Shine a Light

The Rolling Stones

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Shine a Light Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Over the course of their nearly 45-year recording career, the Rolling Stones have released eight official live albums and five theatrical feature films. Add to that the many live home video releases (including two four-disc box sets of latter-day tours) along with countless unofficial live releases, and there's simply an avalanche of live Rolling Stones material out on the market -- so how does 2008's Shine a Light stand apart from the pack? That's simple: it is a prestige project, thanks to the collaboration of director Martin Scorsese. The very presence of the Academy Award-winning director, who has mined many memorable movie moments from the Stones (often involving "Gimme Shelter," which is conspicuous in its absence from this film and soundtrack), elevates Shine a Light far above the status of just another concert film. But Scorsese isn't merely just the director -- he's part of the film and the soundtrack, turning himself into a cheerful caricature of his quick-talking reputation, reminding the audience that's he's part of this project (he also gets co-billing on the cover and spine of the CD!). And by sending himself up, he helps to build the band up, showing that he's powerless to compete with the force of the Stones and thereby illustrating that they're still a rock & roll force. To a large extent, the music on Shine a Light confirms this to be true, proving that the band retains a remarkable alchemy that has deepened over the years. It's useless to compare Shine a Light to such early landmarks as Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!, as this is a different band than the roving band of marauders from 1969. This is a band that has, in Keith Richards' estimation, turned into a rock & roll equivalent of the Duke Ellington or Count Basie orchestras, players that keep on playing because that's what they do. Shine a Light bears this out, as the group has an easy interplay that avoids being lazy, even on the worn-out warhorses that close the album. There's not much that the group can do to make "Brown Sugar," "Start Me Up," or "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (one of seven songs only available on the soundtrack's double-disc edition, which contains every song used in the film) new, but they hardly go through the motions on them; they do tight, muscular versions, versions that hardly sound like the work of 60-year-olds. But the real reason to get Shine a Light is to hear the band tighten up the rhythms on "All Down the Line" and then do the opposite with "Tumbling Dice," turning it into something that's looser than the original, and it's also great to hear them find a groove so smoothly funky on "Just My Imagination" that they top their original 1978 studio version. The Stones seem especially invigorated by playing with guests, letting Jack White indulge in some Gram Parsons fantasies on a good version of "Loving Cup," playing some tough, authentic Chicago blues with Buddy Guy on "Champagne & Reefer," and surprisingly getting a ferocious performance from Christina Aguilera, who navigates Mick's complicated, nasty lyrics with ease in "Live with Me." These may not be major moments but they are minor pleasures, and they're the reason why it's all right to add a ninth live album to the Rolling Stones' bulging live discography.

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