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New Songs No Match for Vintage Stones

September 29, 2002|Natalie Nichols

If repackaging classic tracks put the Beatles and Elvis back on top, the Rolling Stones can darn well do the same with "Forty Licks," due in stores Tuesday from ABKCO/Virgin. Right? But by adding four new tunes to three dozen remastered "classics," these two discs inadvertently prove we don't need new Stones songs.

*** The 36 Hits. The '60s and early '70s songs (the 20 tracks on Disc 1) are revolutionary and iconic, but the rest here (those from 1971 to 1997) are spottier than you might remember. In particular, the selections from 1989's "Steel Wheels" and 1994's "Voodoo Lounge" are diluted rehashes that only underscore the diminishing returns of sticking to the same sonic and thematic formulas.

* 1/2 The Four New Songs. New numbers such as the borderline-precious rocker "Stealing My Heart" or even the jaunty flirtation "Don't Stop" could only sound tepid against the still-electrifying "Street Fighting Man" and the elated jangle of "Happy" (though there is no small irony in putting a digital sheen on the vintage tracks at a time when so many younger rock bands are mining the gritty roots the Stones thrust down four decades ago).

Mick Jagger still plays the elusive seducer, but when Satan realizes he's distilled the leash-yanking triumph of "Under My Thumb" into the bored, Van Morrison-esque ballad "Keys to Your Love," the Evil One will doubtless throw up. Keith Richards' album-closing piano ballad, "Losing My Touch," isn't really the best setting for his boulder-tumbled voice. But within it lies a glimmer of discontent. "Baby, get me outta here," he croaks. Yes, please.

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