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Time to Jack It In?

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

So The Stones at Glastonbury. Was that something you had to be there for? Cos watching them on TV, I just didn't get it. Reviewers such as the Guardian's Alexis Petridis (who's opinion I generally really respect) praised the band's ragged energy. Friends who were there have also told me the venerable rockers' set went down a storm. I have no reason to doubt them, they are people of good taste who genuinely love music. And yet... And yet...

Now, this isn't some 'look at them, they're so old' pile of trash. Not only is that snide viewpoint so easy and cheap to trot out, it's also a pile of ageist and ignorant balls. Many of The Stones' blues-men inspirations kept on chugging away well into their pensionable years and were celebrated for that, so why should The Stones hang up their guitars?

A lot of people who come out with the "Ew, look at Mick Jagger's wrinkly face" stuff aren't exactly hip young gunslingers themselves. I don't really care what Jagger or Keeth look like. As far as I'm concerned, If you spent most of the 60s, 70s and 80s as a living dumping ground for every toxic substance going, and you can still not only walk and talk (with reasonable competence) but also bash out the riff to 'Paint It Black', than you deserve a round of applause, full-stop.

However, listening to the band turn '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' into a bland, white-soul mush, complete with tacky horn fanfare, strung out for way too long, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that The Stones circa 2013 are nowt but a competent Rolling Stones tribute act, a fact hammered home by the embarrassing hash they made of '2000 Light Years From Home', a psychedelic gem they wrote but seem to have forgotten how to play.

So The Stones lack passion and rock 'n' roll spirit, and they're basically just doing it for the cash, you say? Well, what's new? They've been that way since the mid-70s at least. But Mick and co are just the granddaddies of a trend that's been gaining momentum for a few years now, where bands with a huge store of public love reform for big gigs but release zero or scant new material, instead choosing to exist in some weird state of semi-hiatus, coming back every few years for some high-profile (and usually expensive) gigs, all the while laughingly puncturing rumours of a new album.

And I'm not just talking about the big ol' dinosaurs here. We expect this from The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zep etc. After all, those bands have lost significant members and their glory days are long passed. But what of our indie heroes? Pixies, Blur, Pulp, The Stone Roses, New Order. True, a couple of these acts have made vague noises about 'having a go' a new material, and a new song might sneak out every once in a while, but that's certainly not the kind of comeback most fans would like to see.

Could it be that the paucity of new material is down to the fact that the members of these bands aren't really mates any more, but just some people who work together? After all, Damon Albarn can barely fart around other musicians without it resulting in a new side-project and album, no matter how incongruous the collaboration seems to be (Hello, Flea and Noel). Some of them don't even like each other, and make little attempt to hide that. Witness Kim Deal's recent exit from Pixies, just as they released new song 'Bagboy', their first in nearly a decade.
The response from the remaining members? They just replaced her with another Kim (Kim Shattuck of The Muffs, in fact) and continued with their tour. After all, no one's irreplaceable these days, not even if they wrote and sang on some of your best songs. Perhaps they should have done what Judas Priest did when Rob Halford left and got in someone from a Pixies tribute band? It's only showbiz after all.

All in all, it makes Morrissey and Marr's continuing refusal to get onstage together and act like old mates for a ton of cash look like a cast-iron commitment to artistic integrity, a phrase you won't see sharing a sentence with Morrissey's name that often these days. The former Smiths, at least, seem to grasp that doing it for money in middle-age would effectively shit all over everything the songs they wrote together were about. As much as I wish I'd seen The Smiths in their prime, I hope they stick to their guns on this one.

So should The Stones call it a day? Not necessarily. If they still want to play their songs and people want to pay to hear them do that, why shouldn't they? And if we don't like that, we don't have to watch them, listen to them or read about them doing it. I don't expect any better from those old boys.

And I'm not saying Blur, Pulp et al should stop playing gigs either, but they should do the decent thing and at least try to exist as operating bands again. Otherwise, as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter if they're playing the O2 Arena, or Hyde Park, or Glastonbury or whatever. They're just the same as those 80s nostalgia packages that pack out Butlins.
Butlins, coincidentally, is currently taking bookings for its Ultimate 80s Weekend, featuring "Toyah, Dr & The Medics, Limahl and more". "Remember Hammer pants, shoulder pads, dodgy mullets and boys wearing eyeliner?", its website asks. Hey, remember when the indie band you loved had a soul?

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