Friday, 1 June 2018
The Rolling Stones - Exile On Main St (1972)
Released May 1972
Recorded in France, London and Los Angeles
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 "Fingers" had been a dynamic thump of what was to become typical Stones blues rock, "Exile" 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.
It kicks off with "Rocks Off", continuing the sound from "Sticky Finger" 's "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" sees 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.