Thursday, May 27, 2010

Back From Exile

Well, after a rather long pause thanks to some heavy-duty work obligations, I’m hoping to kick-start this blog again for all of my loyal follower(s), including the completion of my 00s recap, over-under, the year that was and others. But first, this…

I’m sure most to all of you know that the Rolling Stones recently re-released their seminal magnum opus, 1972’s Exile on Main Street, with a re-mastered, re-packaged deluxe edition that includes a 10 track bonus disc of never before released songs from the same infamous sessions.

As I’ve said many times before concerning artists of this caliber, I am grossly under qualified to say much of anything, especially when everything has been said time and again and is best followed up on with write ups from the people who mis-remember it most. And yet after doing a bit of reading in anticipation of this re-release, I will say that one of the things that strikes me most about this, in today’s world, undisputed classic, is how torn and frayed (oh yes, pun intended) fans and critics were at the time of its release, with some panning it outright and others heralding it as the greatest thing to hit hot wax since ever. With the hindsight of nearly 40 years, I won’t challenge the latter, but I really can’t understand the former.

Yes, Exile on Main Street is a sprawling epic of booze soaked rock, blues, country, boogie-woogie, folk, soul, gospel and something akin to hudu voodoo, but what I don’t get is why some folks were so taken aback by the Rolling Stones tackling such a wide array of genres when they had already done so quite masterfully on the ultra-perfecto Sticky Fingers, as well as their 1960s closer, Let It Bleed. Honestly, aside from the jungle drum freak out of I Just Want to See His Face (a standout amongst a brilliant side 3…for those of you tuning in on vinyl), there’s not much on Exile that hadn’t been explored on previous outings, plus plenty of single-worthy, public-friendly cuts (Tumbling Dice, Loving Cup, Happy, Shine a Light) to bridge the “gaps” over some of the "less immediate" numbers. My only guess is that this is one of those ever risky and often daunting double albums, which can as often as not be a slug instead of a stallion (yeah, I dunno, just go with it), and with its dark musical tones and even darker lyrical imagery, Exile could have been too much for some people to swallow all at once. But with time and repeat listens, most everyone has finally had a chance to let it go down and digest, and now all the kiddies are coming back for more and more and more.

And with the bonus disc, that’s exactly what they get…more. For the Stones to be able to do something like this is quite a feat in and of itself simply because they weren’t ones to let a good track sit in the vaults for too long, and often in those days would use any stray or leftover songs on future releases on down the line (ha, another joke...well, sorta). With the two alternate takes of Loving Cup and Soul Survivor aside (the former being a slower, rougher take, the latter being, in my opinion, a messy, at times brilliant, at times almost unlistenable slow burn), these additional tracks are every bit as good as any of the “lesser” (you decide) tunes on the initial album, with the initial standout being the Record Day 2010 single, Plunder My Soul (with a truly animalistic vocal from one of the backing singers). While at times these songs may feel slightly under developed, as a stand alone disc in and of itself, it’s easily as satisfying as many of the brightest moments of Goats Head Soup or It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (which is saying something, ‘cos I really love the second half of the latter).

As for the overall sound of the re-mastering, I have to say it’s pretty spot on. Instead of attempting to make the album sound “contemporary” or “updated,” everything simply sounds fresher, as if it’s 1972 again with better recording techniques and hi-fi equipment. And what’s brilliant is not that these songs sound cleaner or even clearer, they just sound more enhanced, more, well, gritty…which is exactly how they need to sound, because these nasty little tunes do not deserve to be glossy and slick, but to stay down amongst the seedy underbelly of drugs and debauchery that birthed them in the first place.

When I was listening to this disc earlier today, I had to just come out and admit to myself (and why wouldn’t I?) that the definition of rock n roll, for all intents and purposes, is the Rolling Stones, and while some of their albums might make this point quicker or more easily, none will do so more fully or ultimately satisfyingly as Exile on Main Street.

Some live rockin'.

No comments: