The Rolling Stones – GRRR! (Polydor/Universal) CD REVIEW

THE PROBLEM WITH compilations of bands that have kept on selling themselves way past their use-by date is that, inevitably, they end up compiling a lot of useless, pointless dross to justify the fag-end of their careers.
There are already plenty of pretty good Rolling Stones compilations available, and the better ones – like the recently reissued Rolled Gold – focus entirely on the period in which the band was churning out its rock’n’roll classics, the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
I know it’s the band’s 50th anniversary and all that, but really, did they have to? GRRR! is just about the laziest ‘best of’ by a major band I’ve ever seen. Quite apart from the music itself, this three-disc cash-in has the most arbitrary title, the lamest cover illustration, and the most feeble liner notes imaginable. That is: there are no liner notes, just a small selection of photos and a full list of the songs. And therein is another reason for complaint: while the song titles and composers are noted, we’re not even told the most rudimentary information about the rest of the track’s providence (date of release, chart action, etc). That’s a very poor show.
So, what of the music? Well, the first disc is overwhelming evidence that the band didn’t really take flight until 1967 with songs like ‘We Love You’, and that earlier material was mostly imitative and thin. Although its 17 songs do include well-known numbers like ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ and ‘Paint It, Black’, there’s a sense that the band hadn’t yet quite connected to its core values.
Those are in plentiful display on the second disc, where the famous swagger of songs like ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ provide undeniable proof that the group needed Brian Jones dead and gone to find its mojo, and here we get track after track of rock classics that will no doubt ring their two chords down through the decades.
Unfortunately, those songs don’t hold much residual fascination for this music lover. As good as they are, how many times in one lifetime does anyone need to hear ‘Brown Sugar’?
The final disc, however, makes the second look like the holy grail. With only the empty disco posturing of ‘Miss You’, and ‘Start Me Up’ to entertain, what we’re left with here is The Rolling Stones as an increasingly empty husk, the shell of a band who only keep making music out of habit, and to feed the habit of superstardom; a band who haven’t made a decent album since the early ‘70s. Oh, and there are a couple of terrible ‘new’ songs just to get hardcore fans to buy it all over again.
More than any of the progressive rock bands derided at the time by punk bands and a music media needy for change (and less musical complexity because it’s easier to write about simple stuff), the Rolling Stones were amongst the most deserving villains in the corruption of rock music as a folk-art form. After starting out as street-fighting rock’n’roll rebels (yeah, right), seemingly overnight they became strung-out tax exiles with no real reason to exist. If any band can be said to have shat all over the architecture of their own artform, soiling their own heritage, it’s the Rolling Stones.
Fans will point out supposed high points out of the 17 songs on the third and final disc, but they’re few and far between, and even at their best, just chewing over the same old glories.
If there’s ever another Rolling Stones compilation, I’d like to see a quadruple album of rarities from the lost years. Part of it would concentrate on fated 1967 psychedelic album Their Satanic Majesties Request, with its appealingly wrong-headed attempts at anthems for flower children; the other part could dig up all the most stoned, narcotised, empty grooves from the group’s Black & Blue album. Now, that’s a version of the group that hardly gets a look-in on this most humdrum of compilations. GRRR!, alright! GARY STEEL

Music = 3/5
Sound = 3.5/5

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