Album review

Rolling Stones : Forty Licks
Virgin / Abkco / Decca

Rolling Stones : Forty LicksThere's a theory that suggests you are either a Beatles or a Stones fan; that you can only ever really love one or the other. Me? While I can appreciate why The Beatles are held in such high esteem, it's the music of the Rolling Stones that really connects. This review might be a little biased then . . .
    Celebrating four decades of music (give or take), Forty Licks is the first Stones compilation to properly pull together their early Decca output and their post '71 stadium hopping years, and still find space to add four new songs. This double disc set is also a good excuse to put the Mick'n'Keef show back on the road. If you have notions of this band being vaguely comical and well past their sell-by-date, drop your preconceptions and go and see them live; they can still put the majority of younger bands to shame.

So Forty Licks is mostly about nostalgia, and nostalgia doesn't get much more potent than on disc one, which covers 1964 to 1971. "But what can a poor boy do, 'cept to sing for a rock'n'roll band . . ?" Street Fighting Man is a classic, no doubt. Except so is Gimme Shelter; the incredibly evocative lead guitar work gels perfectly with Merry Clayton and Mick Jagger's vocals.
    And so it continues . . . I feel severely under-equipped to analyse songs such as You Can't Always Get What You Want and Sympathy For The Devil. At risk of repeating myself, there's not one song on this disc which couldn't be considered a classic. It's the ruthlessly distilled essence of one of the world's greatest bands at their creative peak. You could argue about what's been left out, but never about the quality of the songs that made the cut.

Disc two covers '71 onwards, and with the inclusion of the new tracks tries to cram in over 30 years of Stones history. What is truly telling is that in comparison this disc is left wanting. It is true that you should have a copy of Start Me Up in your collection - likewise for Tumbling Dice, It's Only Rock'n'Roll and Mixed Emotions - but while there's some very good material here, the majority isn't in the same league as the likes of 19th Nervous Breakdown and Paint It, Black. Not many songs are.
    Of the new tracks, Stealing My Heart is impressive, as is Losing My Touch; which is a Keith Richards solo track in all but writing credits.

As a chronicle of the Rolling Stones, Forty Licks is spot-on. If the second half of this set isn't as good as the first, that's because the Stones aren't as great as they once were. Hot Rocks 1964-1971 has more Decca-era material, but you'd still have to buy Jump Back: The Best Of The Rolling Stones to get a copy of Start Me Up.
    As it stands, Forty Licks is the most comprehensive Rolling Stones compilation out there . . . just be prepared to edit out some of the chaff on disc two.

:: Rowan Shaeffer

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