Disclaimer: Those looking for a brief description of the album will find what their looking for in the "Review Body" section. The section titled "Track Reviews" is meant only for those who want to read detailed descriptions of the songs, and they do not constitute the essence of this review. Lastly and most importantly, this review is probably not written by the point of view of a Rolling Stones fan.)
Overall Score: 4.5/5
Best song: “Tumbling Dice”
Worst song: “I Just Want to See His Face”
It's been said this is The Rolling Stones' White Album; they had already created a handful of masterful statements, and they figured that it was time to pull together a sloppily assembled double album of more scattershot quality. That wasn't a bad idea for The Beatles, and that wasn't a bad idea for The Stones. In fact, this gave them a valued opportunity to return to their roots, since they started out as a sloppy and imperfect R&B band! But of course Exile on Main St. is a mile away from earliest incarnation; these guys are cockier than ever. Well, they had a lot to feel cocky about; they were the greatest rock 'n' roll band on the planet, and they bloody well knew it!
On the other hand, I really miss the organized precision of their previous albums. The production also suffers a lot, since many of these songs are mixed rather poorly. At times, I can hardly hear Mick Jagger's vocal lyrics! ... But honestly, he's singing so cockily that I probably wouldn't be able to make them out anyhow! The main reason I think this album pales is the songwriting. As a whole, these songs just don't strike me as an endless string of classics as I've gotten in their other albums. That's an unfortunate consequence of creating a White Album, I suppose. But anyway, since this is indeed a Rolling Stones album from 1968-1972, then you know it's got to be great. So, let us concentrate on the “greatness” aspect of this album.
If “Tumbling Dice” and “Ventilator Blues” aren't among The Stones' finest songs ever, then I'll be hornswaggled. (I don't even know what “hornswaggling” entails, so you know I've got to be serious when I say that.) They are both terrific slower blues rockers with catchy riffs, bold instrumentals and good vocal melodies! Perhaps they're not as splendid as certain blues songs on their previous albums, but they're very, very close. They not only turn in some great blues songs, but they give country-western music a few more gems that it deserves. “Sweet Virginia” is just as engaging and pretty as its song title cracks it up to be, and “Torn and Frayed” isn't so much an original masterpiece as it is simply enjoyable!
“Rocks Off” is a rollicking and catchy riff-rocker and a great way to get the album off with a bang. It's very rough and wild sounding to begin with, and the horn section they bring in for the final half makes it even more wild! In fact, the horn or a saxophone makes frequent appearance throughout this album, and they only do good things. “Rip this Joint,” the second track, is more old-timey, giving us an indication right away that The Stones wanted to return to their deep roots. You've got to get a load of Jagger's extremely excitable vocal performance on that one... It sounds like he should be splashed with cold water!... The Jerry-Lee-Lewis styled piano playing around also helps make the song exciting... and that piano is a major highlight through many of these other songs.
Another major highlight is “Stop Breaking Down” with its mean sounding blues riff, and the anthemic gospel number “Shine a Light” is a brilliantly engaging piece with some beautiful back-up singers. Although the back-up singers aren't always good news; I thought they sounded pretty out-of-whack throughout the ballad “Let it Loose.” I liked that ballad, overall, but it's absolutely nothing compared to their previous ballads like “Wild Horses.” I'm not even complaining about the production; it just doesn't have the melody, unfortunately.
Most of the rockers in Exile are fun to listen to, but “Casino Boogie” is one that just doesn't catch fire. Likewise, “Loving Cup” has a good beat you can dance to, but it's missing that special 'something' that The Stones had seemed to effortlessly be able to extract out of their previous songs. “Sweet Black Angel” is an OK ballad, but it's a bit on the dull side, which is something that I don't remember thinking about any Rolling Stones song since Their Satanic Majesties Request. When it's all said and done, though, there's only one track on here that I'd call a misfire, and that's “I Just Want to See His Face,” consisting only of a bizarre, subdued groove. The texture is interesting, I suppose, but it's not engaging in the slightest. It's a shame they wasted a three-minute track on something like that instead of something else that woulda blown me away!
