The Rolling Stones - Exile On Main St.
Released in 1972 but recorded in 1971 whilst The Rolling Stones were in tax exile in the South Of France, Exile On Main St. is the sound of a band coming to terms with all they were to do from that point on. Where Beggars Banquet and, most notably, Let It Bleed had documented the Saturday night of times both high and low, the thrill of getting off on whatever or whoever was at hand and the uneasy feeling as the drink and drugs traced a paranoid arc, Exile On Main St. was the mumbling of, "...so long as it feels right" into what would be cold light of a Sunday morning and an encroaching hangover. Exile On Main St. was the point at which the experimentation of the preceding decade moved aside for a sound that would be carbon-copied over the next thirty years.
"...so long as it feels right" and Exile On Main St. is all about feel. Recorded in a rundown and elegant mansion close to the Mediterranean called Villa Nellcote owned by Keith Richards, Exile On Main St. has a relaxed and carefree feel that runs throughout the hour of music it contains. Musically, it was informed by the easy feelings brought along by country fan and house guest Gram Parsons as well as producer Jimmy Miller, who set up a studio in the basement and a mixing desk in a truck parked in the front driveway and who stayed around until the very end, able to hit the record button when any passing musician felt equipped to add a little to the basic tracks.
Despite listing the five members of The Rolling Stones as the key musicians, credits come and go to whoever was around, with Happy being recorded by Keith Richards, Jimmy Miller and Bobby Keys on a day when no one else showed up. Undoubtedly due to this method of working, Exile On Main St. was rumoured to be Richards and a core of session musicians recording an album of American rock with the rest of the Stones clocking in to work up the parts too difficult for Richards to handle but, whilst there is but a little truth in this, it does add to the lazy feel of Exile On Main St., which swings from the loose sound and tight rhythms of Happy and the opening Rocks Off, with its unforgettable nod to the evening and night-time life of the band in the lyric, "The sunshine bores the daylights out of me", to the relaxed and sunlit party sounds of I Just Want To See His Face and Tumbling Dice, which bears the credit, "Background Vocal - Clydie King, Vanetta, plus friend", itself bearing testament to a late-night recording session fuelled by wine from the valleys nearby in which names were forgotten in favour of keeping the times feeling good.
Mick Taylor dismissed Villa Nellcote as a, "dump...there was always damp running down the walls" but unlike the small number of albums that allow the place in which they were recorded to seep into the music, Exile On Main St. holds not the sound of a rundown villa on the shores of a cool Mediterranean sea but of the sticky streets of New Orleans, from where Jimmy Miller originated. Miller, through both his production and the percussion he added to a number of tracks, works Exile On Main St. into a cocksure and raunchy strut of eighteen songs in which any dropped moment is made meaningless by the feel of the entire piece. With two covers - Slim Harpo's Shake Your Hips and Robert Johnson's Stop Breakin Down Blues - Exile On Main St. recalls the history of blues music and its present - grooving like five white men rarely do and shaking the timbers of an aging French villa with music that passes by the brain and makes straight for the hips, preferably clad in hipster jeans.
There are better Rolling Stones albums and there are those with greater variation - Let It Bleed, for example, is possibly their best work - but none capture the sense of what it must have been to be The Rolling Stones in the late-sixties and early-seventies, when they were at the globe-straddling height of their abilities, as much as this one. In a way, they've never gotten over it - skip the soft-footed, Jagger-inspired disco tricks of Some Girls and the bluesy grind of Rolling Stones albums since the hit-and-miss seventies recalls Exile On Main St. at every turn. But then, with few of their albums from 1972 onwards being worth your attention, why bother? Exile On Main St. is truly outstanding, really being blisteringly good, and if you already have Let It Bleed and Singles Collection - The London Years, this ought to be your very next Rolling Stones purchase. If you don't have any of these, then, put honestly and simply, what are you waiting for? These are as good as rock gets and as essential too.