Exile On Main St.

The Rolling Stones

Virgin Records, 1972


REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Regarded as one of the best double-albums of all time and a cornerstone of rock, the only major debate surrounding the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. is whether or not it's their best recording. Many critics have taken turns switching Exile On Main St. with Let It Bleed and more recently, Aftermath as the Rolling Stones' finest hour (the same thing happens with the Beatles -- in the 1980s, most critics thought Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was their best work, now, in the age of garage rock, many critics are now saying Revolver is their best work). With due respect to Let It Bleed and Aftermath, allow me to cast my vote for Exile On Main St.

The late '60s were not kind to the Rolling Stones. The band single-handedly ended the utopian idealism of the '60s with the infamous concert at Altamont and a major tax problem sent them to Southern France (at least their drug use was enough under control not to splinter their creative processes). Strung out, no doubt suffering from periods of disillusion and depression, the Rolling Stones entered Keith Richards's moldy mansion and had enough of a solid head on their shoulders to come out with a double-album of blues, R&B and rock fusion that sounded like nothing they had recorded before.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Point of note: Exile On Main St. doesn't sound like Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon. In fact, the album sounds like shit. Jagger slurs most of his lyrics so much that you need a Google search to decipher most of the album's lyrics. Mick Taylor and Richards' guitars bump, stumble and trip over one another with a greasy, nocturnal swagger. Only Charlie Watts' meticulous drumming sounds rehearsed; otherwise, the album has the feel of a late-night jam session.

Of course, it takes a great band to make sounding sloppy so easy, especially when it comes to the lyrics. Almost five years before the Ramones made slackerdom cool and more than twenty years before Billy Joe Armstrong bitched about how masturbation had lost its fun, Jagger kicks off Exile with "Rocks Off," one of the greatest odes to heroin's effect, or boredom, or being a rock star, or something. "The sunshine bores the daylights out of me" Jagger famously bemoans -- and god, you believe him by the time the song ends.

After "Rocks Off," the Rolling Stones tear through a couple of rockers and jammers, but it will take a few songs before the Rolling Stones drop the first unqualified masterpiece, "Tumbling Dice." This sets a pattern for Exile On Main St. -- a sustained pattern of great songs with some expert placement of the album's other masterpieces: "Loving Cup," "Happy" and "Soul Survivor."

With eighteen tracks, only two are covers: Slim Harpo's "Hip Shake" and "Stop Breaking Down." Though the Stones have been criticized for ripping off blues artists of decades past, nothing on Exile On Main St. seems inauthentic. It may have its slow moments and it may not have back-to-back greatness of Let It Bleed, but Exile On Main St.'s scope elevates it to classic status.

Rating: A

User Rating: A-



© 2005 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.