Photo Source: Discogs.com
I have a long winding history with “Exile On Main St”. During my first year at college (which was an incredibly dark time), I stumbled upon this album. I’m glad I did. Although I very rarely give it a listen nowadays, at the time I played the ever-living hell out of “Exile”. Quite frankly, I loved every single second of it. However, times have changed. More on that later.
Succinctly put, “Exile” is a cathartic, troubling, genre-sweeping work. That is, although the Stones sound very cohesive and exude an undeniable sense of camaraderie, not all the songs work here (but I think the Stones knew that at the time of its recording).
Despite its uneven nature, I’ve probably listened to “Exile” near a 100 times. It was one of my favorite albums during freshman year as previously noted. Unto how times have changed. Gradually, I came to grow tired of its variable nature. That is, since it’s a double album, it unapologetically has several forgettable cuts (that is NOT to say, though, that it isn’t chock full of undeniable gems; it surely is). In preparation for this review, I listened to “Exile” in full and was pleasantly reminded of the atmospheric sense of passion in the majority of the songs present, which was sorely missing from the Stones’ later output. This passion leads us to the definitive driving forces behind it all: Jagger’s emphatic vocal performances and Richards’ and Co’s powerful and grueling efforts.
Due to its eclectic nature, I’ve chosen quite a few cuts off of “Exile” that I wholeheartedly enjoy. All of my favorite songs come later, near the end of the album. This works against its favor, overall. Unto my picks.
“Let It Loose” is a very quiet, almost reticent, soulful song. Despite its near-reticent nature, “Loose” still has an unshakable exuberance throughout.
Next up is the kinetic “All Down the Line”. Such a fiery and forceful rock song. Simply put, one of the best on “Exile”.
Furthermore, we have Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues”, retitled “Stop Breaking Down”. The Stones nailed this cover: it kicks some serious ass! Although I enjoy Johnson’s much less theatric original, the Stones definitely honor his impenetrable legacy.
Bluesy, inspirational and, above all, stupefying, “Shine a Light”is one of the Stones’ best. Period.
Lastly, is the excellently explosive closer, “Soul Survivor”. Wild, unhinged and intense, “Survivor” is a stellar album closer.
All in all, “Exile” is a fine album. It’s not as great as I once thought it was; however, it has so many absolutely beautiful songs on it (listed above, of course). As we can see, it doesn’t start picking up steam until much later. Nevertheless, “Exile” is a wonderfully lived-in (albeit severely flawed) work.
My Grade: B