Sunday, October 05, 2008

Album Review: "Exile on Main St." by the Rolling Stones

Where's the zipper?? AHA. (Hilarious Rolling Stones jokes.)


Aye, this blog is in serious danger of turning into an ass-kiss-fest. If you haven't been keeping up, feel free to rifle through some of my most recent reviews - all positive! That Tom Petty album? LOVED it! Paul Westerberg's? Man, man, did I slobber all over that one. Shit, I even got my panties all in a bunch over a HANSON album!! Can you believe that? The last time I actually grew a pair and ripped on something was the new Weezer album, like two months ago. And NOBODY liked that album! Fish in a fuckin' barrel! I tell you, if I'm gonna veer this blog away from the stinking pit of stagnation, I've gotta start getting more bitter. And fast.

Having said that, here's a blindingly positive review of a Rolling Stones album that everybody knows but I've only listened to like once.

Listen, I'm not even a huge Rolling Stones fan. Why else would I not bother to listen to Exile On Main Street for so many years, despite all its accolades? I mean, I've been actively listening to the Rolling Stones since my senior year of high school, and I still dig Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed after all this time. But truth me told, I was too busy being swept off my feet by the masterful pop of the Beatles and the gob-smacking power-rock of the Who (not to mention the beautiful whimsy of the Kinks) to really pay much attention to the Stones. Hell, in comparison they almost seemed like also-rans more than grade-A Sixties rockers; to me, they couldn't do pop nearly as well as the Beatles and they couldn't kick ass in a live setting anywhere near as powerfully as the Who. They just seemed like generic rockers that flailed any time they attempted diversity - as much as I enjoyed most of their blues, country and psychedelic workouts, they always seemed more kitschy than they should've been. So to me, the only original sound the Stones had lied in their raunchy blues-oriented bar-rock, which to me lost its luster after a while. Maybe because so many bands have co-opted the same sound for so many years.

So the Stones slowly but surely drifted off my radar. Once I got up to Sticky Fingers, a record I enjoyed but hardly fell in love with, I kinda-sorta stopped following them. Exile was an unfortunate casualty of my fickle nature - I mean, why listen to the Stones when I had all these Kinks albums I had to discover? And nobody's touting them as the "World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band."

But now I've listened to Exile all the way through and, man, this is everything the Rolling Stones should sound like. I think one of the Stones' weirdest contradictions - one I never understood hearing Let It Bleed - was their glorification of hedonistic excess married with traditional American roots music, like gospel or blues. How can you put a sicko sex-anthem like "Stray Cat Blues" on the same album as a working-class hymn like "Salt of the Earth"? How can you put "Live With Me" on the same album as "You Can't Always Get What You Want"? They seemed to almost cancel each other out. When you put on Exile, though, it all starts to make sense. If the Stones were searching for a soul in Banquet through Sticky Fingers, it sounds like they've found it in Exile - they've found salvation buried beneath the shallow rock 'n roll lifestyle, the soulless exercise of shatting out rock hit after rock hit year after year. Corny-sounding, I know, but that's what I hear when I hear Exile.

For all the lofty language I'm using here, I don't want to obscure the fact that Exile is an excessively fun listen. Compare it to Sticky Fingers or Let It Bleed, where the nutty good-time rockers are tempered with creepy blues workouts or dark hard rockers - a "Bitch" for every "Brown Sugar," if you will. But just hearing Exile's first side shows that we're in for something different here: opener "Rocks Off" is perfect Stones sleaze, followed by the fastest, funniest, most indecipherably infections bar-band rocker this band could ever come up with, "Rip This Joint." Then you've got blues-boogie ("Shake Your Hips" and "Casino Boogie"), and finally the absolute apex of the Stones' soul workouts, "Tumbling Dice." In the aforementioned track, you'll hear soulful female backup vocals, killer riffing, incredible energy all the way through - it's perfect gospel-rock, something the Stones had incorporated in various degrees in the past but never in such a pure, effortless fashion.