I don't think anyone can deny that Exile on Main St. is a huge rock 'n' roll classic, and I really love listening to about 3/4ths of it. Even though I already said that I preferred their more meticulous arrangements, I'll admit that it's novel to hear The Rolling Stones throwing everything aside and simply ROCKING OUT like a rock 'n' roll band ought to. They succeed wildly here for the most part, but I just wish that their songwriting was more up-to-par.
Rocks Off A
They begin the album with a powerful, upbeat rocker, which is the utter requirement for the start of a Rolling Stones album! It gets the album off on the right foot, and you can't deny it. Although I think it's fairly obvious these guys weren't even attempting to create something as solid and effective as any of their previous classics. This is a terribly sloppy song with rougher sounding instrumentals. The guitarists are just concerned about rocking out, and not so much challenging our brains with interesting textures or solos. The mixing is so rough that we almost can't even hear him (and he does this really strange whisper thing midway through). This all might be a disappointment considering how much I liked their old polished songs... But who cares? This is a rip-roaring song if there ever was one. The horn section keeps it upbeat and exciting! The only thing questionable about this is that weird bit in the middle where Mick starts sounding like someone's strangling him.
Rip This Joint A
Some good time rock 'n' roll! This is strongly reminiscent of The Stones' earlier days, except they sound cockier than ever. But who's better at sounding cocky than The Rolling Stones? Once again, the mix is so rough that we don't hear Jagger's lyrics so well... although that doesn't really matter, because he's singing it so boisterously that it's not likely we would have understood them anyway. It's funny how I can more readily make out those piano patterns over the guitar!
Shake Your Hips A-
This is a Slim Harpo cover, a riff that you might recognize from ZZ Top's “La Grange.” Naturally, this riff is classic, and they use it as sloppily as they possibly could! The concentration here is more on the guitars, and it's very fun to hear these guys have a sort of staring contest with each other while they were playing these geetars.
Casino Boogie B
This one doesn't really catch fire for me. It's not a bad song, but I think this is the ultimate proof that The Stones weren't quite at their best at this point. Their earlier songs were much more flammable than this. It's not a bad song of course, but the melody is only so-so, the attitude less convincing, and the overall atmosphere shrug-worthy.
Tumbling Dice A+
This is much more worthy of The Stones' reputation and in fact one of my all-time Rolling Stones favorites. The catchy riff catches fire within five seconds! The overall structure, again, is much more anarchic than the standards they presented us on Let it Bleed, but that doesn't mean this song can't be completely awesome! That's all I needs to say 'bout deez.
Sweet Virginia A
Once again, The Stones prove that they can definitely give country western music the treatment it deserves. This is nothing more than a good-time old country western song. It's nothing particularly unique, and the melody is pretty generic, but it's played solidly and it's fun to hear... particularly by the end when all the band members join in for a chorus of sorts! Whoever is playing that saxophone is pretty much my hero.
Torn and Frayed A
Another country-western song that proves that The Stones were pretty great at the genre. (I should reiterate that I have an intense hatred for what people call mainstream country-western music... So, I guess you can take my thoughts on the Stones' treatment of the genre with a grain of salt. In fact, you'd be pretty well advised to take everything I say with a grain of salt! I'm craaaaaaaaaaaazy!) Very sloppy? No matter. It has a pretty melody, and it's great fun to listen to. Need nuthin' more tuh say...
Sweet Black Angel B+
Good, but not great. It comes off as a neutral ballad... Something perhaps meant to fill up space, but it's not terribly memorable or moving. The melody is OK, but it doesn't stick out at me, and it's very repetitive. The acoustic guitar textures are done well, though, with the more delicate percussion rhythms.
Loving Cup B
They're back to rock 'n' roll, but this isn't as sssssssassssssssy as some of these other songs. It doesn't have that extra kick to it, and the melody is strictly so-so. The instrumentals don't provide anything spectacular, either, and Mick's singing is run-of-the-mill. The horns are cool, though, particularly that repetitive thing they pick up at the end.
