It’s been nearly 60 years since the Rolling Stones stormed out of their sleepy London town to become “the world’s greatest rock & roll band,” and, in that time, they’ve put out more than two-dozen greatest-hits compilations. The best of the best-ofs (Forty Licks, Grrr!) provide a broad survey of all the big hits, high tide and green grass the band has staked their claim to over the years — but the more interesting sets shine their lights on smaller slivers of the Stones’ catalogue.
Since the group’s former manager Allen Klein won the rights to distribute the group’s catalog between 1964 and 1971, it has forced most of the band’s compilations to focus on one aspect or another of their career. The latest, Honk — whose title is misleading since there’s nary a “Honky Tonk Woman” or even a “Country Honk” to be heard — collects songs from each of the group’s albums since ’71, including, oddly, a few cuts from other greatest-hits outings. The deluxe, three-disc version includes some high-spirited live recordings from the last decade. Since the comp was originally supposed to coincide with a summer stadium tour for the band, but Mick Jagger’s recent health scare postponed that, it’s ultimately more of a reminder of how the Stones have kept up their consistency while changing with the times.
The album cuts on Honk include monolithic classics like “Start Me Up” and “Brown Sugar,” but it’s the more recent material that makes this compilation interesting. Since all the Seventies material is now classic-rock-radio staples, it’s surprising to hear how fresh lesser played hits like Steel Wheels’ guitar-skittering “Rock and a Hard Place” sounds after “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll,” or A Bigger Bang’s funky “we maaade sweet love” proclamation “Rain Fall Down” works just before “Dancing With Mr. D” (though ultra-glossy 1983 cut “Undercover of the Night” comes after “Mr. D” and still sounds teleported from another universe). Overall, Honk is the most holistic look at the group’s last three decades to date and makes a case for reassessing the band’s more “professional” years.
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But no matter how skilled the band became in the studio, it’s on the road where they earned their “world’s greatest” mantle, and the bonus live cuts here prove their vitality. Mick still bitches about some dude pushing a “detergent pack” on him with a flow any chart-topping rapper would envy on “Get Off of My Cloud,” and he still shudders when he promises to “satisfy your every need” on “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” Keef and Woody command slinky guitar lines on “Dancing With Mr. D” and the band settles into a groove like no other on a rollicking “Shine a Light.” They also gamely welcome Ed Sheeran to prove he’s no sexy beast compared to Mick on “Beast of Burden,” Dave Grohl to growl along on a muscular rendition of “Bitch” and Brad Paisley to shed his squeaky clean image and sing about shooting heroin with Mick on “Dead Flowers.” The brightest light on the whole three-disc compilation, though, is Jagger’s duet with Florence Welch on “Wild Horses.” Her voice flutters gracefully around his and you can hear him warm to her immediately. It’s a latter-day triumph with no sweeping exits or offstage lines that shows the Stones’ enduring power.