Saturday, January 8, 2011

My First Anthology By The Rolling Stones: Jump Back Is Not All The Best.

The Good: Some memorable songs by The Rolling Stones
The Bad: Not a lot of universally recognizable songs
The Basics: A very average compilation, Jump Back: The Best Of The Rolling Stones adequately compiles the band's music after their obvious peak.

When The Rolling Stones were my Artist Of The Month, I discovered something truly wonderful about The Rolling Stones: I am not a fan. As my wife groaned when I put in another album by The Rolling Stones, Jump Back: The Best Of The Rolling Stones, "They all sound the same!" It is hard for me to argue with her, especially when this compilation began playing and "Brown Sugar" followed "Start Me Up." Those two songs, along with "It's Only Rock 'n Roll" all sound remarkably alike! But as I contemplate this compilation, it occurs to me just how powerful a name can be.

The Rolling Stones were contemporaries of The Beatles. However, when The Beatles disbanded, The Rolling Stones generally did not. As a result, there are "Best Of" albums of works of The Rolling Stones that include more iconic hits by the band than "Jump Back." This compilation focuses on the years from 1971 - 1993 and in some ways, it is a remarkably stark collection. Eight of the songs on this "Best Of" did not make it onto their master anthology, Forty Licks. And from classic rock stations that I still hear The Rolling Stones on in my area, only "Brown Sugar," "Beast Of Burden," "Start Me Up" and "It's Only Rock 'n Roll" that are still played. My point here is that there are few truly timeless songs by The Rolling Stones on this album and the ones that are readily available elsewhere.

With eighteen songs, clocking out at 75:43, Jump Back: The Best Of The Rolling Stones is very much the musical vision of The Rolling Stones from 1971 - 1993, right before the band lost bassist Bill Wyman. The only song not written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards is "Harlem Shuffle." The quintet plays all of their own instruments and Jagger and Richards do all of the band's primary vocals. But none of the members of the band are credited as co-producers on the album or any of the tracks, so one has to ask how much the band was setting trends and how much they were tools of their producers.

This becomes especially germane when one listens to the music of The Rolling Stones as it is presented on this compilation. While the band does occasionally add pianos or keyboards to their songs ("Beast Of Burden," "Fool To Cry"), they are mostly a guitar, bass and drums band with emphasis on the guitars. In fact, the only song with truly memorable percussion is "Undercover Of The Night," which closes the album with a wicked beat that is produced to be prominent. But, as mentioned, most of the songs do sound alike. The songs are pretty traditional, dancable rock and roll tracks with a decent beat and a guitar-driven sound. But when the group isn't doing that, they are making mellow rock ballads that sound like pretty much whatever others at the time were doing ("Fool To Cry" actually sounds a lot like the Bee Gees!). But more often than not, the songs are up-tempo rock and roll tracks, like "Rock And A Hard Place" and "Hot Stuff," that sound like exactly what one might expect from rock and roll and/or The Rolling Stones.

Vocally, there is little diversity on "Jump Back" to surprise those who like The Rolling Stones. While "Hot Stuff" has a slightly funkier flavor and includes greater use of backing vocalists as does "Harlem Shuffle," most of the songs are vocally driven by Mick Jagger. As far as he goes, he has a pretty solid baritone range and he articulates generally well. When he is not blending his voice in with the accompanying vocalists, he manages to sound defiant and like a rock and roll legend who has something to say. "It's Only Rock 'n Roll" stands out as one of the album's best tracks for the vocals because Mick Jagger actually has a passion and a force behind them, making it seem like he has something to say and the energy and will to say what it is he wants to say.

But the real failure of "Jump Back" is that too frequently, The Rolling Stones do not seem to have anything unique or interesting to say. Instead, this is an album where they either focus in a remarkably tired way on love or on what making music still means to them. In this regard, the only lyrically superlative song is "Beast Of Burden." Amid passe songs about breakups or being aimlessly in love, "Beast Of Burden" does what few rock and roll songs do; it questions the relationship and the musical antagonist without just moping. Indeed, Jagger has the defiance of "It's Only Rock 'n Roll" when he more plaintively sings, "I'll never be your beast of burden / I've walked for miles / My feet are hurtin' / All I want is for you to make love to me . . . I'm not too blind to see" ("Beast Of Burden") and despite the fact that the song is instrumentally derivative of other songs on the album, it works because the song poetically explores the emotions and desires of the musical protagonist.

But outside that, the songs do tend to be very traditional rock and roll songs, even if they dabble some in instrumentation that might even seem like disco at times. Lyrically, "Angie" is very much a typical rock ballad with its lines "Angie, Angie, when will those rain clouds disappear . . . You can't say we never tried" ("Angie"). The song is so unmemorable that my mother, who lived through the years this was on the radio and she was an active listener had never heard this song. It is, truth be told, not an extraordinarily-written song and it is not the only one on the album like that.

The fundamental problem with the songs in this era of The Rolling Stones is that their music has become far more formulaic and stylistically dull.. There are no sweeping, epic musical storysongs like "Ruby Tuesday." In the place of songs like that, there are short, radio-friendly songs that repeat the title of the song so many times that there is no imagination or finesse to the writing. Songs like the popular "Start Me Up" and "It's Only Rock 'N Roll," along with the less well-played "Angie" and "Waiting For A Friend" repeat their refrains so many times that the album is a tough sell as a result. This is definitely an album featuring the band after their best works were already behind them.

Even so, I ultimately opted to recommend this album because the songs are not terrible and some of the less well-known tracks that did not make it onto Forty Licks (most notably "Harlem Shuffle") do sound different from other songs by The Rolling Stones and this might make some appreciate the band more, without having to buy all of the albums these tracks were compiled by. But largely, this album is only for those who want some pretty generic rock and roll music.

The best track is "Beast Of Burden," the low point is the less memorable "Tumbling Dice."

For other works by The Rolling Stones, please check out my reviews of:
The Rolling Stones, Now!
Out Of Our Heads
Sticky Fingers
Bridges To Babylon


For other singles and albums, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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