dusted off many years down the line when Bill's Rhythm Kings career have helped to change people's minds about him.

'Back To Basics', then, is an unusual album even for Bill. Most of it seems obsessed with events that happened decades ago (Mandy was 44 the year this album was released, with an age gap to Bill's 77 that most likely wouldn't have turned heads at all), while caught between the sound of Bill's original pop muses and the lessons he's learnt with his Rhythm Kings band. At times it's excellent, full of well written dramas where Wyman has never sounded more vulnerable or likeable as he tries to protect those around him. And at others Bill sounds as if he still can't understand why the world is mad at him for falling in love with a schoolgirl, still obsessed with memories of her young age when they first met. This is, in truth, only 'basics' in a Bill Wyman sense - this is a still an album no one else would ever have considered making. 

Keith Richards "Cross-Eyed Heart"

(**, September 2015)

Crosseyed Heart/Heartstopper/Amnesia/Robbed Blind/Trouble/Long Overdue/Nothing On Me/Suspicious/Blues In The Morning/Something For Nothing/Illusion/Just A Gift/Goodnight Irene/Substantial Damage/Lover's Plea

"It's just a game where the rules never change, it's just the roll of the dice that puts you on ice"

Following Keith's muck-spilling autobiography 'Life' into the shops at  - by current Stone speeds - quite a pace, it seems that the guitarist has kind of assumed that there won't be a reconciliation for his comments any time soon. You see, the problem with only releasing one album a decade or so is that you don't have enough material left over for making solo albums: by releasing quite a full album's worth Keith seems to be putting the Stones on the back burner in a far more controlled and spiteful way than Jagger ever did in 1985 when songs were rather more plentiful. The two projects sound pretty connected too at times - the sound of a man trying to sound old and wise who comes close to greatness, but can't help still acting juvenile at times and throwing in a few more digs at old friends for good measure. The album finds the guitarist on peculiarly grumpy form, still moaning about being 'robbed blind' by managers and complaining about other people mud-slinging when his own book set the Stones peace treaties back about a century. Keith's profile has never been higher than now, with his cameos in the Pirates of the Caribbean films bringing him new respect and Mick's disintegrating relationships bringing him new barbs. The trouble is, Keith knows it and it feels as if he's playing on it a lot on this album where, more than ever, he 'becomes' Jagger. The first two Keith Richards solo albums sound like Keith sticking rigidly to the Chuck Berry riffs he knows best or stretching out for a sound far away from the Stones' own, respectively, but 'Cross-Eyed Heart' is just another modern day Stones album where the Jagger songs happen to have been cut out. Keith's lead is richer and more tuneful than ever as he's become more used to using his lived in voice and his songs mine rock, pop, reggae, country and blues to more or less the same quota as 'Bridges To Babylon' and 'A Bigger Bang'.

At the time of writing the world has been going mad for this album, released twenty years after Keith's last and it's been piling up appearances in 'end of year lists' quicker than any of our more recent AAA albums have. People have gushed about Keith's stronger voice and articulate songwriting without seeming to notice that Keith's made it easier on himself this time by never stretching his vocal and that co-writer Steve Jordan deserves more of the credit for any merit in the songs (where the lyrics tend to outshine the melodies) - and he's clearly no Jagger. In truth 'Cross-Eyed Heart' is less remarkable than either of Keith's earliest two solo albums or 'A Bigger Bang', while it pales in comparison to the work the band had been doing most recently on the end of the compilation 'Grrrr!' The only song that stands out from the template songwriting of Keith's recent music here is 'Illusion', an unexpected collaboration with sweet-tonsiled Norah Jones (surely Keith's vocal polar opposite!), but that's surely more to her input than his: finding a meeting of minds of sorts over some rasping slow blues Norah has never sung better on a more dangerous song with more layers than her usual material. Elsewhere, though, two-thirds of this album plays it too safe by giving us sleepy Keithy and the other third falls down spectacularly by stretching out to new sounds: the sort of Jagger only just about gets away with and which don't suit Richards at all (the gung-ho hip-hop 'Substantial Damage' is a candidate for worst Stones moment since the 1980s). One other problem is how little guitar there is considering this a solo album by a guitarist - at least on the other two solo albums you knew the guitar breaks and riffs would be good, but much of this record is on strummed acoustic or uses piano or horns and can go for long minutes without any guitar at all. What bothers me isn't that this album is so ordinary - Keith's been living off Emperor's New Clothes-style reports of genius for decades without having to earn it - but that everyone should have assumed this album is so extraordinary, with universal praise that this is the best album any of the Stones have done in decades. Like it or loathe it, there's precious little here to love because 'Cross-Eyed Heart' isn't an album that says anything or goes anywhere, it just does what Keith has always done with about a tenth of his usual passion. Perhaps the worst Stones-related record in this book and right at the end too, just when we seemed to be getting away with an impressively slow slide into mediocrity.

The acoustic blues title track 'Cross-Eyed Heart' is a pale blues song, watered down and diluted by Keith's lack of passion and some clumsy lyrics. 'I love my sugar - but I love my honey too' sings an adulterer who expects us to feel sorry for him because he has to make a choice between two gorgeous girls. That cross-eyed heart? Let it bleed.

'Heartstopper' is a half-hearted retro rocker with Keith growling where Mick would normally be soaring. The Stones might have turned this track into a so-so song, but here the performance just plods as Keith tells us about all his contradictions - that his girl doesn't like him yet still loves him and he's a strict vegetarian who loves his meat when he falls off the wagon. It's 'Hello Goodbye' for OAPs.

