WASHINGTON (AP) _ The legendary bluesmen - Muddy Waters, Elmore James - from whom the Rolling Stones draw their greatest strengths died of old age, still plying their craft. So why shouldn't the 50-something Rolling Stones hit the road once more?

There's little argument against it to be found on their new album, ''Voodoo Lounge,'' an energetic, aggressive offering that bows to music past with lyrics that apply to the here and now.

But somehow, the age issue is inescapable. Rock 'n' roll has always been a young man's game, and the Stones helped make it so. Now, they're over 50, old enough that short of staying thin, they needn't bother trying to look young.

Undeniably, the 43-city, 58-date American tour that opens here Monday is geared toward their baby boomer following. Tickets have a top price of $55 - a figure most of those chronically underemployed Generation X'ers can't easily afford - and record stores report, at least anecdotally, that those purchasing ''Voodoo Lounge'' are mostly of the post-adolescent set.

''I think at this point, it's the older end of the demographic group buying 'Voodoo,''' said Jim Riel, record sales manager at Tower Records' downtown Washington store.

Still, the new recording and the tour are attracting some fans too young to remember Woodstock or Watergate.

Rina Masuda, a 23-year-old native of Japan who was vacationing in Washington, stopped in at Riel's store to pick up ''Voodoo.''

''I don't know this album, but I like the Rolling Stones, so I just wanted to buy it,'' said Masuda, who was born the year ''Sticky Fingers'' was released. ''I've always liked them. Now, I have to get a concert ticket.''

Over the next five months, the Stones will be crisscrossing the continent on a tour that would test the endurance and mettle of men half their age.

After starting in Washington, they hit New York and seven other cities before August is over, appear in 10 different places in September, another 10 each in October and November, then play seven different domed stadiums between Dec. 1-17.

What's more, several breaks are built into the tour, gaps the Stones have filled with additional, last-minute shows during tours past.

They'll be touring without bass player Bill Wyman, who called it quits in late 1992, and, finally, made it stick after several meanderings away from the band. He's been replaced by Darryl Jones.

If the early sales totals on the new album are any indication, the band is likely to play before full houses everywhere.

''Voodoo Lounge'' debuted at No. 2 on Billboard Magazine's chart of the 200 best-selling albums in America, the Stones' best first-week showing for any of their 22 studio albums.

The record gets back to what the Stones have always done best - pure, unadorned rock 'n' roll. Its lean production, courtesy of Don Was, recalls Jimmy Miller's similar work on 1971's ''Sticky Fingers'' and ''Exile on Main Street,'' released in 1972.

The lyrics reflect that these songs are being written, produced and performed by middle-aged men.

In ''Blinded by Rainbows,'' a lament about violence, Jagger's weary, melancholy lyrics include the refrain, ''Put down Paradise as lost.''

But the song's heart is the third verse:

''Did you ever feel the blast

As the Semtex bomb goes off

Do you ever hear the screams

As the limbs are all torn off

Did you ever kiss the child

Who just saw his father shot

Do you ever shed a tear

As the war drags on and on.''

Likewise, 'The Worst' is a beautiful ballad bemoaning love lost and chances missed that survives Keith Richards' vocals on the strength of the pedal-steel guitar work by Ron Wood.

And there's this self-ironic, warning note from Richards:

''I said from the first

I am the worst kind of guy

For you to be around.''

On ''New Faces,'' in which Jagger loses a lover who turns to a youthful alternative, there is the admission that neither one of rock's legendary prowlers nor any fans of the same age have the same wind in their sails anymore:

''Well, Well, is he ringing your bell.

My heart is breaking in two.''