Monday, February 21, 2011

Rolling Stones 36: Stripped

Since they’d just finished another world tour, obviously it was time for another live Stones album. In a not entirely original move, they stayed away from a typical arena-rock souvenir, choosing instead to use tracks from smaller club dates and live-in-the-studio recordings. (Perhaps this way they could also get away with the occasional overdub?) Stripped—not exactly Unplugged, but a more ribald title—turned out to be a surprisingly good album, leaning as it does on rarer songs and more intimate performances.
The album is mixed in such a way that all the disparate sources blend into one. A certainly in-concert “Street Fighting Man” leads into a faithful cover of “Like A Rolling Stone”, complete with harp solos. In fact, Mick’s harp helps drive “Not Fade Away”, which isn’t all that different from when they’d recorded it thirty years earlier. “Shine A Light” gets a response from some crowd somewhere, with Chuck Leavell’s piano dancing over the acoustic guitars. “The Spider And The Fly” and “I’m Free” are unexpected trips back to Swinging London, while another version of “Wild Horses” provides a shift in dynamics.
The idea of an acoustic strum whilst visiting the past continues on “Let It Bleed” and “Dead Flowers”, while “Slipping Away” (sung by Keith, from Steel Wheels) is the album’s only recent cut. “Angie” is taken pretty straight, with canned strings supporting Mick’s lack of range. A trio of bluesy numbers closes the set: “Love In Vain” (complete with audio-verité false start), “Sweet Virginia” and the return of saxman Bobby Keys, and the album’s other new song, Willie Dixon’s “Little Baby”.
Stripped provides a nice diversion for both the live album genre and the Stones live album category, portraying these aging geezers as masters of their craft, who knew the value and importance of shutting up and playing in an industry where music was becoming more processed and easier to manipulate. That said, it’s not the type of album that would rise above any of their other recent work.
Of course, other live recordings of the era would find their way to CD singles around the world, causing much gnashing of teeth among collectors. But that’s nothing compared to the strange revival of the project two decades later. Totally Stripped was made available in a dizzying array of formats, beginning with a revised documentary packaged with a CD (or double-LP) compiled from three of the concerts, repeating only one track, but not the only song, from the original album. Deluxe editions tacked on those three concerts (Amsterdam, Paris, London) on DVD or Blu-ray. This time the emphasis is more on the intimacy of the shows rather than rare material, and certainly not “unplugged”. Therefore we get cool renditions of “Gimme Shelter”, “Midnight Rambler”, “I Go Wild”, “Miss You”, and even “Rip This Joint” with a false start.

The Rolling Stones Stripped (1995)—3
The Rolling Stones Totally Stripped (2016)—3

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