What were they thinking? By the early ‘80s The Rolling Stones were an unstoppable machine, an inexorable not to mention commercial rock and roll juggernaut that not even an interplanetary collision between the earth and a comet could avoid. By the time Still Life was released, gone were the ragged improvisations of old, as heard on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out (the last truly great Stones album), replaced instead with slick professionalism, and stadium theatrics to shame even the Romans.
Beginning with less than half a minute of Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train”, the concert gets going with a bullet-proof version of “Under My Thumb”, the sort of misogynistic pop song no modern band could get away with today. Jagger’s voice is in top form while the band is well oiled and proficient throughout. A smooth, almost yawn inducing “Let’s Spend the Night Together” follows, so smooth in fact that the song could have been the latest advert for Pepsi. Whatever happened to the sense of danger? The energetic “Shattered” is merely The Stones imitating punk, while their cover of Eddie Cochran’s classic “Twenty Flight Rock” is hardly enlightening, and serves as little more than a distraction to the listener.
“Going to a Go-Go” sees them mix things up a bit, and is a fun track for sure, while “Let Me Go”, despite the band’s expert playing, just doesn’t really go anywhere. They dig out and polish the old classic “Time Is on My Side”, where one can’t help but get the feeling that Mick is merely going through the motions, as any true entertainer can. It’s hard to tell. “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” is notable mainly for the interplay between Richards and Ernie Watts on saxophone. It’s hardly genius, but then who says that rock has to be.
“Start Me Up” might lack the depth and vibrancy of its studio incarnation, but as far as live versions go, it will do. We have a sped-up “Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, as if the whole band were on speed, however it seems to lack the grit, and filthy tones that made the tune a revelation in the first place. In its stead what we seem to get is the equivalent of an advertisement for rock and roll soft drink.
Still Life has its virtues, to be sure, in an age when bands of their vintage who didn’t make an attempt to keep up with the ever changing times would be immediately relegated to the musical scrap heap. Although something tells me that even if they had of remained true to their roots, The Rolling Stones would have continued to overpopulate stadiums the world over. Such was their magnetism and power. Strangely the album concludes with a live recording of Hendrix’s version of the “Star Spangled Banner”, something for the baby boomers one assumes.
If I had to flip a coin as to whether it’s the debut by Flock of Seagulls or Still Life, I reckon it’s the latter that certainly deserves to win. Not a bad album, by any stretch, just a product of its time.