Box set review: The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street remastered re-issue

Musicians want their recordings to sound like it. Hipsters want to live in its back alleys. Stones fans pray that the band has another one like this left in them. The mythical Exile on Main Street has grown to these proportions since its release 38 years ago. The reason is simple: this is the sound of the Rolling Stones once and for all consummating their skate along the fine edge between perfection and disaster. It is sublime in its relentless, off-kilter swagger. It is grit, writ large. Stop wishing the Stones could ever re-capture that vibe. It is a vapor forever dispersed and this release with some newly-doctored bonus tracks proves it.

You don't need me to tell you about the original album. You either love it or you have never listened to it front-to-back. Or else you were born without a soul. In any case this new remaster delivers it with all of its dirty glory intact. The ragged recording traces an arc through sin, salvation and survival. Keith Richards lays down the riffs in his newly-learned open-G tuning and Mick Taylor dresses it with the bluesiest licks ever to grace a Stones record. Mick Jagger is entirely convincing as co-conspirator and tale teller. The rhythm section, horns, backing singers and other embellishments all groove enticingly, song after song. The tale is palpably told in music and words: excess, confusion, worry, redemption and joy all play major roles and it is easy and automatic to buy what is being sold.

Now comes a 10-song addendum to the ultimate rock-n-roll progress report from 1972. Slip it into the player and hear Mick Jagger circa 2010 try (and fail pathetically) to re-write history. His new vocal atop the 1972 backing track now titled "Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren)" sounds more like an out-take from a Jagger solo album.  How much less Exile can you get? "Pass the Wind" is more like it.

Thing get marginally better as the bonus disc unfolds. A couple of songs actually sound like they may have been contenders for the original album. But the gem among all of these is the alternate version of "Soul Survivor" sung by Keith. It's almost worth driving over to Target to buy the single-CD they call the Rarities Edition just to get this song. You'll wonder why it took 38 years to find its way out of the tape vault.

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