Is there anything more to say about Exile on Main St.? This timeless classic – now commonly referenced as the Rolling Stones’ masterpiece, despite receiving initial mixed reviews – has been rattling souls since 1972, with much complimentary chatter.
The recording process has become a story of legend. Imagine the Stones, who were at the time arguably thee greatest rock band on earth, exiled in a French mansion (the infamous NellcÃ´te), evading their native taxmen, still ruffled from the Altamont tragedy, fucked over by their ex-manager (who was given sole rights to their 60’s catalogue), addled by heroin addiction (legend has it, Keith Richards employed a guy who, on command, would shoot him up during the recording process), and the list goes on.
However the story goes, the resulting piece of work was a product of the 20-something year old Stones’ situation: grime, desolation, addiction, and triumph.
Exile… is a record that thrives on the lo-fi, dusty sound of the early 70’s analog machines. For purists, a redressing of the album might detract from its grimy essence. However Rip This Joint is still Rip This Joint, with blistering speed and early punk rock soul. The rough and tumble of Ventilator Blues is still in tact. And the same is true for the majority of the album. Rarely is there a moment where the production overwhelms, or takes away from Exile‘s true spirit.
In fact, tracks like Sweet Virginia, Loving Cup, and All Down The Line are given new life the intricate guitar play between Keith Richards and Mick Taylor becomes more audible, the nuances in Mick Jaggers vocal are given deeper clarity, and the horn sections are lifted out of obscurity which makes for a clearer demonstration of the Stones genius.
The bonus tracks are mostly an after thought. Of course, its a treat to hear new Exile-era Stones songs, and a slowed down Loving Cup (sans piano) makes for an interesting alternative take. However, the tracks where old-ass Jagger adds vocals are glaringly obvious, and for the most part, its apparent why the outtakes werent selected for the original release. Mostly, the set of 10 bonus tracks make the package an easier investment for weary buyers, and an overall interesting side note.
From the opening riff of Rocks Off to the closing crescendo of Soul Survivor, Exile has proven, undoubtedly, to be the quintessential Rolling Stones album; the result of Keith Richards strenuous study in old-time Americana, southern blues, and ramshackle country-western music. While its conception may have been less then glamorous, the resulting work of art remains as fresh, relevant, and epic as it did in 1972.