The Good: Some decent tracks/live renditions
The Bad: Not the best mix of all time, SHORT!
The Basics: Stripped is a live album by The Rolling Stones that is surprisingly mellow, dull and repetitive, making it easy to not recommend.
The Rolling Stones are quickly becoming a band that I think got lucky based on what was available at the time. This was reinforced for me when listening to their album Stripped when my wife walked into the room and heard "Not Fade Away" and asked, "Is this that song with 'Who do you love?' in it?" When I replied, "no," she observed, "They all sound alike." Stripped seems surprisingly lethargic and this "live" album seems to trade mostly on the novelty of The Rolling Stones singing Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone," which they might not do elsewhere.
Released in 1995, Stripped is a live album from performances The Rolling Stones did at The Paradiso Club in Amsterdam and the set list seems remarkably limited. In fact, the band seems to have chosen an odd mix of songs that even sound alike; when "I'm Free" begins, it actually sounds remarkably like Dylan's instrumentation for "Like A Rolling Stone." What fans of The Rolling Stones might actually enjoy about Stripped is what more casual listeners are less likely to like; this is not an anthology of "the best of The Rolling Stones" presented live. So, instead of having all the classic songs that appear on virtually every compilation, this has a few less remarkable songs - like "Angie" - presented in acoustic or live presentations. The Rolling Stones are decent about it, though, in that they do not include much in the way of crowd noises to sell the listener on the idea that this is a live album. But still, there is little recommend this outing, which is more average than anything else.
With only fourteen songs, clocking out at 59:28, Stripped is a mix of the works unique to The Rolling Stones and a couple of cover songs. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote eleven of the songs and the other three were not even co-written by members of the group. The quartet of Jagger, Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Woods provide the principle vocals and instrumental accompaniment on this album, but none of the members of the group share in the production end of the album. So, how much of the album is the musical vision of The Rolling Stones is questionable, but it does generally seem like this is the album the quartet wanted to make.
Unfortunately, this recording of alternate versions of previously released songs is not terribly exciting. The entire album has a lack of energy to it that is overwhelming. In fact, were is not for the sounds of the crowds at the end of "Dead Flowers" the sense that The Rolling Stones were playing to an empty house might come through. While the group does cull from throughout their thirty year songbook, the late-60s and 70s works seem to dominate the album. But because some of the earlier works were lyrically and vocally driven, these alternate live takes - of songs like "The Spider And The Fly" - have very little variation from the original. Moreover, some of the song choices like "Angie" (another song which the band uses the live audience conceit on) merely serve to remind the listeners how listless some of the band's years were. "Angie" is lyrically repetitive and the live version lacks any sense of passion or anguish.
As far as the instrumental accompaniment goes, Stripped is very simple and the album sounds like what it is four guys on guitar, bass, and drums with the occasional presence of a keyboard player. In fact, one of the biggest surprises for me (after eight listens to the album) was looking at the liner notes and discovering there was a saxophone on some of these songs; the sax never dominates or even becomes recognizable! In addition to being fairly simple in the instrumentation, many of the songs chosen sound alike. "Angie" and "Wild Horses" have similar slow-tempo guitarwork with little zest and none of the songs have emotive force that comes through in the instrumentals. Instead, this is a homogeneously slow, ponderous, mellow rock collection.
Vocally, the songs are driven, as always, by Mick Jagger. Jagger does a decent drawl on "Dead Flowers," which he presents with a flavor similar to Southern rock (which is closer to Country/Bluegrass than rock and roll). He has a similar accent on "Let It Bleed," but otherwise he sounds like Mick Jagger, albeit a tired Jagger. On this album, he lacks zest or zeal, as if he is sleepsinging his way through the performances. Songs like "I'm Free" work best when Jagger sings with his trademark defiance and energy, but on "Stripped," he gets the lyrics out and if one were to attempt to envision the performance, one would be left imaging a static positioning of the lead singer throughout. Jagger even seems to have trouble wrapping his mouth around the lyrics to "Like A Rolling Stone" at the speed with which he needs to deliver them.
As for the lyrics, Stripped suffers the same way many albums by The Rolling Stones suffers in that the lyrics are tremendously repetitive. The adaptation of "Love In Vain" that was done for this album has the lines ". . .the train left the station, it had two lights on behind" ("Love In Vain") three times in a row and considering the song is only twelve lines long, this is dreadfully repetitive. Unfortunately, this is not the exception to the rule. Stripped has songs where the titles of the songs appear repeated throughout so many times that one would think that the setlist was chosen so if any member of the band lost their place, they could look at the title of the song and have a fair guess at getting the lyrics to the song right!
The exception to this is the song "Wild Horses." While the song does, in fact, have the title repeated several times throughout the song, it actually has a decent musical storysong that entertains listeners. Jagger is able to emote fairly well when he sings "I watched you suffer a dull aching pain, / Now you've decided to show me the same / No sweeping exits or offstage lines / Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind / Wild horses couldn't drag me away" ("Wild Horses"). The song is emotional and in touch in a way the rest of the songs never achieve. Indeed, Jagger presents "The Spider And The Fly" without a leer, instead sounding bored as he mulls his way through it.
Ultimately, that's the problem with Stripped, it's The Rolling Stones light on energy and the album uses too many tracks that sound like one another to make one feel like they are attending a concert. Or, if this were a concert, we are left feeling cheated that we paid for cheap tickets and received such cheap results.
The best song is "Like A Rolling Stone" and truthfully, any of the others outside "Wild Horses" would be a fair pick for low point.
For other works by The Rolling Stones, please check out my reviews of:
The Rolling Stones, Now!
Out Of Our Heads
Jump Back: The Best Of The Rolling Stones: 1974 – 1993
Bridges To Babylon
For other music reviews, please visit my index page!
© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.