Wednesday 13 December 2017

Stones back to roots and blues to find satisfaction

Jagger and Richards may well act like a divorced couple. Yet The Rolling Stones's new CD reconnects them

Still rocking: The Rolling Stones perform at the Glastonbury Festival
Still rocking: The Rolling Stones perform at the Glastonbury Festival
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

When marrying," Friedrich Nietzsche said, "ask yourself this question: 'Do you believe that you will be able to converse well with this person into your old age?' Everything else in marriage is transitory."

Many times down through the decades, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards's relationship in The Rolling Stones has seemed like a bad marriage. For years they have appeared like a grouchy divorced couple, only to get back together when we least expected it - for money not love.

The main thing is, I suppose, in their old age Mick and Keith, both 73 years of age, can still stand each other sufficiently to talk to one another, albeit contractually.

In the promotional pictures for the new album Blue & Lonesome the footwear is a dead give-away that the Rolling Stones are definitely not the drugged-up libertine mavericks of yore.

Elder statesmen having amassed vast fortunes and vast amounts of ex-wives, they are wearing runners of the sort old people whose knees or hips have gone.

The antiques rogues show or not, as Keith has said himself so beautifully: "The idea of retiring is like killing yourself. It's almost like harikiri. I intend to live to 100 and go down in history."

Their new album Blue & Lonesome is an exhilarating, if a bit obvious, collection of blues covers by a band that started off by playing these songs. Eddie Taylor's Ride 'Em On Down, for instance, was on the set-list for the Rolling Stones's very first gig: July 12, 1962 at the Marquee in London.

Listening to Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie shake their septuagenarian money-makers reminds you just how good in their prime (in a galaxy called the 1970s and with an album called Exile on Main St.) the Rolling Stones once were as a band.

Blue & Lonesome - the Stones's first proper, full-length album since A Bigger Bang in 2005 - is a back-to-basics return to authenticity for the band that have seemed to been phoning-it-in for the last few decades. The Stones recording tracks like Memphis Slim's Blue & Lonesome, Buddy Johnson's Just Your Fool, Otis Hicks's Hoo Doo Blues, Howlin' Wolf's Commit a Crime, Magic Sam's All Of Your Love, Little Walter's Just Your Fool and Little Johnny Taylor's Everybody Knows About My Good Thing - with Eric Clapton adding a few solos to the mix here and later on Willie Dixon's I Can't Quit You Baby - "has to be viewed as an overdue act of love, not a retreat to safe harbours", as Neil McCormick says in his review in The Telegraph.

They are not museum pieces officially just yet. There is life in their bones still. At 73 - the vintage age of an old blues shouter raised in a shack on the Mississippi Delta in the 1920s - Jagger can still cut it with a vocal swagger that is bewitching to hear. Bewitching because these are precisely the sort of songs that he and Keith were born to play.

Blue & Lonesome is a fitting homage to their roots: a re-connection to the source, a return to the post-war Chicago blues that gave birth to The Rolling Stones.

Go on YouTube now and watch the 1981 concert - The Stones with Muddy Waters: Live at the Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago - to see just how happy, and bewitching, Mick et al are when they are playing that kind of music (Hoochie Coochie Man, Mannish Boy, among them).

Here on Blue & Lonesome, Jagger is not singing some lyrics he dashed off in between buying furniture for his chateau in the South of France and playing tennis with his accountant.

It seems more real when he sings lines like "You put poison in my coffee instead of milk and cream" on Commit A Crime, or on All Of Your Love, he is begging the woman who cuckolded him: "I hate to be the one/The one you left behind."

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