Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Rolling Stones Exile On Main Street (1972)


It’s been said this is The Rolling Stones’ White Album; they had already created a handful of masterful statements, and they figured that it was time to pull together a sloppily assembled double album of more scattershot quality. That wasn’t a bad idea for The Beatles, and that wasn’t a bad idea for The Stones. In fact, this gave them a valued opportunity to return to their roots, since they started out as a sloppy and imperfect R&B band!

But of course Exile on Main St. is a mile away from earliest incarnation; these guys are cockier than ever. Well, they had a lot to feel cocky about; they were the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band on the planet, and they bloody well knew it!

On the other hand, I really miss the organized precision of their previous albums. The production also suffers a lot, since many of these songs are mixed rather poorly. At times, I can hardly hear Mick Jagger’s vocal lyrics! … But honestly, he’s singing so cockily that I probably wouldn’t be able to make them out anyhow! The main reason I think this album pales is the songwriting. As a whole, these songs just don’t strike me as an endless string of classics as I’ve gotten in their other albums.

That’s an unfortunate consequence of creating a White Album, I suppose. But anyway, since this is indeed a Rolling Stones album from 1968-1972, then you know it’s got to be great. So, let us concentrate on the “greatness” aspect of this album.

If “Tumbling Dice” and “Ventilator Blues” aren’t among The Stones’ finest songs ever, then I’ll be hornswaggled. (I don’t even know what “hornswaggling” entails, so you know I’ve got to be serious when I say that.) They are both terrific slower blues rockers with catchy riffs, bold instrumentals and good vocal melodies! Perhaps they’re not as splendid as certain blues songs on their previous albums, but they’re very, very close. They not only turn in some great blues songs, but they give country-western music a few more gems that it deserves. “Sweet Virginia” is just as engaging and pretty as its song title cracks it up to be, and “Torn and Frayed” isn’t so much an original masterpiece as it is simply enjoyable!

“Rocks Off” is a rollicking and catchy riff-rocker and a great way to get the album off with a bang. It’s very rough and wild sounding to begin with, and the horn section they bring in for the final half makes it even more wild! In fact, the horn or a saxophone makes frequent appearance throughout this album, and they only do good things. “Rip this Joint,” the second track, is more old-timey, giving us an indication right away that The Stones wanted to return to their deep roots. You’ve got to get a load of Jagger’s extremely excitable vocal performance on that one… It sounds like he should be splashed with cold water!… The Jerry-Lee-Lewis styled piano playing around also helps make the song exciting… and that piano is a major highlight through many of these other songs.

Another major highlight is “Stop Breaking Down” with its mean sounding blues riff, and the anthemic gospel number “Shine a Light” is a brilliantly engaging piece with some beautiful back-up singers. Although the back-up singers aren’t always good news; I thought they sounded pretty out-of-whack throughout the ballad “Let it Loose.”

I liked that ballad, overall, but it’s absolutely nothing compared to their previous ballads like “Wild Horses.” I’m not even complaining about the production; it just doesn’t have the melody, unfortunately.

Most of the rockers in Exile are fun to listen to, but “Casino Boogie” is one that just doesn’t catch fire. Likewise, “Loving Cup” has a good beat you can dance to, but it’s missing that special ‘something’ that The Stones had seemed to effortlessly be able to extract out of their previous songs. “Sweet Black Angel” is an OK ballad, but it’s a bit on the dull side, which is something that I don’t remember thinking about any Rolling Stones song since Their Satanic Majesties Request.

When it’s all said and done, though, there’s only one track on here that I’d call a misfire, and that’s “I Just Want to See His Face,” consisting only of a bizarre, subdued groove. The texture is interesting, I suppose, but it’s not engaging in the slightest. It’s a shame they wasted a three-minute track on something like that instead of something else that woulda blown me away!

I don’t think anyone can deny that Exile on Main St. is a huge rock ‘n’ roll classic, and I really love listening to about 3/4ths of it. Even though I already said that I preferred their more meticulous arrangements, I’ll admit that it’s novel to hear The Rolling Stones throwing everything aside and simply rocking out like a rock ‘n’ roll band ought to. They succeed wildly here for the most part, but I just wish that their songwriting was more up-to-par.


April 1, 2013 - Posted by | The Rolling Stones Exile On Main Street |

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