EXILE ON MAIN ST. is raw and ragged and frayed. It is gravelly and out of tune. It is thundering and reckless. It is as perfect a rock album as you will ever hear, yet all along the way it seems to barely be holding itself together, like a train threatening to jump the track at every turn. In other words, it is the Rolling Stones in their purest form.
The Stones were not the Beatles. The Stones didn't craft meticulously refined studio symphonies. Instead they stumbled over themselves and played until their fingers bled and sometimes it worked and sometimes it was shit.
As recounted by engineer Andy Johns in THE ROLLING STONES: IT'S ONLY ROCK & ROLL: "They were the worst bloody band on the planet, the worst bunch of musicians in the world, they could be for days at a time. Really fucking horrible. And you sit there wondering how on earth are we going to get anything out of this. They would play very badly, and that's how they played most of the time, very poorly, and out of tune... They were the worst band in the planet, BUT, when it happened, they were transformed almost instantly from this dreadful band into the Rolling Stones, and they'd blow you away. It was almost magical."
That's the Stones of EXILE, recklessly stumbling their way to rock and roll perfection.
Don Was and Mick Jagger going into the studio in 2010 to re-record vocals for new bonus tracks? That's not EXILE.
Like a lot of folks, I was all excited for the new EXILE ON MAIN ST. Deluxe Edition that was released last week. It's newly remastered and features ten new songs, all relics from the original EXILE sessions at Keith's rented palace in the south of France. Unfortunately, some have newly recorded vocals courtesy of Jagger and producer Was (one song, "Following the River," didn't even have lyrics until now). The best thing I can say about these bonus tracks is that they're not an utter waste of time. Anything that features previously unheard piano tracks by the late great Nicky Hopkins can't be all bad. But hearing modern Mick's voice laid over tracks from that era just doesn't sound right. And it certainly doesn't FEEL right. If those songs didn't work in the moment, then they're certainly not going to be made to work 40 years later, because those Stones don't exist anymore. They barely existed back then. Since EXILE was released in 1972, the Stones have made one almost-great album (SOME GIRLS) and several more that haven't even come close. EXILE was not only their career high-point but really the beginning of the end. A long, sad end. One that's still lumbering along in its protracted death throws.
So anyway, this is my long-winded way of saying: buy EXILE ON MAIN ST. but skip the second disc of bonus tracks, especially if this is your first time hearing the album. Like much of what the Stones do these days, the new Deluxe Edition feels like little more than a cash grab. For my part, I spent a few bucks more for a physical CD instead of just downloading the songs because the CD came with a 12 page booklet which I assumed would be filled with all sorts of liner notes offering fascinating insights into my all-time favorite album. Instead I got 10 pages of photos and two pages of song listings. Thanks, Mick. I love you too.
At least we'll always have EXILE. Disc One, at least.