With the Rolling Stones finishing their recent tour of South America, and talk of a new album in the near future, Jamie Stainer asks: is the group past it?
Back in September, Keith Richards confirmed that the Rolling Stones had been in conversation over producing a new album. Seven months later, rumours began circulating that it would be focusing on going back to the band’s blues-based roots, and that it could be released anytime from late 2016 to 2017. The album, if produced, will be their 30th in a career spanning over half a century, and their first studio album since 2005’s A Bigger Bang. While the Stones continue to be popular with fans to this day, their releases since the critically acclaimed Tattoo You have not received such favourable reviews; especially live albums such as Still Life and Flashpoint.
It would seem that the Stones are beginning to lose their touch as time goes on. They are yet to return to the standard of classics like Paint It Black, Gimme Shelter and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. I suspect this is more a matter of age than ability; Ronnie Wood is the only member still in his sixties, with the band possessing a combined age of 286 years. This seems to have somewhat limited the quality of their music, with most releases since 1981 not really living up to the standards of previous albums such as Beggar’s Banquet, Sticky Fingers and the brilliant Exile on Main St.
The latter is a conglomeration of different styles including blues and country that results in a vast feast of expertly-crafted rock often described as Keith Richards’ finest moment. The album opens with the fabulously bluesy Rocks Off, featuring a clean, bluesy guitar and punctuated by a relentless horn section. The country music influence is particularly present in Ventilator Blues in the glissando-filled guitar part. Exile on Main St is a brilliant album with instant appeal; I guarantee that you will find yourself nodding your head in time to each track, whether you intended to do so or not. If you’re still unconvinced, then look no further than the six countries where it sat at the top spot. Even on its reissue in 2010 it made it to the top 10 in 21 countries.
Compare that to 2005’s A Bigger Bang and one can clearly see how age has affected their quality. NME’s Dan Martin made this point very clear when reviewing that album in 2005, describing it as “no masterpiece” and “the best record they were going to make.” The album received very mixed reviews. It would seem that at this point the Stones are really past their best and that a new album may be just as mediocre as the previous one.
It’s almost as if the band haven’t realised that they’re no longer in their twenties.
As bands get older they seem to lose their energy, style, and in many cases their vocal range, and this increasingly appears to be a problem for the Stones. At their most recent performance in Cuba, Mick Jagger still pranced and strutted around the stage in the same way he always had, Keith Richards bent his knees dramatically whenever he played more accentuated chords, but this is all that seems to be left of their former selves. It’s almost as if the band haven’t realised that they’re no longer in their twenties, and their management haven’t the heart (or nerve) to tell them.
Although the band’s age is noticeably beginning to show, and they cannot produce records of the quality of their past efforts, the Stones’ continue to retain a vast and loyal fan-base of all ages. Perhaps it’s their unwillingness to stop doing what they love, at an age many musicians begin to wrap up their careers, or the fact that they still possess a surprising, albeit decreasing, amount of instrumental skill for their age, that maintains their popularity across all ages.
The Rolling Stones are getting past it. Despite the fact that the quality of their albums has slowly deteriorated since the 1980s, the band’s global popularity will ensure that, even if their new album follows this downward trend, it will still sell millions of copies. Looking at their age, it’s really time they called it a day – but alas they won’t.