Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Exile on Main St." by The Rolling Stones (May, 1972)

Brad's Take:

Exile on Main St. is The Rolling Stones' 12th studio album. A double album that was recorded between 1969 and 1972. Recording began during the Sticky Fingers sessions, but when the band spent all the money that they owed in taxes, they all got out of Britain to avoid the government and moved to France. Most of the album was recorded in Keith Richards' new home's basement while the control room was actually in the band's infamous mobile studio. According to Keith Richards, the band never meant to record a double album. When it was time to compile all the tracks, they decided they liked all of the material they'd recorded so they chose to just release them all as a double album.

The first half of the record (or disc 1) kicks off with "Rocks Off." It's a typical Rolling Stones sounding rock song, but that pretty much just means that it's a great song. The next track "Plundered My Soul" is also great. It's got some gospel influence in it, especially with those powerful female background vocals. This first disc is blended perfectly with everything that you'd expect from the Stones. It's got a nice mix of rock, gospel, and blues songs, but they all flow really nicely with each other. It ends with probably my favorite song from that first disc, "Loving Cup." That song has an awesome ending filled with horns, cool percussion, piano, and group vocals.

Disc 2 begins with "Happy", a poppy little song with blues influence. The vocal melody in the verses sounds similar to "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night. It kinds of ends in the same way as "Loving Cup" did so listening to both of those songs back to back feels a little repetitive. "Ventilator Blues" was a really cool song. It has that twangy country-blues kind of thing going on and I love it. This is a sound that I don't recall the Rolling Stones doing before. At least not that I've heard. The second half of this album feels a lot more bluesy to me than the first, and I really liked that. The Stones do the blues very well.

It's kind of difficult to get really into a double album by a band that you're not very familiar with. Especially when you listen to the whole album in full only once through. It's hard to remember earlier tracks and fully digest everything. Exile on Main St. was pretty fantastic though! Solid blues/rock/pop/gospel kind of stuff. However, there weren't a lot of real highlights for me, so quite a few tracks (which were good) just went through one ear and out the other. I wouldn't say there's any bad songs, but maybe just too much material to really focus on and remember as well as some.

Dad's Take:

I'm not surprised that this is the Stones album that Brad finally dug. Or at least kind of dug. This is the Stones doing their Stones thang as well as they ever did. But they also do an awful lot of it here.

There's nothing really deep here, just loud, raucus, irreverent, R&B-based rock and roll with those rough edges that were often missing from other British Invasion bands. Within a couple seconds, you know this is a Stones album. And that's not a bad thing.

"Rocks Off" is a great opener, followed by the brilliantly updated fifties sound of "Rip This Joint," one of my favorite tracks from this album. Everything that follows stays pretty much on that same path. If there's one knock on this album, it's that, being a double album, the quality of the songs is somewhat inconsistent. But, true though that may be, even the weaker songs have that Stones thing going on in spades. And, of course, any album that contains "Tumbling Dice" is going to be worth listening to. Then again, of the eighteen songs on the record, that's the only one that almost everybody knows (although "Happy" is also pretty well known as well), which says something about the album too.

But hits and standout tracks aren't always the best way to judge an album. This one, despite its length, works well. The songs fit together, and there's enough variety in styles and tempos to keep it interesting. It's a good album to put on when you're in a Stones mood and don't necessarily want to hear a greatest hits album, and maybe you don't want to listen really closely--you just want to enjoy that Stones groove. And you're rewarded for your perseverance by a great closing set. Those last four songs sound great, great enough that I'm sorry to see them end, even when so much came before that one might be excused for feeling ready to move on.

Despite Mick Jagger's dissatisfaction with this record, it's an enjoyable listen, and has everything you'd expect from a Rolling Stones album. It has aged well, increasing its status with the years until it has become known as one of the greatest rock and roll records ever.

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