The Rolling Stones – Soul Survivor. Well, I survived.
I suppose it was going to be inevitable on such a swings and roundabouts album as this, that after such a good song as Shine A Light, the final song would be another low point. Dull riffage, Jagger growling a melody-free bunch of stuff instead of real lyrics and none of the enjoyable horns or backing vocals that improved other tracks. The piano part tries to lift the song in the last half, but is ground down by the lazy, lumpen guitar on repeat function.
If I was to compile a slimmed-down version of Exile, this would definitely be one I would discard.
Looking back over the 18 tracks, I think I would get rid of half of them (Rocks Off, Rip This Joint, Shake Your Hips, Sweet Virginia, Happy, Turd on the Run, Let It Loose, Stop Breaking Down, Soul Survivor). Of the rest, three are OK (Tumbling Dice, Torn and Frayed, All Down the Line), six I can safely say I enjoyed (Casino Boogie, Sweet Black Angel, Loving Cup, Ventilator Blues, I Just Want to See His Face, Shine a Light). Not a bad hit rate, but a lot of chaff to dispose of. An interesting exercise in getting to know the songs a bit better, but I don’t think I’ll be going back to this album any time soon.
The Rolling Stones – Shine A Light. Illuminating stuff
This was a song I had a few expectations about before I listened to it. I knew there was a recent filmed concert of that name – which suggested it was one of the Stones’ more recognized songs. I think I read it was a gospel tune, but that didn’t necessarily tell me good or bad things about it – there have been previous gospel songs on this album, not all of which were to my taste.
I like this. It feels sincere, expressive, somewhat, dare I say it, joyous. There’s lovely guitar, piano and organ playing and Jagger delivers without getting overwrought. In fact, the more I listen to it, the more I enjoy the pace, the unforced rhythm. Hell, even the bass playing is distinctive and adds to the groove. Backing vocals coming in just at the right moment. And above all, the piano playing – I think I’m in love with it – whether pounding away, neatly but with force, or adding to the back ground rhythm. And the organ breakdown – isn’t spoiled by the guitar dribbles and Jagger panting, but creates a wide open space for the last minute to gear up to a righteous and dignified finish. A bit too dignified, maybe – it seems to close with a whimper rather than a (bigger) bang.
Having now read a bit about the song’s origins (1968 prayer for Brian Jones) and players (no Richards, Watts and possibly no Wyman), it makes me think I like Stones’ songs when they are least grimey and involve the fewest actual band members. Billy Preston and Mick Taylor’s contributions are deeply impressive, though.
Could this be my favourite song on the album? I wouldn’t be surprised. There’s such great balance between the instruments and such poise – like they’ve practised this until the orchestration feels natural and unforced.
The Rolling Stones – Stop Breaking Down
A cover of a Robert Johnson song, this is straight blues with decent slide guitar from Mick Taylor and not much more to it than that.
I’m bored by it. The blues format is dull, especially here. Most of the instruments don’t do anything, Jagger is straining and even the guitar is whining a bit too much now. This may be my shortest blog, but I can’t help it – I have nothing to say about this song following tired tropes. It might have been fun to play and record, but it’s no fun to listen to. I’m going to stop, just like this song just stops.
The Rolling Stones – All Down The Line. A nice little feat.
Another tune where they get back to their tried and tested formula – simple rock music. Not that I know a lot of southern rock, but this sounds like the sort of goodtime music that I have heard on Little Feat albums. A band not drowned in gloopy desperation like on some of the tracks I’ve heard on this album, but at ease with themselves, motoring through a song with slide guitar, swinging drums and an audibly relaxed Jagger.
The opening strikes of a ringing guitar are met by powerful drum beats and solid bass notes before Jagger starts singing, soon to be overshadowed by the squealing slide guitar. It ‘s a complex mix of music from then on in, but the horns, harmonica and backing vocals soar out from behind the other sounds to enrich and deepen the final minute.
If I have to listen to the Stones, this is the sort of thing I could easily tolerate from them. Not in huge doses, mind.
The Rolling Stones – Let It Loose. ” It’s one of those rambling songs”, Jagger. Let it go.
This is so loose, it is slack. Quality control slipped away right from the start with guitar fed through Leslie speakers. Self-indulgent, histrionic, it’s only the quality of Dr John’s piano playing, the backing vocals and the horns that stops this from being a musical mess.
The horns provide musical cushioning, but sadly not soundproofing against the core band’s output. Jagger bawls and screeches. The queasy-effects laden guitar tones never go away. The drums stagger forwards. As ever, I have no idea what Wyman is doing.
Let it loose – that must have been controversial down on the French coast. A bit of discipline might have made for a better song.
Just one side of the 2 disc album to go. I wonder what joys that may bring? Doing a quick look back, so far, each side has given me on average 2 good, 2 bad songs.
The Rolling Stones – I Just Want To See His Face. Gospel of desperation
If somebody played em this track without telling me who it was, I might have guessed Tom Waits, but I certainly wouldn’t have thought of the Stones. It is so far removed from what I think of as their typical schtick.
Breaking in on a performance already playing, murky, indistinct but fearful lead vocals compete with confident gospel singers singing out loud, as upright bass and pounding bass drum hound the sound with black dog gloom. Sedate onlookers peer on in the form of electric piano and occasional plucked guitar. It’s the sort of ritual music that could have been playing for hours.
Not as immediately and repeatedly appealing as Ventilator Blues, this still captures something mysterious and makes for impressively uneasy listening. There’s more to this album than many of the first disc’s songs suggested.
The Rolling Stones – Ventilator Blues. Clearing the passages with a swift blast.
Just when I think I’m going to have to endure the dog end of an album I haven’t, let’s be honest, particularly enjoyed, they turn up with a decent song. It’s been up and (a lot of) down all the way with Exile.
This is raucous in a good way. Really hitting the blues with ripe guitar, full-throated Jagger that impresses rather than irritates, horns to tickle the fancy and ivory-tickling piano riffing that really hits the spot. This is just really good, belting stuff. It all just gels together really well, punching and sparkling out in all directions.
I’ve just noticed the little cymbal strokes feeding into the first guitar bars. There’s a lot of joyful sounds crammed into under 3 1/2 minutes of music. I would have no problem listening to this over and over again.
Here’s a funny thing – I would have said Jagger was singing “Don’t fight it” repeatedly at the end of the song. Turns out to be ‘Gonna fight it“. I prefer my understanding, which says more about me than about the song. Being overwhelmed can be a tremendous experience – letting yourself get swept away by extraordinary external forces – feeling the rush and flow. Is it a T’Ai Chi thing, I wonder? Going with the force and using it rather than working against it?
Might this be the key track that unlocks the rest of the album for me? I doubt it, but on its own, it’s a fantastic stomper.