Exile On Main St.

The Rolling Stones

Virgin Records, 1972


REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Some people just have a knack for being able to predict the outcome of a situation. The stakes could fall along a spectrum of who is buying lunch to which stock am I sinking my life savings into. When we are pulling out our wallet to buy the #5 combo for friends, or thanking God that corn futures went up, some tiny part of one’s being inherently wishes that we could do what they just did.

Problem is, it takes a special brand of person to put their opinions and beliefs on the line. It’s one thing to shout out, “On the next pitch, A-Rod is sending it out of the park!” When that doesn’t happen, the worst thing that can happen is you end up looking foolish, which for some people is too much of a punishment. It’s another to stake a career, or the respect of an associate, with such a statement.

Critics in particular have to deal with this problem on a regular basis. There’s a lot of prediction that goes into the crafting of a review; we might not be attempting to give hints as to where on the Billboard Top 40 a disc will hit, but there are questions such as, “How is this review going to be looked at in two, five – hell, ten more years?” Basically, imagine being the person who wrote: “Sgt. Peppers represents the worst of the burgeoning pop music scene; too much pomp and circumstance and not enough rock” forty years on down the line, and you seem to be lacking in credibility.

The same thing can happen with current albums; if you scour the Vault there are almost assuredly reviews of albums that went on to be huge successes and become ingrained in our culture that received a “C+.” Does the reviewer regret missing the boat? I find that while sometimes my feelings on a record can shift dramatically, for the most part, if I didn’t like it then, I don’t like it now. That’s part of being a critic, you have to stick to your guns, otherwise really, what is your review besides a snapshot in hypocrisy?my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Near as I can tell, Exile On Main Street received less than spectacular reviews upon release. The running length, ragged production, and general attitude turned off critics (though, it should be noted, not the record buying public). Yet with the recent rerelease of Exile, if you wandered around RollingStone.com or any other bevy of music related site, you would have thought the second coming was imminent and had taken the form of the $125 dollar super duper deluxe edition featuring genuine locks of Jagger’s hair and a Keith Richards cigarette butt.

So who was right? The critics who initially panned the album or those who have since come around to its radiance? The answer that I am supposed to give is “both,” but that would be taking the easy way out. So if I’m going to man up, the correct answer....it’s a classic, are you freaking kidding me?!?

Truth be told, I don’t know how the critical community missed the boat on Exile On Main Street. While there may be other records that better “encapsulate” The Stones, none come close to giving the listener such an explicit, unobstructed snapshot of 1970’s rock when filtered through the hedonistic excess of the band. There is no other band that could have recorded Exile On Main Street and survived to tell about it.

What follows shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone: The Rolling Stones were one of America’s greatest bands. “Wait a minute!” you say. “Last time I checked, these were English boys, not Yankees!” While technically you would be correct, the Stones were always more about streamlining blues and R&B into their music than even The Beatles. Exile On Main Street served as their greatest example of such a mindset. How can you not picture “Ventilator Blues” being played at some rundown blues bar in the Deep South? It’s almost too easy to envision such a scenario!

While certain writers may have missed the boat on deeming Exile a true classic at the time, it was damn near impossible to ignore the high points of the record entering the zeitgeist of popular music. The groovy, laidback shuffle of “Tumbling Dice” has remained the highlight of Jagger and Co.’s career. And who could forget about Keith Richards’ moment in the sun with “Happy?” Richards may have said love was keeping him happy at the time, but time showed he may have had a little additional help...

The range and scope of Exile has been discussed ad nauseum over the years, particularly as The Rolling Stones morphed into the corporate entity they are today. Touring, another tour, record release proclaimed as “Best Since Exile!” and a tour to support the new album followed by another tour to remind everyone about the previous tour. Cynical viewpoint? Sure, but The Stones has done nothing to prove me wrong. There have been good moments since 1972, but the task of somehow following Exile On Main Street has proven to be difficult. Now, The Stones actually being able to do it? That would be a hell of a prediction...

Rating: A

User Rating: A-



© 2010 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.