Thursday, May 27, 2010

Review: The Rolling Stones-Exile On Main Street-Re-Issue

Exile on Main Street regularly switches places with The White Album, OK Computer, Highway To Hell and Led Zeppelin III as my favorite album of all time. Fuck, I cannot be alone, I know I'm not alone. even if I was 4 years old when the thing came out, I knew of its genius, its sweltering French basement based history, its failure to catch on as did Let it Bleed or Sticky Fingers, and its subsequent influence. I know it started as a "Keith" album. Mick was often too bothered to be distracted from courting Bianca to show up, it was Keith's house and those were Keith's hangers on and drug runners who contributed to the overall "retreat to the basement" vibe and ambience of the album.

I knew it became Mick's album when they returned to Sunset Sound and laid down vocals, black back up singing and more guitar laid to tape right after one of those handlers was able to rouse Keith from a three day binge.

I know every time I hear it, I feel transported  to that long shadowed sketchy juke joint in my subconscious, the one with the summer flies buzzing around the filthy ceiling fans while the zaftig french whores are weaving and whispering around the sunken shoulders of my brethren and I seated at the bar, am mouthwashing with whisky and waiting for the band to take the stage. The Stones saunter out and proceed to Rip That Joint a new one. Smoke starts billowing in tandem with the beat, dirty hands clapping, sweat dripping from heaving bosoms on the dance floor, the percussion of shot glasses toasting and smoky coughs are peppering the hoots and hollers.

When I heard they were remastering the Virgin release in 1994, I bought it. When I heard they were going to do it all over again in 2010, I was skeptical in a holy shit fanboy sort of way. So much influence, folklore, mystery and stories of disjointed revelry lay behind the masterpiece could they possibly squeeze out any more from Exile? I wondered. It's the holy grail of blues rock and soul music. Nellcote is my Graceland, for christ's sake. Every time I walk around the room  all cocksure or tipsy with my pajama bottoms on clutching an acoustic, I'm channeling Keith on the patio fleshing out "Loving Cup" while Anita and Graham are nodded out in the pool chairs beside him. So then I hear rumblings of BONUS TRACKS..and the gooseflesh comes in waves like the DTs on a New Years Day. Whoahh, more from the gritty basement, those dank dusty blues had to be jammed out for hours, worked, reworked and sometimes left for dead for days on end, in between the binges, right? There must be a shitload of material that was culled from musty tape boxes in vaults or warehouses that Jimmy Miller found to be filler, right?  Well the day has come....Stoners!  Here's my take.

I won't waste time telling you that the original album has been cleaned up most spectacularly..warts and all intact, mood not lost on the slickness of technology 40 years on. The dryness of Charlie's snare, the warm crawl of Mick Taylor's slide, the spooky Nickey Hopkins/Billy Preston/Ian Stewart keys still spooky, dusty, and rollicking. All improved, as well as the vocals. "Happy" never sounded happier. I've never been closer to actually seeing his face as I have since listening to this mix of "I Just Want to See His Face". Its just fantastic.

Now onto the bonus material:  With only a reviewer's downloaded physical product in my hands, I give you my thoughts with a mix of what I've read up on and what I've heard. 10 tracks...

1) Pass The Wine(Sophia Loren)- an unrealized flow of blues rhythm phrases with patched in vocal from 67 yr old Mick complete with new lyrics that sounds like a deep cut from Undercover of The Night. Yeah, it really does.

2) Plundered My Soul- Nothing on this track sounds Exile- like, more new vocals and guitar overdubs are glaringly obvious, but its probably the best the Stones have sounded in 40 years.

3) I'm Not Signifying- This slow blues crawl across a dirt floor on a humid day is from the basement with a certificate of authenticity..but the bass is new..maybe Bill was there less than we thought. Mick Taylor's slide is greasy and perfect.

4) Following the River- Riddled with a patchwork of new vox and lyrics..really hard to tell or believe anything from this song was put to tape 40 years ago, and the strings via keys kinda pissed me off.

5) Dancing In The Light- Both Micks are new and not really improved...keys are the only thing that sound early 70s here...this probably started as a meandering jam just thrown around in repetition until Keith happened to be brought back from near death to contribute. Should have stayed that way...

6) So Divine(Aladdin Story) - Now we're talking. A muggy basement drug jam. Most likely untouched..with Keith slightly out of tune, off kilter and panned right. "There is a rose that bears your name, the bloom short lived its such a shame". The HIGHLIGHT of the bonus material. Like Keith stumbled in to a session winding down at 6 am, while he was just getting started.

7) Loving Cup- This early gospel stomp version, is a slight speed step behind the original, but with less inspired vocals and sloppy drums that don't sound like Charlie was anywhere near that kit on this one. Much more of Keith on the background vox. No horns, and they are missed. Ben Ratliff from the NY Times raved heavily about this version in his recent expose of Exile...cmon, Ben nothing tops the of the best Rolling, strike that!.. one of the best ROCK songs in history.

8) Soul Survivor- This is yer brain on drugs. Man oh man, this version has Keith taking lead vocals in which must have been narcotically improvised at around 5 am...."Well I just can't fuck it, well I just can't suck it, everytime she walks by"...LOVE the end as it fades out..."Et Cetera, Et cetera, Et cetera." says Keith. " That'll be all, boys, see you in a few days."

9) Good Time Women- Clearly this is an early, jacked up version of Tumbling Dice with different lyrics and a killer slide solo from Mr. Taylor, presumably.

10) Title 5-  "We need an even number of bonus tracks....Hmm, here's an instrumental that could have been recorded half a decade before Exile on Main Street. But it doesn't even sound like the Stones? Does it? It might be Herman's Hermits. That's all right we'll tack it on at the end, its less than 2 minutes long."

OK then, there you have it: : Remastered tracks worth the purchase alone. Much better quality than the'94 release with the integrity preserved.  Bonus Tracks: I'm Not Signifying and  So Divine are really the only keepers for me.  I can't understand, when clearly this re release was for Stones superfans, historians and purists alike, that Mick felt compelled to do surgery on the songs to the point where its glaringly obvious.

Most fans would buy the set sight unseen with the endless hours of wordless jams, unfinished songs, bits and pieces of the blueprint as a collection. That's what fanatics want. We want to do our own surgery. The Beatles got it right with the Anthology collection(excluding Free as a Bird and Real Love). Just give us the warts and all, don't fuck with the blueprint . Et cetera, Et cetera.


  1. Hey Seano, great review. I was just listening to this again tonight. I like about the same number of the bonus tracks as you (two or three) but they are different ones - I dig Plunder and Loving Cup, which to me sounds like a Let It Bleed outtake. Anyway, it's hands down my favorite Stones album and led me to make a bold prediction re Mick Taylor on my blog tonight. Tell me what you think...

  2. I bought this CD last weekend and have been playing the hell out of it ever since! A truly remarkable album. It's one of those recordings that no matter how many times you listen to it, you find something new!