The riff is pretty good, but I do wish they would have worked on developing this some more. For the most part, this is only a good-time old riff-rock song that repeats a little bit until a fade-out. Granted, if I'm going to listen to anyone do this type of song, then it should be The Rolling Stones 'cos nobody does it better!
Turd on the Run A-
I've often wondered if this was some sort of pun of “Band on the Run,” but I guess this song predates that one. Any-dang-way, this is an entertaining, fast-paced blues rocker. It's very rough and raunchy. Maybe it could have kicked up a mightier storm with a heavier rhythm section, but the atmosphere provided by the messy guitars and wailing harmonica is engaging enough.
Ventilator Blues A+
Brilliantly done. Another terrific blues-rocker that The Stones should look upon with pride. The riff is catchy and wonderfully played with the unstructured guitars and pianos giving us a nice texture... I almost wish I could make out Mick's vocals more clearly, but that's just an afterthought, I guess.
I Just Want to See His Face B-
Unfortunately not every idea they had was a particularly interesting one. I guess this is what ultimately separates Exile on Main St. from The White Album! This song consists mainly of a subdued and rather uninvolved groove and Mick babbling on about whatever. The texture is pretty good I guess, but they really should have come up with a good riff or something... hmm...
Let it Loose B+
Disappointing, since I assume this was meant as a “Wild Horses”-like ballad. It has a decent melody, and it picks up quite a lot of steam by the end, but in the end it could have been more memorable. I haven't been complaining as much about this as I did in my original review of this, but I'll bring up again that the mixing isn't done that well here... This seems more muddled than it ought to be. Once again, Mick's vocals are completely obscured... and those female back-up singers are having problems. They sound squeaky and silly at times...
All Down the Line A-
Indeed, I think it's fair to say that The Stones were at their best with ROCK 'N' ROLL at this point, since that sort of music benefits from sloppy production and more anarchic arrangements. Mick's singing with a lot of gruff as though he's on top of the world (or at least he thinks he's on top of the world). This song is a good old time!
Stop Breaking Down A
And the Stones were at their ultimate HEIGHTS when they write these convincingly gruff and rowdy R&B riffs. That's another one of their strongest points here, and they can make this song ROCK your grandma. Really, this is something your grandma is going to want to rock out to!
Shine a Light A
A really fantastic gospel number with a terribly rollicking conclusion and a memorable melody. I also think that Mick's voice sounds pretty decently over the instrumentals for once! The gospel backing choir sounds terrific and they come at just the right spots. The piano is terribly good, and I gotta dig Mick Taylor's guitar solo work. This is pure awesomeness.
Soul Survivor A-
This is a messy and fun way to close the album, which I guess is appropriate since that's how this entire thing sounded. It's not terribly memorable although it has a pretty good riff. There's certain aspects of the melody that I like, and Mick gives an appropriately rough vocal performance. Well done...
Exile on Main St. is often considered the Rolling Stones' last major album, and I guess that's true to an extent. They master the form of sloppy rock 'n' roll here, but I always preferred their polished perfection on the previous albums.
Read More Rolling Stones Reviews By Starcollector!
England's Newest Hitmakers (1964) | 12 X 5 (1964) | The Rolling Stones Now! (1965) | Out of Our Heads (1965) | December's Children (And Everybody's) (1965) | Aftermath (1966) | Between the Buttons (1967) | Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967) | Beggar's Banquet (1968) | Let it Bleed (1969) | Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out (1970) | Sticky Fingers (1971) | Exile on Main St. (1972) | Goats Head Soup (1973) | It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (1974) | Metamorphosis (1975) | Black and Blue (1976) | Love You Live (1977) | Some Girls (1978) | Emotional Rescue (1980) | Tattoo You (1981) | Undercover (1983) | Dirty Work (1986) | Steel Wheels (1989) | Flashpoint (1991) | Voodoo Lounge (1994) | Stripped (1995) | Bridges to Babylon (1997) | No Security (1998) | Live Licks (2004) | A Bigger Bang (2005) | Rarities 1971-2003 (2005) | Shine a Light (2008)