Twenty years ago The Rolling Stones released Stripped, their own version of an “Unplugged” album. Now, as part of their massive archival project, comes Totally Stripped, an updated version of the documentary that accompanied Stripped in 1996.
As is the case with these things, there are various configurations of Totally Stripped to consume…multiple disc CD sets, or DVDs with all the live footage from the shows associated with the original release. For this review, we’ll concentrate on the newly-revised film.
First, a little background information…
The original Stripped album started out as The Stones’ reaction to the MTV Unplugged series that was all the rage back in the early 1990s. The Stones being The Stones decided that they didn’t need MTV and decided to produce their own version.
The results were, and still are, mixed.
The 14 tracks that comprised the Stripped album come from several sources. The first were two studio sessions that took place in Tokyo in March of 1995. As far as the Unplugged concept goes, this is where The Stones come closest to remaining true to the all-acoustic concept.
As the Totally Stripped film reveals, Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie (along with sidemen Daryl Jones, Chuck Leavell and various backing vocalists) do indeed get intimate in the studio, turning out beautifully wrought (mostly) acoustic versions of Robert Johnson’s Love In Vain And old rarities such as The Spider And The Fly.
It really is quite thrilling to watch these sessions Mick and Keith working so closely together. The viewer does feel like they are in the room with the band.
If the entire album/film consisted of these sessions I would be a happy camper indeed. But they don’t.
Sadly, The Stones don’t seem to have the courage of their convictions and quickly fall on playing it safe…in other words playing the hits in front of increasingly larger crowds.
The live footage in question comes from shows in Amsterdam, Paris and London also in 1995. Granted, the venues are significantly smaller than the huge stadiums we’re used to seeing the band in, but the performances are typical, as are the song choices.
We are treated to yet more versions of Street Fighting Man, Angie, Tumblin’ Dice, etc. Yes there are some interesting song choices…particularly Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone…but by the end of the film I felt I was watch yet another Rolling Stones concert.
The film does include some interesting backstage moments. There’s Jack Nicholson hob-nobbing with the band in Paris…Chuck Leavell leading a pre-show vocal workout with Mick and Keith…and footage of Mick’s then-wife Jerry Hall with kids hanging out with the band.
Ultimately this is the Stones as they want us to see them. There are a few tantalizingly cool moments when the band slips back to their blues roots and really play together, but otherwise they seem to be on cruise control.