The Rolling Stones – Flashpoint

Flashpoint (1991)


1. Continental Drift (Intro) 2. Start Me Up 3. Sad Sad Sad 4. Miss You 5. Rock And A Hard Place 6. Ruby Tuesday 7. You Can’t Always Get What You Want 8. Factory Girl 9. Can’t Be Seen 10. Little Red Rooster 11. Paint It Black 12. Sympathy For The Devil 13. Brown Sugar 14. Jumpin’ Jack Flash 15. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction 16. Highwire 17. Sex Drive


I had a bizarre fascination with this album back when I was an impressionable, musically ignorant tween. After I decided it might be healthy to listen to music made by someone besides the Beatles (this, after two years of listening to virtually nothing but the Fabs), the Stones were, of course, a natural place for me to gravitate. So I scrounged up what I could find of theirs around the house and went to town. My mom bought their greatest hits comp Forty Licks when it came out, but the remainder of my parents’ Stones collection was rather scarce, consisting of only Sticky Fingers, Tattoo You (understandable selections), Steel Wheels and Flashpoint (huh?). I have no idea why the latter two were around – I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that both my parents were/are longtime Stones fans and were doing things like getting married and giving birth to me during the Steel Wheels era and they were bonding over the band. But when I found this live album buried in a pile of neglected CDs in a random corner of the apartment, I had no choice but to take to it. It was practically all I had to get to know the Stones by.

With that considered, it’s odd that I became as big a fan as I did. But I still have something of an emotional attachment to it. That translates to, “it probably deserves a lower grade because it’s an obnoxiously glitzy document of the Stones playing their hits Vegas-style on the ’89-’90 Steel Wheels tour, but it brings back fond memories of more innocent days so I’ll be noncommittal and give it a B.” But, despite how irritating much of it is, I loved it passionately when I was 12, and I’m not willing to give up on it now, dammit! Even if, you know, the things I wanted and expected from music when I was 12 aren’t at all the same things I want from music now. Before I heard the Beatles, my favorite band was *NSYNC, for god’s sake! All I could ever ask to emanate out of my discman on my walk to school were impeccably produced, faithfully rendered versions of my favorite songs that differed as little from the familiar studio versions as possible! And boy, did Flashpoint deliver! See, at this juncture in history, the Rolling Stones bloated themselves up to include two keyboardists, backup singers and a horn section and essentially became a Rolling Stones cover band, intent on playing the songs “correctly.” Like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with the backup singers and painstakingly recreated organ parts from the studio version. Or “Miss You” with the harmonica part… played on a synth. Or “Ruby Tuesday” with the recorder part… played on a synth. Or “Sympathy For The Devil” with the tribal percussion… on a pre-recorded loop. Noticing a pattern here? It’s all fake… a big, extravagant showbiz production designed by high-powered, overpaid consultants to get nostalgic baby boomers to pay out the arse to see flashing lights, a giant stage, and the Rolling Stones darting around at the other end of Giants Stadium so far away that you can barely see their wrinkles.

This is not an unequivocally negative development. The guitarists sound totally reinvigorated, playing flashy lead licks and solos like they never had before – “Sympathy” is actually pretty strong because of it. And Mick attempts to actually hit the notes now – and succeeds! Which means that, unlike on previous Stones live albums, the songs retain their actual melodies! Basically, Flashpoint is the anti-Still Life – for better and for worse. One minute you’re getting swept up in the pure stadium energy (“Start Me Up,” “Satisfaction”) and the next you’re being annoyed by annoying renditions of 25-year old hits that verge on karaoke performances (“Paint It Black,” “Miss You”). So you take the good with the bad, and if you stick with it, you get a couple of extra treats along the way, like Eric Clapton playing some guest guitar on an otherwise boring, genericized “Little Red Rooster” and an unexpected live airing of “Factory Girl,” which, dare I say, sounds better than ever.

They also tack on a couple of new studio tracks at the end – not a particularly smart move since Rolling Stones songs written and recorded in 1991 are inevitably going to suffer in estimation when sequenced right next to “Satisfaction.” “Highwire” is actually not bad – the lyrics about the Gulf War are dumb, but it rocks pretty well, and even if it’s not very far removed from the rockers on Steel Wheels, the production is a lot better so I’ll give it a muted thumbs up. “Sex Drive,” on the other hand, sucks – it’s like a half-baked cross between “Hot Stuff” and fucking “Terrifying” from Steel Wheels. And don’t even get me started on the video. The old man Stones creepily staring at naked chicks from behind curtains? Yeah, that’ll really convince the masses you’re still sexy, Mick. Just like the support of backup singers and an overzealous synth player (curse you, Matt Clifford!) don’t mean you can still rock like the old days. But your new act is quite the incredible simulation.

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