The senior citizens of rock are strutting their stuff on stage this month.
The Rolling Stones and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney are earning high marks for their live performances on their respective tours. But if you weren't lucky enough to get tickets to Mr. McCartney's sold-out show Tuesday in Atlanta, or for the Stones' sold-out Oct. 15 show at Philips Arena in Atlanta, the best way to experience fresh music from old favorites is through their new CDs.
And on CD, the results are mixed.
Geezer Mick Jagger and Gaffer Keith Richards and their Stone mates have turned out a solid effort with A Bigger Bang (EMI), while vegan country gentleman Mr. McCartney shows a need for some red meat in his diet with Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard (Capitol).
A Bigger Bang is a vital addition to your Stones collection, the first CD of new music that's worth buying since the early 1980s.
Mr. McCartney's Chaos and Creation offers a gaggle of appealing tunes but lacks substance. It's not a disaster like the self-indulgent McCartney 2 (remember Temporary Secretary?), another album in which he played most all the instruments and was the lone vocalist, but it's little improvement over his middling 2001 effort, Driving Rain.
The difference between success and failure from the rock icons is in the approach.
The Stones are still the World's Greatest Rock Band.
Mr. McCartney alone is no Beatles. Or even Wings.
You want Mr. McCartney to succeed. He's an effortless genius at churning out bright, breezy pop, but he's in dire need of an authoritative voice to call him out on his eccentricities and put a little sweat equity into his tunes.
He's long needed another John Lennon to draw blood and offer a counterpoint to his terminal happiness, and producer Nigel Godrich was supposed to serve that purpose with this disc. But that counterpoint is most sorely needed in the front end.
There is some good music here, it just suffers in comparison with what the Stones have produced.
The opening track, Fine Line, is a bass and drums-driven ditty that eventually soars into a satisfying crescendo and Jenny Wren is a lovely, subtle tune that succeeds in its simplicity.
No one is better than Mr. McCartney at crafting a pop song that clocks in at three minutes or less.
Friends to Go is typical, starting with a simple guitar rift and building into a stripped down wall of sound replete with a flugelhorn and a melodica standing in for a harpsichord, all in 2:43.
Promise to You Girl rocks. Well, almost. It starts with promise, but it never develops into anything more than a rollicking piano line backed with bass and drums dissipating into vocals in minor keys.
There are no standouts lyrically, and some tunes veer dangerously close to self-parody.
Mr. McCartney is 63 and still writing whimsical tunes, such as English Tea ("Would you care to sit with me/For a cup of English tea/Very twee/Very me/Any sunny morning").
It's melodic and makes you smile, but it's fluff. With such songs, Mr. McCartney might well rue that he once asked if we would need him when he was 64.
MR. JAGGER AND MR. Richards know they need each other, and they need a band to fill out the sound. And they do indeed provide A Bigger Bang.
The opening track, Rough Justice, sets the tone, with the familiar scratchy Richards guitar riffs and thumping Charlie Watts drums propelling into some clever sexy wordplay from Mr. Jagger.
Old guys shouldn't be playing this kind of rock, but then again, in the age of Viagra, why not?
She Saw Me Coming is smash-mouth, muscular rock that drives and pounds its way into your head, a song that would have been at home on Some Girls.
Mr. Jagger still has a voice that rocks, but the best vocals on the CD are turned in by Mr. Richards, who has never sounded better than on the tired, gritty ballad This Place Is Empty, and on the closing track, Infamy.
There are also surprises.
Sweet Neo Con is a political rant from a band that's rarely tackled anything more serious than a relationship gone bad.
And though you don't expect coy lyrics from the Stones, decades of experience has resulted in a surprising touch of maturity and vivid imagery evident in their songcraft, as in Rain Fall Down:
It was a filthy block of flats
Trash was on the floor
The stink was in my nose
Hinges off the door
She took me in her room
All was spick and span
Fixed me up a drink
Turned down all the lamps
And the rain fell down
On the cold hard ground
And the phone kept ringing
And we make sweet love.
OK, so it's not T.S. Eliot, but it's also not Very twee/Very Me very McCartney.
It's just Stones-solid rock.
And I like it.
Reach Tharon Giddens at (706) 823-3347, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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