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.
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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.
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.
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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.