For an album that received such a lukewarm-at-best reception upon its initial release (even the almighty Rolling Stone magazine used the words “overdone blues cliché” whilst making snide comparisons to Tommy James), the tenth album produced by Keith Richards and company has certainly enjoyed a critical reappraisal and then some over the ensuing thirty-eight years. Why, even M. Jagger who in ‘72 complained “This new album is fucking mad. It's very rock and roll. I didn't want it to be like that. I mean, I'm very bored with rock and roll,” today insists the recording of Exile On Main St. “was a wonderful period; a very creative period.”
And of course Rolling Stone now places those very same blues clichés near the tip-top of most every Greatest Album Of All Time list it regularly publishes in between all the sneaker and suntan crème ads.
Now, come 2010, the (in)famous Exile has been fully refurbished, re-struck, and reconstituted through and through by a crack crew of audio surgeons headed by honorary Glimmer Twin Don Was, digitally polished to an immaculate sheen, “correcting” the original soupy subterranean mixes (“The cymbals sound like dustbin lids” Mick again complained as “Tumbling Dice” was first being readied for release) so as not to have the album stand as too sore a sonic thumb alongside Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, I suppose. Personally, I much prefer dustbins to “Just Dance”...but I digress.
Meanwhile, as part of this gala Exile resurrection comes an accompanying behind-the-scenes documentary film, Stones In Exile, which gathers together all five early-Seventies Stones within a wealth of vintage studio (meaning the basement of Richards’ villa on the French Riviera, where most of the album’s basic tracks were recorded) and on-stage footage (via the post-Exile tour film Ladies and Gentlemen...The Rolling Stones, which itself is due for re-release later this year). Why, even snippets from the beyond-cult 1972 road-film-from-hell Cocksucker Blues are cunningly slipped between shots of various waterskiing and overdubbing Brits-in-, yes, exile.
Not so surprisingly however, some subjects (such as the rampant drug use which eventually resulted in Keith’s total submission to heroin) are only delicately alluded to, whilst other key players in the scenario – houseguest Gram Parsons, most obviously, who schooled Monsieur Richards especially in nuances of the country blues which permeate the entire Exile album – are ignored altogether. Plus the Stones In Exile bonus footage could have been much better filled with, say, a complete study of the original, highly innovative Main St. record cover shoot by Cocksucker director Robert Frank, as opposed to rambling heads the likes of Caleb Followill and Sheryl Crow.
Still, the contemporary footage of Mick Jagger and the immaculate-as-ever Charlie Watts wandering around Olympic recording studios and Jagger’s former Stargroves estate – sites of the initial Exile sessions – are both fascinating and entertaining...in a Sunshine Boys sort of way (if you get my octogenarian drift). Naturally Keith Richards appears throughout the proceedings in ghostly stark black-and-white, the multitude struggles of ’72 still etched deep into his face, whilst good ol’ Bill Wyman remains ever the Stone Alone with the most revealing, reproachful, yet detailed reminisces of the bunch (a man still upset, it seems, at not being able to locate a proper brew of British tea in the south of France, for example).
So while I may indeed have my doubts over the, um, validity of a vintage-2010 Exile On Main St. album per se, this Stones In Exile film, far on the other hand, is a perfectly under-polished production which more than succeeds in placing one square down the very depths of Keith Richards’ basement during the festering summer of ‘71...yes, with all the horror and gorgeous excess – not to mention utterly magnificent, guttural music – such a locale entails.
And somehow, still, continues to inspire.
Rolling Stones - Rocks Off (1972)