While the Rolling Stones have calcified into a corporate brand name, a dowdy, dependable cash cow, the group's two guitarists are still out there taking their rips.
Wood rocks relaxedly on the shaggy, eclectic Slide on This (Continuum), recorded at his home studio in rural Ireland with coproducer and sometime singer Bernard Fowler. Despite talented sidemen such as Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, U2's The Edge and fellow Stone Charlie Watts, the material is spotty. But there are some moments of considerable charm, notably a smoldering cover of the 1967 pop hit "Testify," the silky but plangent "Thinkin' " and "Josephine," a bop-and-soul midtempo grabber reminiscent of John Hiatt's best work.
Richards's spare but searing Main Offender (virgin) isn't wrapped all that tightly either. (Does he look like the fastidious type to you?) All menace and sinew, Richards hurls several guitar broadsides ("999" and "Will But You Won't") that hark back to the piercing mood of the last great Stones album, 1972's Exile on Main Street. He has assembled most of the crew that made his 1988 solo debut, Talk Is Cheap, such a pleasure: guitarist Waddy Wachtel, drummer Steve Jordan and the versatile Ivan Neville. Ron Wood's collaborator, Bernard Fowler, contributes many of the background vocals. Richards is in considerably better voice than ever, lending warmth to the slower tracks.
There isn't a trace of pretension or wasted effort on Main Offender, and that makes it one of the most intoxicating rock records of the year. Of course, with Keith, you could just be experiencing a contact high.