That was my reaction to my first listen to this album. I've always been more of a hits collection fan of the Rolling Stones (I think the band is worthy of respect, I think they've got some truly amazing material ... but I've never needed more than 20 of their songs).
I don't feel that way anymore. In fact, since getting this album, I've added at least 6 or 7 of their discs to my collection (and that doesn't count greatest hits compilations). This album was the ice breaker for me.
It's not that I thought that the Rolling Stones' albums were poor, it's just that so often I didn't get too interested in a lot of the deep album cuts. I'd find myself skipping songs to get to my favorites. Or I'd hear songs and think, "Hey, that's not bad. But it's not that different, either." Or I'd listen to "Their Satanic Majesties Request" and think, "Well ... some of that was OK, but I think I can pass on it." There was a lot of great material on many of their earlier albums, but the albums as wholes weren't totally fulfilling.
When the deluxe reissue of "Exile" came out, I started paying attention to critical reviews. While I rarely give most critics much weight (I think most critics are too full of themselves, or they're unnecessarily negative and think that being a critic means judging content by standards other than the content itself), the almost unanimous praise for the album caught my eye.
So I started reading fan blogs and other reviews. Everyone called it the Stones' true masterpiece, the one album above all their others that was a must-have. That was icing on the cake. I decided I had to give the album a listen.
My fiancee picked the album up for me as a nice surprise, and so I had no reason to put off experiencing the album. And I recognized a couple of the songs, like "Shine a Light" and "Tumbling Dice," so I didn't think I'd be navigating totally foreign waters.
In fact, "Tumbling Dice" tends to be the track from the album selected for hits compilations. And I've always liked it, especially as the chorus vocals aren't very syncopated, there's a bit of a phase and drag to the different voices that come in on it. It sounds very live, and very alive. So I was curious if that song would be representative of the album as a whole.
And, to reiterate my reaction, wow.
Forget "Tumbling Dice." Sure, that's a great song and it's on the album, but the spirit of "Exile on Main St" is so much more ... ballsy. "Tumbling Dice" transitions the Rolling Stones from their masterful bluesy/country vibes on "Beggars Banquet," "Let it Bleed" and "Sticky Fingers" to the rest of the material on the album. The other music here really lets loose with raw riffs and wails.
This was ... punky. This was raunchy. This was ... murky, and sometimes angry, and sometimes bitter. And when it rocked, it rocked! It was honky tonk with a slice of rockabilly, with Chuck Berry riffs and foot stomping rhythm.
I didn't find myself skipping any of the tracks here. Sure, some of the tracks definitely hold up stronger to me ... but the tracks here are very much a vital "tissue" to the album.
The best I can say after only a year or so of immersing myself in the album is that the album has changed how I view the Rolling Stones catalogue. This is energetic, primal, vital. They've done poppier, they've done more experimental, they've done more basic material, they've done more country and western material ...
But this ... This album is in its own league. It's the whole package. I know Mick Jagger doesn't understand its appeal, and that Keith Richards digs it but doesn't quite grasp why it's had such longevity. But this is the essence of rock and roll, with screaming vitality.
The opening track, "Rocks Off," sums it up. It's loud. It's noisy. It seems saturated with different music (guitar riffs, horn blasts, piano bursts). For sheer raw expression, this is the tops. I love it; it's the perfect song to kick off an album of this kind of material. In fact, I might go so far as to say it is one of my favorite Stones tracks in general. It has everything that people think of when it comes to classic Stones: it's lewd, it's menacing, it's earthy and gritty. Forget rock, this is rock and roll ... when the roll mattered and the sex was implied and the energy and sound were as important (in fact, even more important) than production and endless takes to perfect a guitar solo.
"Tumbling Dice," "Loving Cup," "Happy," "Shine a Light," and more and more! Great grooves, great licks, a smoldering vibe underneath each track. This isn't music to dance to (though you sure can). This is music to live to. There's sex, there's drugs, there's blues music, and humor and rage and happiness and religion.
What the album lacks in radio hits, it makes up for with spirit, quality and balls-to-the-wall rock. And it sucked me into the Stones' catalog, opening me up to giving more of their albums another try and really listening (not listening for hits, but listening for quality).
Since getting this album, I've added on "Beggars Banquet," "Let it Bleed," "Sticky Fingers," "Some Girls," "Tattoo You," "Voodoo Lounge" and "A Bigger Bang." And I'm not done yet, there are lots of holes to fill. Bless this album for waking me up to them.
For fans of the rock, of blues, of punk or R&B, or honky tonk ... this album is going to suit your needs just fine. Don't go looking for "Sympathy for the Devil" or "Paint it Black." Instead, expect relentless rhythm and blues, grungy guitars and howls of music magic. This is Rock and Roll, and these are the guys you have to hide your daughters from.