The Rolling Stones have been around the block.
It has been fifty-four years since childhood friends Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were reunited by chance on the Dartford train platform and struck up a conversation about the Chicago blues albums tucked under Mick’s arm; in that time, their partnership has evolved from a teenage blues cult into a globe-straddling rock and roll empire.
The story of the Glimmer Twins’ rise, and the swath of hedonistic destruction left in it’s wake, has been told and told and retold, and the grittier details are still etched plainly in the crags of Keith Richards’ face. Lots of bands play rock and roll; the Stones are rock and roll–or at least, they are the closest you could come to distilling the values and aesthetic of that ever-expanding genre down to a single entity.
You could argue that they have achieved everything that it is possible for a rock band to achieve. Which is why it seems fitting, in a way, that Blue and Lonesome, their 25th studio offering, finds them sitting back in their rocking chairs and reminiscing about the music that first stoked their collective fire. Blue & Lonesome is a collection of old blues standards, and cover albums have a tendency to feel a little bit unnecessary; by contrast, this one comes across as the logical endpoint to a musical evolution that has spanned half a century and change.
The Stones raised their castle on a foundation of blues music. With no more worlds left to conquer, they are now finding themselves back where they started–and, more than any album they have released since the 1970s, they sound like they are having fun. The simple structure of these old blues standards gives Keith Richards and Ron Wood ample room to wander, weave and interlock guitar lines as only they are capable of, and Mick treats the lyrics with the wizened sneer of a guy who has seen it all.
The album’s strongest cut, the Little Johnny Taylor hit “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” (featuring a turn on slide guitar by Eric Clapton), showcases Mick at his best: while the lyrics rail against a woman who has done him wrong, he sings it with the underlying sneer of a man who knows full well he has wronged plenty of women in his day.
These days, there is a tendency to caricature Mick as a shrewd businessman with dollar signs in his eyes who doesn’t care about the music anymore, maaan, but it’s hard to believe that given how much power and feeling he can still bring to the songs he loved when he was young. Unlike a fair amount of the Stones’ recent output, Blue & Lonesome feels like a labor of love.
It is a portrait of a band in its comfort zone, an homage to the artists that shaped rock and roll by a group of musicians who are well-equipped to do them justice. The Stones spent decades adapting to every musical trend from psychedelia to disco, but it seems they have stopped trying to evolve; they no longer have anything to prove
. They may not be breaking any new ground musically anymore, but why should they? This is the music they were born to play, and there may not be anyone left in the world who is more qualified to play it.