I'm all sixes and sevens and nines....
Released May 1972
Recorded in France, London and Los Angeles
Running time 67.07
The final album in the quadruple set of superb Rolling Stones albums that included Beggars' Banquet (1968); Let It Bleed (1969) and Sticky Fingers (1971). While Sticky Fingers had been a dynamic thump of what was to become typical Stones blues rock, Exile On Main St was an absolute tour de force. Without dobt The Stones' finest album of the seventies, there is a compelling case for its claim to being the finest Stones album of all time.
Recorded at the moment in time when The Stones were their most "debauched", the group were by now gnarled old veterans of the rock music scene, having outlived The Beatles already by two years. Along with Led Zeppelin, they were the "big" rock group of the early seventies. The lived it too, the drugs, the drinking, the private jets, the women. Recorded largely in a sweltering hot basement in Southern France, the album has often been labelled a work of lazy, rough and ready, don't give a whatever genius. In many ways this is true, the sound has always been a bit muffled and it plays like one long drinking and rocking session. However, on this 2009 remaster, the sound is surprisingly good, nowhere near as bad as that on the follow-up, 1973's Goat's Head Soup. The bass is full and warm and the drum sound excellent. Even Jagger's supposedly "slurred" vocals are, for me, at times clear, energetic and impassioned. A lot of the musicianship on the album is deceptively impressive, contrary to the "lazy" description usually attributed to it.
For much of the album, blues is the name of the game. This is so much a blues album, possibly one of The Stones' best. Blues rock of the highest order. While Sticky Fingers had set the standard high with an album of what would now become typical Stones blues rock, this album went one, no two, no three better and blew the roof off.
1. Rocks Off
2. Rip This Joint
3. Shake Your Hips
4. Casino Boogie
5. Tumbling Dice
6. Sweet Virginia
7. Torn And Frayed
8. Sweet Black Angel
9. Loving Cup
11. Turd On The Run
12. Ventilator Blues
13. I Just Want To See His Face
14. Let It Loose
15. All Down The Line
16. Stop Breaking Down
17. Shine A Light
18. Soul Survivor
It kicks off with Rocks Off, continuing the sound from Sticky Fingers' Bitch - punchy horns, big full bass and a general sound quality that is much better than one had been led to believe. Rip This Joint is rousing, fast-paced bar-room rock with Jagger on fine form, rocking boogie piano and a great saxophone solo at the end.
Shake Your Hips is some New Orleans-style rhythmic boogie blues, intoxicating and menacing with some wonderful percussion and guitar and a sneeringly nasal vocal from Jagger. The blues feeling continues with Casino Boogie, some genuine thumping kick-ass Stones blues. The Stones never played blues rock better than this. Then there is Tumbling Dice, vaguely Southern states-style, drawling rock, lyrics about gambling and a great choice for a single.
Sweet Virginia has and acoustic guitar leading proceedings. Very rough and ready with yet more excellent boogie piano. Torn And Frayed gives us even more blues heaven, that wonderful guitar again and Sweet Black Angel is has a creole, Haitian-style voodoo rhythm. Very seductive.
Loving Cup sees the return of the horns to yet another bluesy number, while the upbeat, rocking, riffy Happy is possibly Keith Richards' finest "solo" Stones number.
The blues gets even better with the excellent Turd On The Run with its powerful bass lines and the industrial, potent Ventilator Blues. This album just gets better and better. the mysterious, mesmeric I Just Want To See His Face sees the return of voodoo-style drums. This section of the album concludes the most bluesy part of it.
What would be more like typical Stones 70s rock returns with Let It Loose, which wouldn't have sounded out of place on "Goat's Head Soup" - slow-paced guitar, drums, keyboard riffs and a tortured, affected Jagger vocal. The upbeat All Down The Line, a concert favourite, continues the rock feel.
Shine A Light gives us a bit of gospel in an anthemic, soulful underrated classic of a song, while Soul Survivor ends the album with some classic Stones rock, introducing the riff that would be used by The Stones again on It Must Be Hell on 1983's Undercover and by guitarist Slash guesting on Michael Jackson's mid -80s Black Or White.
For many, The Stones did not produce anything of any real worth after this, which is a bit harsh on some other great material, but in terms of true, copper-bottomed greatness, it is probably true.
Similar to the Some Girls sessions extra tracks released on 2010's Deluxe Edition, these tracks were recovered from the Exile On Main St vaults and their foundations re-vamped and enhanced by new vocals and some new instrumentation, together with an upgrade in sound quality. It is sort of like a new album, but one that has its roots in those heady days back in 1972. Only two of the out-takes are un-doctored, so to speak - Good Time Women (an early Tumbling Dice) and Soul Survivor.
Many have criticised this decision to effectively re-record this material around its original foundations but not me. Yes, the material they found could have been released as half-finished, scratchy demos, but this gives us an idea as to how good the eventual songs may have sounded, while in effect releasing a new Stones album at the same time. The material, like that for Some Girls, is most impressive.
1. Pass The Wine (Sophia Loren)
2. Plundered My Soul
3. I'm Not Signifying
4. Following The River
5. Dancing In The Light
6. So Divine (Aladdin Story)
7. Loving Cup (alternative take)
8. Soul Survivor (alternative take)
9. Good Time Women
10. Title 5
Pass The Wine (Sophia Loren) is a deliciously bassy, shuffling groove with a lasciviously drawled Jagger vocal. It is clearly enhanced by some latter-day instrumentation, particularly the brass sections, but that it not a problem for me, it is a great track. Quite what the link to Sophia Loren was is unclear. The sound quality on this is by far the most "modern" and it certainly sounds like a new 2010 song as opposed to an old 1972 session leftover.
Plundered My Soul is a mid-pace slow rocker with a fair few hints of the original album about, especially in its slightly muffled, dense muddiness. Mick Taylor added a new guitar part in 2010. The piano-driven blues of I'm Not Signifying is one that kept its original Jagger vocal. You can tell, it has that Exile-era lazy feel to its sound. Jagger added a killer harmonica solo in 2010.
Following The River is a typical piece of slow but powerful Jagger balladry led by piano and subtle backing vocals. It wouldn't have sounded out of place on A Bigger Bang. Dancing In The Light, as with quite a lot of the material, is a bit more 1973-74 sounding than 1972. It is a rhythmic number with a few vaguely funky hints in its backbeat. It has a great guitar solo on it.
The enticing, seductive and mysterious So Divine has slight echoes of Paint It, Black in its guitar riff. It has a very strong Exile feel to it as well as those sixties vibes and Keith Richards recorded a new guitar part it for it. It is one of my favourites from the collection.
Loving Cup is an out-take that originally dated from 1969, three years before Exile. It has a lot of that Memo From Turner late sixties/early seventies sound, particularly on the guitar backing and indeed on Jagger's vocal. There is a sort of seediness it that possibly out-does the original. I love the guitar at the end. Apparently it is two out-takes moulded together, but you can't really tell, well I can't anyway.
Soul Survivor is different in that it features Richards on lead vocal, giving it a sleepier ambience. Good Time Women, while an early version of Tumbling Dice, has musical similarities but pretty much functions as a different song with nearly all different lyrics. Yes, you think of Tumbling Dice when you hear it, but you can still listen to it in its own right. The spacey, psychedelic instrumental, Title 5 actually dates from early 1967 and listening to it, that becomes clear.
This collection of material is certainly not throwaway stuff, it is an interesting and enjoyable addition to the original, classic album, and stands up in its own right, separate from it.
Photo from the NME.