Friday, May 21, 2010

Review: The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main St. (Reissue)

The Rolling Stones
Exile on Main St. (Deluxe Edition)
One of the Best Albums of All Time.

            Why am I writing a review for an album that was released 38 ago? The simple reason is that Universal Music Enterprises has just released a re-mastered version of The Rolling Stones’ sprawling masterpiece Exile on Main St. that includes 10 previously unreleased tracks, in what is hopefully becoming a growing trend (see Jimi Hendrix’s Valleys of Neptune). But the real reason is that this album has had such a profound impact on music, including sparking my own interest in rock n’ roll, that a review of it nearly four decades later is still relevant.
            By 1971, The Stones already boasted a couple of #1 albums, including that year’s Let It Bleed, but their commercial success was marred by a growing ‘bad boy’ image, due largely to drug problems, the fiasco at Altamont Speedway in 1969, and being forced out of England due to a large tax debt. It was in this environment, as literal exiles, that the Stones found themselves in the summer of ‘71, traveling to the south of France to record their next album. Once arriving, they continued to encounter problems and, unable to find a satisfactory studio, descended into the basement of Keith Richards’ villa to record Exile, a fitting setting for the devilish outlaws of rock. Despite Richards’ worsening heroin addiction and Jagger’s preoccupation with his newborn baby, the band was able to lay down enough material for what would become a double album, comprised of 18 tracks that would revive rock n’ roll.
Jagger and Richards in the basement of Richards’ villa, Nellcote
“It wasn't a great environment for, like, breathing”
The album initially received lukewarm reviews at best, and was criticized for being too long and dense. However, it has since been recognized as a masterpiece, sitting at number 7 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and serving as inspiration to musicians and fans alike. (continued after the jump!)

 Exile is a beautiful combination of musical styles in which The Stones expand on the stripped down country sounds of Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers, and incorporate their root influences of soul and blues with a bitter grittiness to create a sound that can only be described as rock ‘n roll. The album includes a wide range of instrumentation, from piano to saxophone to organ to harmonica, but despite all the layers, the album maintains a raw feel that is moody and emotive. The vocals are mixed down to the same level as the other instruments, a technique that would become a signature of rock n’ roll songs, and that makes Jagger’s already soulful voice sound even more urgent and expressive. Perhaps the greatest element of Exile is its rhythm, anchored by Charlie Watt’s drums and Bill Wyman’s bass, propelled by the stabbing horns that are featured heavily on the album, and filled in by Keith’s relaxed guitar strums, The Stones prove to be masters of swing, crafting songs that move you, both physically and emotionally. Although Exile lacks a true single, each song builds on the last and, as a whole, it meshes into a truly masterful artistic creation.
Much has been said about the hour and six minutes of music originally released on Exile on Main St., but one reason for this review is the previously unreleased 41 minutes of music. The exciting thing about these new tracks is that they were entirely recorded during the Exile period (except for a few vocal and guitar lines), spanning from 1969 to 1972, and capture The Stones at their creative peak. The first six songs are marked by bluesy guitar riffs, jabbing saxophone lines, piano boogies, and choral backing vocals, and they all could have easily fit on the original double album, both in terms of quality and style. The standout tracks are “Plundered My Soul,” an embittered love song that rocks around a solid guitar riff, the moving piano ballad “Following the River,” which includes lyrics that were written by Jagger recently (the only significant part of the album not from the original recording), and “Dancing in the Light,” a rock song that leans more heavily towards the Stone’s country side. The Deluxe Edition also includes alternate versions of several Stones songs, including a slowed down version of “Loving Cup” that is based around a guitar riff rather than piano, as in the original. The change in tempo allows more room for The Stones to explore, and the meandering guitar riffs eventually build to a great jam. This is followed by a rendering of “Soul Survivor” that features Richards on lead vocals. Rounding out the Deluxe Edition are “Good Time Women,” a boogie that was never officially released, but proved to be the precursor to “Tumbling Dice” (listen for it in the first break), and a short instrumental called “Title 5” that is the only real aberration from the Exile sound.
This re-mastered version is a reminder of why The Rolling Stones are deserving of the title of one of the world’s greatest rock n’ roll bands, expanding their impact on the music world into yet another decade. In “Torn and Frayed” Jagger sings “as long as the guitar plays/Let it steal your heart away,” and that is exactly what this album does, from the first chords of “Rocks Off” until the last notes in “Soul Survivor,” Exile on Main St. is soulful, bluesy, emotive, and uplifting. Over the years it has captured the hearts of millions of listeners, and, as a whole new generation is introduced to this rock n’ roll masterpiece, it will undoubtedly steal more away.

-- Jared Iversen


Caroline said...

haha not only do I love the Stones but I love this:
"Despite Richards’ worsening heroin addiction and Jagger’s preoccupation with his newborn baby"

"Mick, we didn't want to do this but we're here because we care about you. YOU HAVE TO GET RID OF YOUR PREOCCUPATION WITH THAT DAMN BABY. you dont even see how much its bringing you down. you've gotta go cold turkey. we are your friends, but we aren't going to be if you keep this up."

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel