The Stones take a trip down memory lane and prove that they still have a little shit left on their shoes
Compiled from secret live gigs in Paris and Amsterdam, along with rehearsals during the group’s Voodoo Lounge tour, Stripped is one of those albums many Stones fans have always wanted but never thought would come. That it took them so long isn’t something I would blame on Keith Richards, nor any other member, except for one: Mick Jagger. Because let’s face it, Jagger isn’t exactly renowned for his fondness of nostalgia. This is the man who once described their greatest album, Exile On Main Street, as “a bit overrated” (one wonders what Keef thought of that quip), which makes this LP an anomaly of sorts.
It’s true the band had been in a gradual state of artistic decline since the Seventies, increasingly suffering from a form of creative entropy, as bands often do, where each album after It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll yielded fewer riches than the one before it. So what are we to make of it then? For a start, the title is a tad misleading. Stripped ain’t exactly MTV Unplugged (now that’s one performance I’d like to see), nor does it approach the hormonal raunchiness of Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! or any of their early recordings for the BBC (another archive release waiting to be exploited), since not every performance is completely devoid of pomp and ceremony.
“Like A Rolling Stone” is given a rousing anthemic rendering, but seems over-bloated, even for them, while “Shine A Light,” a song apparently never performed live until the Voodoo Lounge tour, is welcome yet falls far short of the version on Exile (perhaps someone ought to have made a quick call to Mick Taylor). Although fortunately throughout the majority of the LP, the Stones manage to redeem themselves for any of their musical misdemeanours of yore.
Kicking off with a genuinely gritty “Street Fighting Man,” a performance propelled along by acoustic guitars played at gale-force strength and Ronnie Wood’s mandolin, Stripped also boasts a surprisingly heartfelt reading of “Love In Vain” (Jagger never really sounded all that sincere on the original, so extra points to him for his delivery here), and there is even a resplendently sloppy “Wild Horses,” on which they successfully pull off the closest approximation to its Sticky Fingers counterpart I’ve yet to hear.
On the most stripped-back numbers, “Little Baby” and “The Spider And The Fly,” one can close their eyes and almost imagine Brian Jones’ poltergeist hovering somewhere in the background. “Dead Flowers” is given a fairly perfunctory run-through, including decent though rather dull versions of “I’m Free,” “Slipping Away” (no not the Max Merritt song) and “Angie.” Better is “Let It Bleed,” where the Stones sound like they’re actually paying attention, while old chestnut “Sweet Virginia” is another highlight, as if Keith were attempting to summon the ghost of Gram Parsons.
Whether the LP was merely some cynical cash-in on the popularity of all those Unplugged albums, or an authentic reflective journey through the past one may never know, however what is certain, is that on Stripped, The Rolling Stones dug a lot deeper into their catalogue than they had done for many a year, proving that there was more to their latter day selves than inflatable penises and expensive stage shows. Stripped is the work of a band we always knew was there, but never again thought we’d see.