Review: The Rolling Stones "Exile On Main Street" (Deluxe Bonus Album)

Reviews

Note: We do not sell the Exile bonus album as a standalone item. It is part of the Exile on Main Street deluxe remaster released in May 2010

A friend e-mailed me, asking if I thought he should pick up the reissue of The Rolling Stones’ classic 1972 album, Exile on Main Street. “No, you shouldn’t,” I told him. “Not if you already have it.” Why not? Well, because you can still find LP copies of the record out there, and those still sound the best. This is a dirty sounding record, so it doesn’t really need a scrubbing. “What you do need to buy,” I told him, “is the bonus disc they’re selling.”

I then told him that maybe I was the wrong person to ask, as I think everything the band did through Tattoo You is essential rock n’ roll listening. But, hey, this bonus disc - stocked with ten unreleased recordings from the Exile sessions - is the best Stones release since Tattoo You. Sure you get a couple of throwaway “alt version” cuts, but you also get eight original studio songs not included on the original album.

And, before you start in with your theories about the common pitfalls of classic album reissues, let me assure you that, believe it or not, this bonus album is very much worth your time if you’re an Exile fan. There’s a short instrumental called “Title 5” that won’t do much for most; there are those two alternate takes that are used as filler; and there’s a very good song called “Good Time Women” that sounds almost too much like “Tumbling Dice” to not be considered an alternate version. But, push those six questionable tracks aside and you still have six classic-era Stones studio songs.

Opener “Pass the Wine” didn't do much for me at first, and it did no more for me at second. But, by the time we were rounding third, I got it. It’s a pretty simple cut that never goes too far, working almost as a jammy/groove cut that reminds of Black and Blue. After a few listens, aside from it being misplaced as a track one, I was perfectly happy with the song. It doesn’t quite have the grit that the Exile sessions are known for, but it certainly contains many of the trademark characteristics of that storied era.

Next up is “Plundered My Soul,” which, like “Good Time Women,” seems to have elements of other songs that ended up on Exile - probably the reason it wasn’t released until some 38 years later. Now, however, it does quite well, working almost as a single-song personification of the Exile period. We get two of the great Exile-era hallmarks in the form of poorly recorded saxophone riffage and soulful backing vocals. The only real problem with “Plundered” is that it sounds like whoever handled the reissue cleaned this basement gem up a little too much.

Track three, the instantly great “I’m Not Signifying,” is worth the full price of admission. It sounds so drunk and dirty, Jagger’s vocals almost impossible to make out and certainly impossible to ignore. I imagine the band up late into the night, drunk or whatever, when they recorded this lost classic. A piano-driven, jukebox-ready song made perfect for the seventh and eighth beers of the night. Woozy and amazing.

And, finally, we get the often talked about “Following the River.” I won’t say too much about this one, save for to say that I like it. It’s clearly the “let’s do one for the girls” cut from the session, which won’t work well for many. But, after a couple of listens, I found the longing and aching in Jagger’s vocals to feel surprisingly human and moving. The explosive hook, stuffed with big dramatic piano and female backing vocals, might fare better in this Coldplay era than it did when people first started complaining about it a decade ago.

The final two freshly unearthed studio originals, “Dancing in the Night” and “So Divine,” also work well. “Dancing” sounds like it may have had new vocals added (not to mention a little too much attention from the remastering department) and “So Divine” sounds like a very early version of a song that would’ve been great once it figured out what it wanted to be. For now, it’s part druggie rock, part straight rock, never quite finding that psychedelic vibe it goes for. Still, both songs are very worthwhile in my book.

The more I listen, the more I love this set of songs. Drop those alt takes, reorder the track list, rename “Good Time Women” to something that makes a nod to “Tumbling Dice” (hey, it worked well for “Country Honk”) and you have a very solid - if short - lost Stones album from 1972. So, you wonder, should I buy this? Abso-freaking-lutely. It was recorded at the same time the band recorded “Rocks Off,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Sweet Virgina,” “Shine a Light,” “Happy,” “Loving Cup,” etc. It was recorded at the same time one of the Top 5 rock n’ roll records of all time, Exile On Main Street, was recorded! Need I say more?