'Amnesia' is one of the better tracks on the album and sounds as if Keith is 'remembering' the time he didn't have a memory, during the spell immediately after his fall from that infamous palmtree. Keith recalls the horror of briefly not knowing who he was, 'luggage without an address', before his mixture of pride and guilt as his memories about who he was came flooding back. A shame the half-hearted blues-rock riff isn't stronger, though.

'Robbed Blind' is a slow weepie blues that has the opposite problem: the piano-based melody is rather lovely and the closest to being inspired on the whole album, with shades of 'This Place Is Empty', but the lyrics are dreadful. An over-wordy song about the narrator's wife being robbed, it's unique for having Keith on the side of the police not the outlaws.

'Trouble', for instance, offers to help those on the wrong side of the law whilst simultaneously tut-tutting that they have to do this all over again. It could of course be about anyone, but this lyrics feels as if Keith might be moaning about Mick here and having to support his unusual love life in the papers yet again after L'wren Scott's suicide. It's exactly what a brother would say - or a songwriting partner of fifty year's standing - full of tetchy love and pride.

'Love Overdue' proves that Keith still hasn't learnt that he can't do reggae himself at all, in any way shape or form. Every bit as embarrassing as those reggae original you used to skip on 80s Stones albums, Keith doesn't even have the gung-ho spirit of Jagger to get him out of trouble and this Gregory Isaacs track - so moving in it's original form - just casually drifts along.

'Nothing On Me' is the song that perhaps works best on the album, a slower version of Keith's favourite Chuck Berry riff stapled to the lyrics from 'Before They Make Me Run', with Keith everyone's favourite outlaw. The people he's on the run from, though, are probably the paparazzi, as Keith delights in keeping silent when 'they want me to squawk' and leading them on wild goose chases 'when I go for a walk'.

'Suspicious' is a hideous re-write of ';Losing My Touch' complete with over-heavy drum part and OTT girl singers. 'I deserve some sympathy!' Keith wails, without giving us any reason why as he has a dream about an old love (Anita Pallenberg?) and wonders all over again where the partnership went wrong.

'Blues In The Morning' is a badly generic blues song that makes Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings look the most inventive band ever in contrast. A boogie woogie shuffle that goes just the way you expect it to, it's rescued only by some brief guitar breaks that prove Keith has still got a little of 'it' left. Interestingly, Mick Taylor had recorded his own entirely different original song 'Blues In The Morning' on 'A Stone's Throw' fifteen years earlier.

'Something For Nothing' has a nice Dire Straitsish groove and a more elaborate sound than most on the album, but Keith's pitying words about having no money and having to 'beg from the poor' are awful with a chorus that runs 'Pity me! Pity me! Pitiful me! Yeah, poor pitiful me!' so bad it hurts.

'Illusion' bucks the trend at last, a nice slow bluesy piano duet that features Keith rasping his way through the album's best lyric as he begins to wonder whether his latest romance is over or if he's just reading the signs wrong, too afraid to ask outright in case he doesn't get the answer he wants to hear. Despite a long aversion to Norah Jones' sickly breathy pop, she's superb here, drifting through the song with her own problems, anxious to know what Keith's character thinks of her. The other album highlight, even if the tune borrows heavily from 'Almost Hear You Sigh'.

'Just A Gift' is more slow weepie ballads as he moans about someone always hanging round the photographers 'shooting stars in bars' and wishing they'd grow up and 'find yourself'. This is surely another dig at Mick and a complaint that he doesn't appreciate all the gifts he has - which might have worked had Keith not spent a song of his own singing 'pity poor me!' and moaning about his rather large bank balance. At least the last verse is sweet, though, offering to 'meet ya down the stairs' next time his friend needs someone to confide in.

The Ledbetter cover 'Goodnight Irene' should be right down Keith's alley but instead it's one of the most wretched things I have ever heard. This track makes Bob Dylan sound like the greatest singer ever, whole the backing is perfunctory and Keith completely misses the point. This godawful cover will leave your ears ringing for days.

'Substantial Damage' is, would you believe, worse. A noisy modern hip hop song that made 'Bridges To Babylon' look like a retro rock record, it's the sort of song that pretends to understand what the young trendy things are up to while only throwing clichés at the song. In the context of the album it sticks out like a sore thumb.

The album ends with 'Lover's Plea', a country ballad that's kind of ok without being strong enough to be an album closer. Keith both does and doesn't sympathise with a person's recent troubles (Mick's again?), telling them that if he has to he'll walk a million miles for them - but he really doesn't want to.

Overall, then, there aren't many reasons to own 'Cross-Eyed Heart' unless you're a mad passionate Keith fan or you feel so starved of Stones product ten years after any of them made a full LP that you have to buy something. Given the yawning gaps between releases, though, it's clear that something's gone wrong: 'Heart' may have taken ten years of writing but it still feels rushed and unfinished, more in need of Mick's co-writing than Keith would ever admit. At least when Mick tried to replace his partner in 'Superheavy' he found four extra co-writers and a whole new style; Keith's just doing another lacklustre Stones album and he can't do that on his own. A major disappointment.

Other Stones related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:


'No 2' (1965) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/the-rolling-stones-no-2-1965.html
'It's Only Rock 'n' Roll' (1974) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-rolling-stones-its-only-rock-and.html
'Black and Blue' (1976) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/the-rolling-stones-black-and-blue-1976.html

'Some Girls' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/news-views-and-music-issue-30-rolling.html
'Emotional Rescue' (1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/the-rolling-stones-emotional-rescue-1980.html
'Undercover' (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/rolling-stones-undercover-1983-album.html

'Steel Wheels' (1989)http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/news-views-and-music-issue-113-rolling.html
'Bridges To Babylon' (1998) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/the-rolling-stones-bridges-to-babylon.html

Rolling Stones: Unreleased Recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/another-journey-through-past-darkly.html





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