Oh, but things change a bit after the boundless enthusiasm of "Tumbling Dice." Things wear down a bit. "Sweet Virginia," eh? "Torn and Frayed." Kinda sad songs. But the good times aren't over! Sure, these songs are kinda sad and reflective, but still playful, catchy, and sweet - not unlike the Beatles Let It Be, it's the sound of the Stones sitting around in your basement, getting drunk and playing some goodtime tunes in the wee hours of the night. Past "Torn and Frayed," Exile continuously switches gears: sweet folk ("Sweet Black Angel"), wonderfully poppy rock 'n roll ("Happy," another gem sung by Mr. Keith Richards whose voice is STILL charmingly weak yet enthusiastic), neato blues-rockers ("Ventilator Blues," Rob Johnson's "Stop Breaking Down"), stupidly great zippo-rockers ("Turd On The Run," "All Down The Line"), and even MORE fantastic gospel-rock ("Loving Cup," "I Just Want To See His Face," "Let It Loose," "Shine A Light" - the list goes on and on). And it's all ragged glory, beginning to end - none of it sounds kitschy or put-on. All genuine. There's some serious growth here.

I don't think I dislike a song on here. That's a feat, considering this baby's about 67 minutes long. I mean, "I Just Want To See His Face" doesn't do THAT much for me, and I GUESS "Turd on the Run" and "Casino Boogie" are a bit inconsequential in the scope of the album. But no, no. THIS is the kind of album the Rolling Stones were destined to record. The band they were meant to be: a raunchy bar-rock band with soul. Yes, you are going to hear a lot about this record being dense, impenetrable, dark, murky, yadda yadda yadda. I'm here to tell you that it's a rockin', soulful good time that never lets up. I'm not sure what reviewers mean by this "impenetrable" business. Is it 'cuz you can't understand Mick's lyrics half the time? Who cares? Do I need to understand exactly what Mick's moaning about in "Sweet Virginia" for it to be a beautiful, woozy masterpiece? Of course not.

I'm pretty certain that, after hearing Exile, I can fit the Stones into my "routine" as it were. What major rock band was making music this loose and fun back in '72? In the aftermath of the Sixties, and Altamont and all that? The Who were serious conceptual artists experimenting with synths. The Beatles were gone. The Kinks were jumping on the showtune bus. We needed someone to kick out the jams, and the Stones were there to do it. They filled a serious void.

So yeah, this is an album to pick up. It might not make sense to you if you aren't familiar with the Stones already - when I hear Exile I feel like I've almost grown with them. I don't know. Apparently they never recorded an album this great ever again. And how could they? Exile practically perfected their sound. How do you follow that up? Huh?? I don't know.

Alright, that's enough ass-kissing of a band that's had their asses kissed their entire career. Did you know I had half of this review written already before Blogger decided to be an asshole and not save drafts? I had to re-write the whole damn thing! I probably forgot to say SO MUCH! I'm tired. Exile rules. I'm going to sleep. Please spellcheck this for me.

2 comments:

Adam Spektor said...

Sean, I may have to disagree with you about the idea that the Stones perfected their sound on "Exile." I feel like the great, classic "Stones sound" came to in its prime form on "Let It Bleed" and continued through "Sticky Fingers." "Exile," for me, has always seemed like one great big boozy victory lap, a real fuck-all fun time of a session. As such, it was never really one of my favorite Stones albums growing up; it always just seemed to taper off in its second half. Today I just tend to gravitate towards "Between the Buttons" or some late 60s singles collection or something like that, as opposed to "Exile."

Then, again, I probably haven't listened to the album in full in at least five years or something crazy like that. Maybe my opinion will change. And regardless, "Rocks Off" has always been one of my favorite Stones songs.

It wouldn't do you any harm to check out "Goat's Head Soup." Pretty underrated, if I remember right.

Sean Rose said...

adam: Yeah, I can understand the "victory lap" analogy.

As for tapering off at the end, I guess I kinda-sorta agree 'cuz I tend to listen to the first half more than the second, but the second half has "Shine a Light," "All Down The Line," "Soul Survivor," "Let it Loose," etc. etc. I keep forgetting how good it is 'cuz I get wrapped up in "Tumbling Dice" and "Sweet Virginia" early on.