Bienvenue a Nellcote, home of the ventilator blues.
The 19th century mansion in the heart of the Cote D’Azur, Gestapo headquarters in the 40’s, the perfect tax haven for those know to walk before they’re made to run.
In the summer of 1971, Keith Richards rents Nellcote, and the boys set up shop to record what would become my desert island album, Exile on Main St.
To have been a fly on the wall in that basement…
This week, I picked up my fourth copy of Exile. Re-mastered this time. Much in the same vein as the Beatles set that came out last fall, the re-mastering offers the listener a much cleaner version of the album. For someone who has listened to Exile hundreds of times, the nuances between the old and new are very obvious, and sometimes revelatory.
For example, I never was overly crazy about what was arguably the band’s biggest commercial success on Exile, Tumbling Dice. I found it too muddled, and much preferred it in concert to the album. Truth be told, I’d often wade through the waste stormy winter right in to the arms of Sweet Virginia.
Finally, after 40 years, they shine a light. The orchestral arrangement of the song is beautiful. Mick no longer sounds like he’s singing with a bag over his head. Bill Wyman’s bass drives the song, and Mick Taylor’s solo never sounded so precise, or so sweet. It’s a perfectly crafted song, and who knew she had a partner in crime? More on her later…
If you know Exile intimately, then you’ll really get to appreciate with a clarity you’ve never heard- Bobby Keys’ sax solos on Casino Boogie, Charlie Watts’ drums on Casino Boogie, Nicky Hopkins’ piano on Casino Boogie, wait a second; Casino Boogie is a hell of a song.
All 18 songs are. And it’s great that they’re getting the 21st century treatment. Modern technology hasn’t figured out flying cars or teleportation, but they sure can re-master an LP, and make every song your favourite tune.
As cool as the album is, the bonus disc is a Stones fan’s dream. Ten songs, culled from the Exile demos, some so incomplete that the boys (including Mick Taylor, who left the band and was replaced by Ronnie Wood in ‘74) were brought in to fill in the blanks with the help of super producer Don Was.
Of the ten, two are different versions of songs from Exile- a Keith led ‘Soul Survivor’ with completely different lyrics and more horns, and a reworked ‘Loving Cup’ that lacks the flow of the original, but is great to hear nonetheless. ‘Pass the Wine’ is a hybrid of old music and new lyrics that thankfully continue the tradition of cocksure Stones sense and sensibility: “glad to be alive and kickin / glad to have a pot to piss in / so pass the wine / and let’s make some love”
'Plundered My Soul' and 'I’m Not Signifying' would fit right in on the original Exile, or Goat’s Head Soup, or Even Voodoo Lounge. They’re just classic, unabashed blues/rock Stones tracks. ‘Dancing in the Light’ deals with insecurity and heartbreak, but with the playful wink that Mick is famous for: “I’ve got a sinking feeling, who’s potatoes are you peeling?”
There are two songs that make the ‘New’ Exile shine. The first, ‘So Divine (Aladdin Song)’ is a smoky hazy Zeppelin influenced jam with a lead guitar that gives me goose bumps. Unlike most Jagger songs dealing with heartbreak (think Angie, Miss You, Fool to Cry, even Stupid Girl), So Divine finds Jagger angry and bitter: “You think your love is so divine / you pour it out like it was heaven scented wine/ you think your love is all I crave /well I’ve got better things to do than be your slave.”
Finally, ‘Good Time Women’ is the partner in crime to Tumbling Dice, or at least she’s her boozy, sexed up older sister. With a sped up ‘Dice’ as it’s theme, Mick’s relaxed drawl makes for a great contrast with the fast girls of whom he sings. This is a song that’s begging to be played back to back with Honky Tonk Woman on their next tour.
One week since the re release of Exile on Main St., and the Stones have once again reached #1 on the charts in the UK. A new tour is imminent, and the only question remains where it always has, on lead guitar. My buck says that after the success of new Exile Ronnie gets the boot, Mick Taylor gets his due, and he rejoins the band. They could even go back to Nellcote to record...