Music Review: The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street (deluxe edition)

Posted: May 21, 2010 in Album Reviews

Time for a break from the “Fire Jerry Manuel Watch” to tell you about the recent re-release of the Rolling Stones’ classic double album “Exile on Main Street,” which is probably why favorite Stones album, much like The Beatles’ White Album is my favorite if I had to choose one from the Fab Four.
Just like the White Album, “Exile” is a sprawling affair, running the gamut of musical styles yet flowing together perfectly. You’ve got the Stones playing the blues (Shake Your Hips, Stop Breaking Down, Ventilator Blues), gospel (I Just Want to See His Face, Shine A Light), and country rock (Sweet Virginia, Torn and Frayed, Loving Cup). There’s the fast, almost punk-like pace of “Rip This Joint” and the beautiful majesty of one of their best singles of all time, “Tumbling Dice.”
From the opening drug-fueled, hazy “Rocks Off” to the kick-ass rocking finale “Soul Survivor,” this is the Rolling Stones at their peak. “Exile” was the final album of a four-record winning streak which has rarely been approached in rock history (only the Beatles and Bob Dylan had runs of consistent perfection like this).
In the new deluxe edition, the album has been remastered and has never sounded better. The horns and guitars just jump out of the speakers, like you’re there with the Stones in the room. Tracks like “All Down the Line” sound so much better now, you can really hear all the instruments so much more clearly.
But everyone knows how great “Exile” is. It’s on several “Best of All-Time” lists. The sound upgrade is awesome, but the real reason to purchase this set lies in the second disc of unearthed outtakes.
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards didn’t think there was a whole lot left in the vaults, since it was a double album. They soon discovered there was much more than they thought, although some songs were lacking vocals or needed some guitar overdubs. So Jagger and Richards headed back in the studio to augment a few of the tracks, even bringing in old guitarist Mick Taylor (who was in the band during the recording of Exile) to add guitar overdubs, making the new additions all the more authentic.
Some may quibble with adding a 66-year-old Jagger’s voice to early 70s Stones tracks, and you can certainly tell which songs were overdubbed. But it’s not as if Jagger can’t sing anymore, and the truth is, I’d much rather they did it this way than leave these tracks unused as some are quite good. So, in some ways, the second disc of this set is a new and old Stones album at the same time.
I’ve decided to give you a taste of each of the bonus tracks, even including my own personal ratings of them:

1. Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren): This was an odd choice to lead off the bonus disc, as its easily the worst track included. The Stones are in fine form musically here, but this is definitely one of the tracks Jagger added vocal overdubs. The fact that its the modern day Jagger singing here isn’t the problem. The melody just doesn’t go anywhere, and the track wears out its welcome for me, running a bit too long. The music is funky, but the vocals are generic. 5/10

2. Plundered My Soul:
The song they picked as a pre-album single, and it’s a great one. Again, Jagger added vocals here but this time, his performance is spot-on. It’s a surging mid-tempo ballad, with heartfelt lyrics and excellent playing from the Stones, circa 1972. It might just be their best single in nearly 30 years, although 1989’s “Mixed Emotions” was pretty damn good. 10/10

3. I’m Not Signifying: This one seems to be completely vintage Stones, and it’s a song that’s been heavily bootlegged under the title “I Ain’t Lying”. It’s a bluesy track with great performances all around, but I can see why it was left off. Too many similar types of songs on the album. Still, a solid effort. 8/10

4. Following the River:
Another of the “new” old tracks, and it was picked as the second single on the project. It’s decent, but it feels like it belongs on a Jagger solo album, not on a Stones release. The background vocals and Jagger’s dramatic delivery give you the impression that they were going for another “Let it Loose” or “Shine a Light” but it ultimately falls a little short. 6/10

5. Dancing in the Light:
This is more like it. An upbeat, jaunty countrified rocker, with strong performances all around. One thing you notice listening to both the remastered Exile album and the outtakes disc is what an incredible drummer Charlie Watts is. In fact, Mick Jagger said the one thing they didn’t have to update on any track was the drums because they were “perfect.” This would have been a strong choice for a single, much more interesting than “River.” 9/10

6. So Divine (Aladdin Story): Another title that has been kicked around on the bootleg circuit for years. Not sure if Jagger updated the vocals here, it sounds like a vintage track. The opening guitar passage sounds like the long-lost brother to “Paint it Black” and it’s probably my favorite, along with “Plundered” of all the “new” tracks. Love the vocals, guitars, drums, everything is perfect here. 10/10

7. Loving Cup (alternate version):
An earlier, slower version of the classic Exile track, I love the ramshackle feel here. The guys seem to be still learning their parts, but the performances are inspired throughout. In some ways, I prefer this rough early version (reportedly recorded in 1969) to the much more polished final version. Still deciding on which one I like more, but it’s great to have this version. 10/10

8. Soul Survivor (alternate version): A different take on one of my favorite songs on the album. The music is very similar, kicking ass all the way through. But it’s Keith Richards singing, not Mick Jagger. It seems Keith is searching for a melody and kind of tossing out lyrics on the spot, but it’s very enjoyable, especially since he tosses out a few “fuck its” to fill in for the unfinished lyrics. Not as good as the final version, but cool nevertheless. 8/10

9. Good Time Women: At first, you think this is another long-lost track until you get 15-20 seconds in and hear some familiar melodies and chord progressions. It’s an earlier, faster take on what would later become the classic “Tumbling Dice.” I really enjoy it here in its infant state, with completely different lyrics and tempo. Again, the Stones made the right choice by going in a different direction, but this version stands on its own. 9/10

10. Title 5: Apparently discovered on a tape simply titled “1969,” here’s an odd little instrumental jam. If you believe it, the song sounds even older than 1969, like it could almost be a mid 60’s garage jam, very similar to Booker T and the MGs or the Beatles’ instrumental “12 Bar Original” but better. At under two minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome like some instrumentals, making it a cool closer for the bonus disc. 8/10

So there you have it, a track-by-track look at the “lost” disc. In short, any Stones fan has to buy this deluxe edition. If you’re unfamiliar with the Stones other than a few songs, I recommend the single-disc Exile remaster. But the nice thing about the outtakes disc is it doesn’t really feel like one. It stands on its own and is a welcome addition to their great catalog.

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Comments
  1. Kingman 26 says:

    Hey ASod–

    GREAT and amazingly accurate review here! (Maybe because I agree with every word!)

    Especially the parts about the music jumping out of the speakers—just listened to this today for the first time, blasting in my Jeep, and I got goosebumps when Keith’s guitar started “Happy.” I really felt like I WAS there at Nellcote 40 years ago!

    And your line about the 4-album streak (I assume you meant Beggar’s Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile) is so true….even if those were the only four records they ever made, they would still be among rock’s best.

    Have you read the recent Rolling Stone article about the record’s making? A must-read.

    Nice work!

    Doug/Kingman

    • Andrew Sodergren says:

      Kingman,
      I read the Rolling Stone article. Very interesting stuff. And thanks for your input. Glad to see this classic album get the deluxe reissue treatment. And the bonus disc is a nice addition to the catalogue.

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