Forty Licks

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones' answer to The Beatles' 1, Forty Licks has the distinction of being the first all-encompassing hits package of the band's 40-year career. Covering four decades over a 2-CD retrospective was undoubtedly a jigsaw of a job when it came to deciding what went and what stayed. We're talking over a couple dozen studio albums that need to be whittled down to two-and-a-half hours tops. Yes, there are the obvious ones. Then, there are the not-so-obvious ones, most of which are from latter day releases the band feels are necessary to include, if only for comprehensive sake. So we get "Mixed Emotions" and "Love Is Strong" instead of "Live With Me" or "Dead Flowers" because of the balance (sheet?) factor. Which is why there should have been a 10-disc Stones box set for all the whiners (and there's plenty of them if you know where to look). That's who the ABKCO remasters are for.

Forty Licks is, for all practical purposes, exactly what it sets out to be: a safe and sound 36-track compilation with four "new" songs to show that the Stones are still hacking away in a forward looking kind of way. It's like they are the Cal Ripkin, Jr. of rock and roll, despite the unevenness of their output; we should just be grateful they're still going. The problem, however, is that the Stones have chosen to write some really bad bonus nuggets that, in no certain terms, hardly measure up to anything else on the set. "Don't Stop" and "Keys To Your Love" sound like outtakes from Mick Jagger's last solo album. If Keith Richards sanctioned these throwaways, he's finally losing his marbles. "Stealing My Heart" shows some of the old bark and bite the band is occasionally able to pull off without too much fuss, but then it quickly loses its steam when "Tumbling Dice'' comes a-rolling in behind it. And don't even get me started about "Losing My Touch." Voodoo Lounge's "The Worst" or Let It Bleed's "You've Got The Silver" would have been better representations of Richards' earthy vocal talents when it comes to ballads. We're always sitting on the edge of a square hole-in-one when that card is dealt.

Fortunately, Forty Licks is still worth the price of admission because of everything classic and Stonesy it puts on display. "Street Fighting Man," the opening number, is a pure adrenaline rush of the first order. Whether "Out of Time" or "Lady Jane" would have filled the gap much more effectively than "Not Fade Away" or "Have You Seen Your Mother Baby?" is a debate better left to the parking lot of the MGM Grand (buy the ABKCO remasters!). No one in his right mind will sneeze at pumpin' remasters of "Satisfaction," Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Sympathy For The Devil," "She's A Rainbow" and "Brown Sugar." If you own a decent copy of Hot Rocks and your hearing is shot, you might not even bother with disc one. But if that's the last Stones record you bought, having disc two will at least bring you up to speed. "Start Me Up" may have gotten a bloated boast from Microsoft, but it's still a spunky little number with an irresistible bounce. Throw in "Angie" and "It's Only Rock n' Roll," and you have enough to keep the kids occupied. After that, you're on your own.

~ Shawn Perry

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