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Rolling Stones — Exile On Main Street

February 6, 2013

Rolling Stones

Exile On Main Street

1972 

In ’72 the Stones had been in the stratosphere for ten years and people might have been expecting a more thoughtful, cleanly produced effort; but at first light this album reflects their early mono recordings. It could almost have been their first, with the chaotic sound and the vocals sometimes falling out of the mix. Rocks Off jump starts the riot and is more reminiscent of 60s tracks Have You Seen Your Mother and Get off of My Cloud than anything around at the time. Key track Tumbling Dice, full of lovely touches, gives the impression of an improvised raucous party, a sort of competitive jam gradually falling into sublime order towards the end – as if finally finding a refrain that the whole ensemble was happy with.

Post Brian Jones and pre Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor contributes valiantly in the face of the blessed Jagger/Richards creative grip. And it is Jagger and Richards who excel. Mick’s lead vocals, though unrefined, are confident, particularly on Loving Cup and Sweet Black Angel. His backing vocals are strong throughout with almost erratic old-country flavours. When Keith takes the lead vox on Happy, Jagger’s presence in the background is like an inspired reveller who has forced his way into the studio. I Just Want to See his Face has him growling incoherently as a crazed southern preacher or a wounded blues singer, pre-dating the Talking Heads’ exploitation of this format and Peter Gabriel’s murmured Sledgehammer intro in the 1980s. Mick was probably just horsing around, but annoying as he can be he has once again led the way.

There’s always a feeling that the Stones don’t always subscribe to the sentiment of their lyrics – reflected in the irreverence of 78s’ Far Away Eyes – but they are respectful of the great music religion inspires and consequently do it justice. In this regard the gospel blues of Shine a Light is candidate for the best of secular lads joining in at church.

The problem for producer Jimmy Miller must have been to know when the record was complete and ready. This may be the greatest Stones album and the cover, a montage of photographs by Robert Frank, certainly is the best.

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