I'm a Rolling Stones fan. But I'm not the world's biggest Rolling Stones fan. I'm not a fanatic, and I'm certainly not a bastion of Rolling Stones related knowledge. Up until Tuesday, I owned four Rolling Stones records: Now!, 12 X 5, Between the Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request [editor's note: WTF?! Seriously, Thorin?]. I'm well aware there are a few more good ones in there, but I somehow managed to go my entire life without ever listening to Exile on Main St., until I picked up the re-master.
It's a little embarrassing to admit that I never bothered listening to one of the most influential bands of all time's most positively regarded record, but through countless record store jobs, father-son road trips and random meanderings, I somehow missed out ever listening to this. Stranger still, is the fact I have a vinyl copy of it, too, something I didn't realize until this last weekend when I bought new record shelving.
One of the problems I've always had with the Rolling Stones is the fact they've always felt like a mish-mash of ideas that don't always come together. Their Satanic Majesties Request is the perfect example. It's a record that makes little sense in their catalog, and sounds almost like they were just copying other acts at the time. A lot of their other stuff sounds like a copy to me -- like they didn't really know what they wanted to do, so they latched onto other people's ideas and ran with it.
Exile on Main St. still does this, but with more confidence. The western-twinged soul ballads sound like they're coming from a band just writing a song -- not like a band trying to sound like a another band. I realize I'll likely get a little hate for this -- but to me, the majority of the Rolling Stones catalog sounds bland, or worse, uninspired.
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All that said, Exile on Main St. sounds better than I thought it would. When I picked this up, I thought perhaps I'd actively avoided this record for a specific reason, but I think it just wasn't on my radar. Although this certainly isn't going to be my favorite of the Rolling Stones records, this is a remarkably solid release, and it makes sense people often regard it as their best.
Like I said, the band feels much more comfortable in their sounds here. They aren't just inspired anymore, they're actually inspiring. "Torn and Frayed" sounds remarkably familiar without sounding like a knock off, while "Sweet Black Angel" sounds political without being too political and "Rocks Off" is just a solid, classic Stones song.
I'm not a naysayer who argues that music like this won't ever be made again -- or alternately that new music is so much better than this, but Exile on Main St. truly is a record worth revisiting regardless of your opinion on the Rolling Stones. I thought I was happy with my four Rolling Stones records, but it turns out I need five.