Blue and Lonesome – The Rolling Stones
A solid 25th album from the stalwart rockers
Bearing a combined age of 289, the resilience of the Rolling Stones' four key members – particularly the notoriously indulgent Keith Richards – is a fact of nature which we can't bring ourselves to go on about while the vengeful curse of 2016 still remains in play. So let's talk instead not about their vitality, but their work ethic. The closing months of this year bring us a retrospective exhibition in London, a brand new live film made in South America, and this, their 25th album in 54 years of life as a band.
Only their third release in two decades, and the follow-up to 2005's A Bigger Bang, Blue and Lonesome appears to draw a full circle around the band's recorded career, taking them back to their early days of thrashing out noisy, uncluttered blues covers. It's unashamedly, wholeheartedly retro, a throwback so purist that it doesn't even allow itself a foray into the Motown vaults or the work of an artist like Bobby Womack or Allen Toussaint, unlike those early records. Yet let's not confuse age and old-timeliness with a lack of energy; this isn't some weird, aspic-trapped hour with slippered feet up on the gramophone, but a project borne of love, respect and attention to detail.
It sounds great, by which we mean raw and loud and generally free from obtrusive production – or rather, such a smooth production job as to mirror the style of four decades ago and more, courtesy of Don Was and the Glimmer Twins (Richards and Mick Jagger themselves, in other words). The opening 'Just Your Fool', a track by New York jazz pianist Buddy Johnson sets the scene, a crunching, rowdy barroom rocker with heavy swathes of harmonica and a sturdy vocal from Jagger, wrapped in his best wumman-done-me-wrong indignation.
The biggest surprise – if there are any to be found here – isn't as much in the enduring sturdiness of the dynamic between Richards, guitarist Ronnie Wood, drummer Charlie Watts and their session players, but in the power of Jagger's vocal at the age of 73. He lowers it a grizzly octave for Howlin' Wolf's 'Commit a Crime' and effects a solidly forlorn holler on the title track, recalling something of Van Morrison in his Them days.
Of course, the audience for this record can more or less be split into two factions; those whose devotion to this band is absolute – in which case they won't be disappointed, particularly as Eric Clapton's guest guitar swaggers through 'Everybody Knows About My Good Thing' and peals away over Willie Dixon's 'I Can't Quit You Baby' – and those whose curiosity may take a little more satisfying. The latter group, even after they've heard Jagger's masterful theatrics on 'Hate to See You Go' and 'Hoodoo Blues', or the prickly 'It's All Over Now'isms of 'Just Like I Treat You', may struggle to see the point, but five decades buys you a lot of indulgence when you remain so good at what you do.
Blue and Lonesome is out now on Polydor.