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There is a huge sense of dichotomy that surrounds what is arguably one of the finest collections of songs The Rolling Stones ever put their name to. And considering the staggeringly vast and largely magnificent legacy that this pioneering British outfit counts as its recorded repertoire, that is saying a lot. Popular and critical opinion is in perfect sync with each other while describing Exile On Main Street as one of the key milestones of modern day rock 'n' roll and that would have been absolutely fine were it not for the fact that its creators are less than enamoured with the clutch of songs they put together while living as tax exiles in the south of France.
Sir Mick Jagger, rubber-lipped frontman and full-time resident Lothario of the Rolling Stones went on record stating he doesn't get any satisfaction from the way Exile On Main Street sounds. "Exile is not one of my favourite albums, although I think the record does have a particular feeling, " states the man in the 2003 book According To The Rolling Stones. "I'm not too sure how great the songs are, but put together it's a nice piece. However, when I listen to Exile it has some of the worst mixes I've ever heard. I'd love to remix the record, not just because of the vocals, but because generally I think it sounds lousy. At the time Jimmy Miller (record producer) was not functioning properly. I had to finish the whole record myself, because otherwise there were just these drunks and junkies. Of course I'm ultimately responsible for it, but it's really not good and there's no concerted effort or intention. "
That is probably the reason why The Rolling Stones have decided to reissue Exile On Main Street, re-mastered and remixed and complete with additional tracks that were left off the original release. The new and mint fresh Exile On Main Street coincides with Stones In Exile, a documentary that captures the Stones during one of their most creatively fertile periods and provides terrific insight into the kind of headspace the band were in during the making of the album.
It says much for the Stones' formidable prowess both as individual musicians and as a collective unit that even though they were far from home with most of them strung out on all kinds of pharmaceutical substances, the tracks laid down at that point in time resonate with the brilliance that makes The Rolling Stones one of the best acts in the business. The bonus tracks on the Exile On Main Street reissue haven't really required extensive re-workings. They have withstood the test of time. "There wasn't much to be done and I really didn't want to get in the way of what was there, " says Keith Richards, the Stones' six-string man, a legend in his own right and the perfect song writing foil for Sir Mick through the five decades of the Stones' existence. "It was missing a bit of body here and there, and I stroked something on acoustic here and there. But otherwise, I really wanted to leave them pretty much as they were. Mick wanted to sort of fix some vocal things, but otherwise, basically they are as we left them 39 years ago. "
Quite understandable really, because genius usually doesn't require any fixing.
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