Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Albums2010 #32: Exile On Main Street

I never understood The Rolling Stones until I listened to this album. There was this kind of adulation and hero-worship accorded the Stones that baffled me. Of course, it doesn't help that they've been, well, old, for pretty much the majority of my life, but still... really? Now? Mick, Keith and all the rest? What's the big deal- they're old time rock and roll chestnuts singing songs that are overplayed on classic rock radio to the point of nausea. We know: they can't get no satisfaction. We know: they've got sympathy for the devil (but mild kudos for destroying the dreams of millions of Baby Boomer at Altamont. The mythic deification of that tragedy both irritates and amuses me). We know: there's a Jack Flash and he likes to jump- and as a bonus, they even made a movie starring Jonathan Pryce and Whoopi Goldberg (strangest combination in movie history in my mind) just to confirm this notion.

I guess when I thought of The Rolling Stones I thought, 'well I've heard this all before.' And I wasn't wrong to think that, necessarily, but then- and again, credit is due to Rolling Stone for putting Exile onto my radar screen. They did a huge splashy piece on the making of this supposedly legendary album almost a year ago now and I ate it up. I was fascinated: the Stones, forced into tax exile in France, at the end of their ropes, squatting in some chateau and lurking in the dark basement recording this raw, powerful album.

Happily, all the hype turns out to be well-deserved and exactly on the money with this album. The influences of blues, roots, even a little bit of country here and there are all deeply obvious throughout this album. They blend perfectly to form a tight little core of what comes very close to being rock n'roll perfection. Of all the songs on this album, 'Tumbling Dice' was the only one I had ever heard of- and it was a song I liked very much- from the opening, almost mournful chord of guitar which then drops joyously into a foot-tapping almost honky tonky blues type of rhythm for the rest of the song, you can't help but liking it. But track number 6 on this album, blows my mind. It still does- and it probably ranks as one of my favorite songs the Stones have ever done. 'Sweet Virginia' is a masterpiece of restrained blues music- and puts you in the mood for a warm summer night, sipping some whiskey and chilling with your homies somewhere in I don't know, say New Orleans or something like that. If there was ever a perfect song to chill out too, it would be this song. Absolutely ace.

Lest we forget: there are 16 other tracks on this masterpiece as well. 'Ventilator Blues', 'Shake Your Hips', 'Rocks Off', 'Shine A Light'- all amazing, especially 'Rocks Off', which opens the album with a bang, grabs you and never lets you go. 'Shine A Light' infuses some gospel and soul into Exile and 'Shake Your Hips' will have you dancing around the room and 'Ventilator Blues' is just that: blues, pure and simple.

In the end, Exile is everything it promises to be and more. You can hear the work, the soul and the sheer power that went into crafting this album and it's a pleasure to listen to and appreciate. If this is what happens when the Stones get forced into tax exile in France, I would almost cheer for more financial difficulties for them, because adversity, melancholy, whatever blues tinged feelings that were driving them produced an absolute gem of an album that is well deserving of it's place in rock n'roll mythology. Apparently there are Stones fans out there that try their best to collect all kinds of obscure bootlegs and outtakes from this album, with good reason- but I don't know if my level of adulation would rise quite that high.

OVERALL: This is amazing. And yes, I will insist: if you must own a Rolling Stones album make it this one. You won't regret it. And I know it seems like I say that for every single album I review, but it's totally true in this case- this is beyond being a music nut, this is beyond any obsession you or I might have with collecting the right album, this is about good music plain and simple: this is really good music and you need to listen to it.

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