Cinema requires the suspension of disbelief to operate. Music, by contrast, often needs a suspension of cynicism in order to provide its serotonin hit.
You might argue that the Rolling Stones have long been a gimlet-eyed heritage operation, with Messrs Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood shareholders in a profitable legend that pumps out product and tours to a moneyed audience of heavily co-invested baby boomers willing to shore up that giant mouth logo with their cash. The zeitgeist largely goes on elsewhere.
Occasionally, though, the Stones put something truly electrifying to all comers: Keith Richards’s 2010 autobiography, for instance, or this unexpected album of blues covers, recorded over a three-day period in December 2015. If you’re wavering on track one – a good-time cover of Just Your Fool, originally popularised by harmonica player Little Walter, a mainstay of this album – then track two, Howlin’ Wolf’s Commit a Crime, seals the deal. In comes the disreputable guitar of Keith Richards, circling like a jackal. It’s not hard to imagine Charlie Watts cranking out this strutting beat with a sly grin.
Women are quite often evil in the blues, but this lady has actually tried to poison Howlin’ Wolf (drain cleaner in his coffee). It’s to Jagger’s credit that he doesn’t ham it up excessively. He just sounds pissed off, like he’s gargled that drain cleaner before whipping out his harmonica. On I Gotta Go, that mouth organ becomes a freight train.
Nobody has ever doubted how tight the Stones can be, but these are 12 tracks in which they swing hard and, moments later, turn on a sixpence – or a dime, given this album’s love of Chicago. Blue & Lonesome loops the Stones back around to their creation myth, when childhood friends Jagger and Richards recognised each other at Dartford station – Keith with his guitar, and Mick carrying two imports from Chicago’s Chess Records (a plaque marks the spot).
This labour of love finds the Stones and their associates – bassist Darryl Jones and twinkling pianist Chuck Leavell – having a high old time, playing tunes they know inside out; fellow obsessive Eric Clapton dropped in from the studio next door to dash off a couple of solos; one on Everybody Knows About My Good Thing. Jagger, meanwhile, wrings offhand innuendo out of lines such as “call the plumber, darlin’, must be a leak in my drain”.
Cynics might wonder if Blue & Lonesome is acting as bait for the recently released Rolling Stones in Mono box set, where vivid blues covers by the nascent Stones figure. Throughout, the sound on Blue & Lonesome captures the clatter of a largely live band loyally rendering the music of their heroes. Despite the title, and against the odds, it is an album full of joy.
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