Exile on Main Street – The Rolling Stones
Context Matters—whether it be your preference for the Beatles or Stones, whether you listen to crust-punk with audiophile headphones, whether you were heartbroken when listening to “Happy Together,” or happily in love when listening to Blood on the Tracks—context determines your opinions more than you admit.
That’s why, as a Beatles fan, who was introduced to Exile on Main Street as the sixth greatest album of all time, I don’t like this album a whole hell of a lot.
First, I can’t help but to concede its strengths: it fucking rocks hard, fast and sleazy. The Stones are at their sinful best with their particular brand of appropriated British-blues rock. The grime on this record is admirable as hell. I feel like I should be smoking a cig, and downing bourbon while Jagger & Co. go to town.
The record is visceral, grunting and feels like a sustained pelvic thrust in my ear, which is a good thing, though I could probably think of a more comfortable metaphor. Richard’s rhythm work is practically unbeatable, especially on the track “Soul Survivor” with that monstrous harmonic chord progression.
More than that, this is an honest depiction of the Rolling Stones at their most celebrated—down, dirty, and not giving any fucks. Each of these tracks is in your face, and I imagine would kick major ass in a live setting, which, in the Stones/Beatles debate, is where the Stones undoubtedly win. Still, I don’t like it.
This is an honest depiction of the Rolling Stones at their most celebrated—down, dirty, and not giving any fucks.
This record’s biggest sin is also its biggest selling point: Excess. Everything about this record is excessive; but what is egregiously so is its run time and track length. I have very little patience for excess, in general.
The Stones don’t need eighteen tracks of homogeneous hard rock to make their point about sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Much like London Calling, there is a frustrating lack of necessity to about half of these tracks; and, as someone who listens to albums as units, that gets tired faster. After numerous listens, barring the final track “Soul Survivor,” and the opening refrains of “Rocks Off,” I can barely remember any of the songs on here; that makes me want to scream with frustration.
I don’t know if I’d feel the same about this record if I had found it on my own. But it is in the top ten of a list of three thousand “great” albums. Though I still haven’t defined what “greatness” in music constitutes, for whatever reason, an hour of aggressive blues-rock tunes, doesn’t strike me as being it. Acclaim is a context, and when it’s added, it changes the calculus of an opinion. In this case, against Exile on Main St. Until I’m a Soul Survivor.