Music Review: The Rolling Stones’ ‘Black and Blue’

The Rolling Stones' Black and Blue

In a recent interview with journalist Chet Flippo, Mick Jagger opined that the Rolling Stones would eventually run out of steam and could not go on forever. Perhaps. But the group’s marvelous new album, Black and Blue, suggests otherwise.

The musically and lyrically rich “Memory Motel,” a seven-minute tour de force that recalls “Moonlight Mile,” will stand as the album’s best track. Combining an often painfully sharp portrait of a volatile love affair with evocations of the joys and sorrows of concert touring, the song boasts fluid instrumentation, an intimate, inspired Jagger vocal and a haunting Keith Richard refrain.

While not a match for that number, most of the remaining material proves good indeed. “Hand of Fate” and “Crazy Mama,” a pair of quintessential Stones rockers, feature stinging lead guitar work by Richard and enough overall energy to compete with much of Exile on Main Street.

“Fool to Cry,” a soul ballad, well limns a mood of quiet desperation wIth a minimum of lyrics. And on “Melody,” a delightful Billy Preston–inspired romp, Jagger performs stunning vocal gymnastics while the band and the guest keyboard player maintain a satisfying, jazzy ambiance. By contrast wIth these tracks, “Hot Stuff” and “Hey, Negrita” are just riffs, but while neither of them is sufficiently well developed to rate with the Stones’ best, each offers an intriguing, intricate jam.

That those two tunes never quite coalesce is not the album’s only problem. For one thing, the production by the Glimmer Twins (a.k.a. Jagger and Richard) frequently lacks focus and discipline. And on “Cherry Oh Baby,” the only non-original and sole real clunker here, the band proves directionless. The perfunctory work of the usually pliant-voiced Jagger suggests that his wide talent may not range to reggae.

Black and Blue, nevertheless, will surely be remembered as one of the year’s most ambitious and satisfying records. While some people may argue that another outfit deserves to be called “the world’s greatest rock and roll band,” the Stones remain, at the very least, among the cream of the crop.

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