BLUE AND LONESOME by The Rolling Stones
Genre: Chicago Blues
Favorite Songs: None
In a year that has been defined by deaths of multiple musical legends, and by just being really, really shitty in general, the idea of a new Rolling Stones record, the first in 11 years, is a comforting one. Even if they’re well past their prime, the Stones have been a relative constant in the music industry and on the road for well over 50 years. The unprecedented longevity of their act is an incredible accomplishment in itself. Mick Jagger still, at 73, oozes charm, and is a very capable rock and roll frontman. It’s some kind of medical miracle that Keith Richards is still alive and able to play guitar (his chops are… diminished, sure, but more on that later). And, you know what? Regardless of whether they put out new music or not, if they can still sell out arenas and draw people into the desert for a weekend as a headliner, why not keep going? People still want more of the Stones, and they’re kind enough to oblige.
But, if you were expecting BLUE AND LONESOME, the sole 2010s entry into the Stones’ catalog, to be as solid as some of the other comeback efforts we’ve seen this year, you might be gravely mistaken. Many might grade this album on a curve for a few reasons — first, because the Stones are all in their 70s and, as I said before, the fact that they’re solid musicians still is both impressive and a comfort, and secondly because it’s made up entirely of old blues covers. Some might praise this move, ostensibly an attempt at a “back to basics” approach for the Stones, as timely.
There is some credence to that argument, as there hasn’t been a record like BLUE AND LONESOME released this year. Unfortunately, the reason for that is that there should not be a record like BLUE AND LONESOME released this year. This is not the sound of an aging rock and roll titan reinforcing its legacy; this is the sound of the “blues rock” band clutching to a long-gone dream that you saw at a free festival, probably serving barbeque or crawfish, filled with aging white men armed with a harmonica that JUST. WON’T. GO. AWAY, whose CD you bought mostly out of pity and a desire to support local artists.
There really are no high points on this album. It all feels grossly outdated, mostly because each of the songs were written at least 60 years ago and rigidly adhere to their riff-based 12 bar blues structure. It’s not the songs themselves that make BLUE AND LONESOME so disappointing as an effort — it’s the fact that the Rolling Stones add nothing to these songs. Their versions are unvaryingly stale Chicago-style blues rock, and though a couple of guest spots from guitar hero Eric Clapton help to elevate them at certain points, it really does feel like listening to 42 minutes of the same song, over and over again. The artists that they cover on this record — longtime Led Zeppelin muse Willie Dixon, Buddy Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf are just a few — are an essential part of the American music canon, and they deserve the utmost respect. The Stones are, of course, heavily influenced by these musicians, as almost all of the hard rock bands of the 1960s were, but it’s a challenge to pay homage to these songs without having it come across as pale imitation.
The most damning moment is album closer “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” a Willie Dixon song that most will recognize from LED ZEPPELIN I. Though the song is considered a blues standard, covering a song that the Stones’ former contemporaries played puts them up directly against their past, and really the only thing that it accomplishes is reminding us that their abilities are diminishing. I have no doubt that the 1969 Rolling Stones could have delivered a punishing version of this tune, and if you had to pick the “best song” on this record, this one would be it (largely thanks to an excellent Clapton solo). And yet, Jagger feels the need to deliver this in a bizarre imitation of Robert Plant, and the whole thing is a strange cap on a string of forgettable songs.
It’s not a surprise that a group of musicians in their twilight period released a subpar record, but for a band as well-regarded as the Rolling Stones, the expectations should not be lowered. Plenty of famous musicians close to their age have released quality records — LPs from David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Nick Cave are considered some of the year’s best, and other “olds” like Bruce Springsteen still release quality records full of original music. Even the Stones themselves released an excellent song just four years ago called “Doom and Gloom,” which had all of the swagger and spirit of their early work. BLUE AND LONESOME feels like a major letdown in comparison, and the feeling lingers that, had they put in the effort, they could have done better.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend