The Rolling Stones restart the cycle with 'Doom and Gloom'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
A reviewer in Musician magazine once wrote that, more often than not, a new album by the Rolling Stones feels more like Phase One of a three-year business plan than actual artistic expression. With the way the band has operated since 1989, it’s hard not to see it that way, even if the music is good.
That thought came flooding back to me as the Stones announced the beginning of their plans to mark their 50th anniversary, with shows in London and Newark scheduled for the end of the year, and a giant, globe-spanning tour in 2013 almost seems inevitable at this point.
Of course, this was preceeded by a few days by the release of “Doom and Gloom,” one of two new songs recorded for a three-disc, 50-track career compilation, bizarrely titled GRRR! and pulled together to have a new record to promote and peddle as the milestone arrives.
The collection itself follows the playbook set by 40 Licks, released as the band hit their 40th anniversary in 2002. That set featured 40 songs over two CDs, with four new songs recorded for the effort and a few of the remaining 36 hits edited down to make the whole thing fit. These snipped songs weren’t radio edits or single versions, either. Tracks like “Miss You” and “Anybody Seen My Baby?” were edited in ways that were certainly recognizable to longtime fans.
But that set did its job. There were new songs to play live, notably the single “Don’t Stop,” the artwork gave the band a new set dressing for the shows, and they turned the entire thing into an 18-month, worldwide journey. That’s Phase Two of the plan, by the way. Phase Three is the inevitable live album that’s sure to follow in a year or two, just as Live Licks arrived in stores in 2004.
GRRR!, at least, seems to be a better collection than its 10-year-old counterpart. The longer setlist will give a better overview of the band, and a quick glance at the song lengths seems to suggest that there won’t be any strange edits this time around. Of course, to really entice collectors, there’s an 80-track edition that adds more songs, and a box set that slabs the entire thing on vinyl and comes with all the requisite bonuses such a set requires.
The Rolling Stones are typically better at masking their intentions. Usually, they’ll record an entire album to make this happen. On 40 Licks, there was a higher percentage of new songs. Instead, GRRR! repackages the back catalog and wraps the entire thing in some head-shaking artwork of a gorilla with the Stones’ famous tongue logo.
So what saves this whole strange enterprise? That “Doom and Gloom” is, once again, better than expectations. It has a solid riff that recalls “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” though without any of that song’s actual earth-shattering impact. But it rocks surprisingly well. Mick Jagger sounds committed to a lyric that moves from misogyny to narcissism to current world politics and back, which is a series of avenues he’s always been comfortable navagating. The guitars, led by Keith Richards and aided by Ronnie Wood in the ancient art of the weave, are viscious. Charlie Watts sounds as steady as ever. This is not, as Richards wrote in his autobiography Life, “what Mick heard in the club last night.” It’s a Rolling Stones song, and it’s a better-than-average one.
Yes, it’s nearly guaranteed to be the fourth or fifth song in the setlist every night as they celebrate their 50th anniversary, wedged in between “Let It Bleed” and “Start Me Up” and the like. “Don’t Stop” was given the exact same treatment in 2002. But it’s also the vehicle by which the band tries to remain vital, and that will get them back on the road, back on stage, back making music.
The Rolling Stones don’t fare well on reality TV and on newsstands. The business plan is annoying. But they’ve always been at their best with the actual music, and “Doom and Gloom” will allow that to happen again. That it’s also a decent enough song is a nice bonus to the fans, and a feather in the band's cap as they march towards certain financial glory.
Oct. 16, 2012
E-mail Nick Tavares at email@example.com