Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Rolling Stones: On Air (Deluxe Edition) [Polydor/Abkco/Rolling Stones, 2017]
Exploiting the surprise sales spike of their 2016 Christmas album Blue & Lonesome, their 2017 Christmas album purportedly revisits the band's early-'60s blues beginnings, which in fact were no such thing. Chuck Berry, who wrote six of these songs, was not a blues artist, and neither was Bo Diddley, who gets three including the previously bootleg-only "Cops and Robbers" playlet (theirs is fine, Bo's better). Billed "R&B" as they started playing out in 1963, the Stones were catchier and quicker than blues, and on these 32 radio transcriptions they sound like the premier bar band of their time if not ever. Where Blue & Lonesome is a sodden thing--many old rockers have recorded sharper, spunkier, wiser music--this collection proves what world-beaters they were even before they got serious about songwriting. True, the unperfected "Satisfaction" some hedger stuck in sounds pretty good--how could it not? But "2120 Michigan Avenue," the instrumental they concocted to celebrate recording at Chess, is the closer because it oughta be. A-