Not their best. It’s now more than seven years since The Stones last studio album and, since 1997’s underwhelming ‘Bridges To Babylon’, they’ve fashioned themselves into something resembling a mobile theme park. A spectacularly successful one, at that. Rather in the way that no childhood these days is complete without a visit to Legoland, seeing The Stones live in the flesh has become one of those must-do-once experiences for grown-up children. The obligatory live album that duly follows is the rock equivalent of the souvenir snapshot of your sulky, snot-nosed little smasher being photographed next to the Spinning Spider. Album and photo are guaranteed to end up stuffed in a bottom drawer, unseen and unlistened to, but at least they offer tangible proof that you were there.
Documenting their World Tour of 2002/2003 across two CDs, “Live Licks” is the band’s seventh live album. Their previous live recordings fall into two easily demarcated camps. There’s the ones worth owning ‘Got Live If You Want It’. “Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out” and “Stripped”. Then there’s the rest, of which 1977’s “Love You Live” and 1991’s “Flashpoint” scraped closest to the bottom of the barrel. Until now, that is.
This time around, they at least offer a unique selling point: – an entire side of songs never before recorded live. At best, these offerings lend some modest support to the argument that the last Stones tour was their most riveting for years. A taut version of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, with Keef and Ronnie interlocking like teeth in a zipper. A cover of “That’s How Strong My Love Is” that aspires to and damn near reaches the Stax soulfulness of the original. And “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” that the band carry off through sheer over-exuberance by way of finale.
Apart from that, it’s hard to escape the thought that you’re listening to the world’s most expensive tribute band. Perfunctory versions of songs from “Tattoo You” and “Bridges To Babylon” that sounded fairly perfunctory in their original forms. Near complete desecrations of “Rocks Off” and “Beast Of Burden”. And the spectacle of Keith warbling his way through Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness Of You”, which at least provides some measure of comic relief.
Aside from a beautifully restrained “Angie” and Keef in his piratical swaggering element throughout “Happy”, the other CD of Stones classics has precisely naught to recommend it. Unless, that is, your idea of money well spent is listening to a band pummel their finest songs (“Paint It Black”, “Brown Sugar”, “Gimme Shelter”) into the dust. Main offender is Sir Mick himself, who appears to be singing entirely from memory: mostly off-key and reduced to a messy stockpile of vocal tics and campy affectations. The album finally hits rock bottom with a “Honky Tonk Women” that’s so pedestrian it’s practically still-born. Halfway through the song, just when you think it can’t possibly get any worse, on strolls Sheryl Crow.