Album Reviews

The Rolling Stones – Rarities 1971-2003

(Virgin) UK release date: 28 November 2005


Rolling Stones - Rarities 1971-2003What is it that drives a man to collect? What is it that turns Steve from IT Support, a normal man driving a beige Volvo, into a slavering, desperate animal who’s sole purpose in life is to acquire the rare 12″ version of Brown Sugar which has Mick Jagger belching Rule Britannia on the b-side, and who’ll do anything, anything to achieve that goal?

Well, whatever it is, it’s what Rarities 1971-2003 is supposed to tap into. But for those who don’t know offhand what Charlie Watts’ middle name is (Robert, by the way), there’s nothing here to get particularly exited about.

There’s some passing curiosity in seeing them hark back to the 12-bar blues template on covers (Mannish Boy) and B-sides (Fancy Man Blues), but nothing that a quick blast through Exile On Main Street wouldn’t best. There’s oddities which sound better on paper than in practice: a version of Harlem Shuffle with Tom Waites, Patti Scialfa and Bobby Womack on backing vocals is an interesting proposition, but in reality is just unfocused and pointless and the live versions capture nothing except the nagging feeling that if you’d been there it might have been pretty damn good.

It’s fun to hear Keith sing, mind you. Richards lends his vocal chords on two tracks salvaged from later era Stones, and you can then amusingly note the man sounds exactly like he looks: ravaged, battle-scared and plain fucking cool – a proper blues singer. He’s got a voice you can swear in; when Jagger resorts to profanity (on Beast Of Burden) he sounds like your twelve year-old cousin trying to convince you to buy fireworks for him, whereas when Richards announces “he’s got them fuckin’ blues” on Thru And Thru it sounds like he means it, despite the fact he’s a 60 year old rock star with �200million in the bank, and presumably very little to be blue about.

Nothing ‘unearthed’ here adds anything to the Stones legend. Nothing is re-imagined in a way that makes you think they should have done in that way in the first place, nothing was thrown away prematurely before it had the chance to blossom into beautiful life.

Still, Wild Horses is an astonishingly brilliant song, perhaps the apex of one of the most endearing partnerships in music, and hearing the 1970s incarnation of the group swagger through the Chuck Berry’s Let It Rock can’t help but put a smile on your face, but ultimately Rarities is just one for the fan club. For those who’s devotion doesn’t run to the slavish, it’s a little bit unrewarding,


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