The Rolling Stones: Exile On Main Street – Deluxe Edition


If ever a classic rock album was not suited for a deluxe reissue, it’s The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. The textbook definition of a whole being (far) greater than the sum of its parts, the album works in strange mysterious ways, and the various packages can only go so far to reveal exactly how that process worked.

The re-mastering of the original album, for instance, does clarify the separation of the instruments in a lineup which constitutes the best and biggest band The Stones ever had. But it’s not necessary to more clearly hear the rhythm guitar of "Rocks Off" to know how tightly fused Keith Richards was to bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts or how that muscular underpinning allowed guitarist Mick Taylor (original member Brian Jones’ replacement) to apply his edgy sense of melody. The ebullient presence of trumpeter Jim Price and saxophonist Bobby Keys elevate "Happy" no matter how murky–or not.    Producer Don Was helped to extract ten tracks culled from the Stones’ archives, some of which boast Mick Jagger’s vocals and Mick Taylor’s guitar, that were added specifically  for the project. In various ways, this illustrates how the uniform sound as originally produced by Jimmy Miller, turned these eighteen songs—lacking a truly great tune among them— into a graphic personal statement and testament to the times.

"Good Time Women" is a derivative of "Honky Tonk Woman," not to mention "Tumbling Dice," while "Following the River" sounds like overly polished latter-day Stones. It’s not surprising this halting version of "Loving Cup" went unreleased–the brilliant Nicky Hopkins’ lyrical yet earthy piano isn’t nearly so exalting–but more telling  still are "Dancing in the Light" and especially  "So Divine (Aladdin Story)," two tracks where Mick Jagger’s vocal role playing is magnificent. And hearing Richards sing an alternate version of "Soul Survivor" is, almost worth getting the rarities disc.

A book of text and photos included in the deluxe package (which also contains the album on double LP vinyl,assorted memorabilia, a DVD and the two CDs reviewed here) provides some sense that the communal living arrangements at Keith’s French rental supplied at least some of the natural camaraderie that permeates Exile on Main Street. But the informal atmosphere could just as well as have resulted in the worst sort of sloppy compositions, instead of the deceptively charged rock and roll that has withstood the test of time so durably since 1972.

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