The Stones still have the strength to make you feel that both we and they are hemmed in and torn by similar walls, frustrations and tragedies. That's the breakthrough of Exile On Main Street.
Exile is dense enough to be compulsive: hard to hear, at first, the precision and fury behind the murk ensure that you'll come back, hearing more with each playing. What you hear sooner or later is two things: an intuition for nonstop getdown perhaps unmatched since Rolling Stones Now, and a strange kind of humility and love emerging from dazed frenzy. (pp. 44-5)
Exile is about casualties, and partying in the face of them. The party is obvious. The casualties are inevitable.
Sticky Fingers was the flashy, dishonest picture of a multitude of slow deaths. But it's the search for alternatives, something to do (something worthwhile, even) that unites us with the Stones, continuously….
Exile On Main Street is the great step forward, an amplification of the tough insights of "Gimme Shelter" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want." A brilliant projection of the nerve-torn nights that follow all the arrogant celebrations of self-demolition, a work of love and fear and humanity. Even such a piece of seeming filler as "Casino Boogie" reveals itself, once the words come through, to be a picture of life at the terminal….
"Rocks Off" and "Shine A Light" present the essential picture, the latter song addressing the half-phased out but still desperately alive person who speaks in the first. (p. 45)
The sense of helplessness and impotence is not particularly pleasant, but this is the way it is today for too many. Such withering personal honesty is certainly a departure for the Stones.
"Kick me like you kicked me before …": the Stones talking to their audience, the audience talking back. Old lovers who may have missed the bourgeois traps of "Sittin' On A Fence" but got waylaid anyway by various disjunctures; they certainly don't yearn like saps to get back to where they "once belonged," but they do recognize the loss of all sense of wonder, the absence of love, the staleness and sometimes frightening inhumanity of this "new" culture. The need for new priorities.
When so many are working so hard at solipsism, the Stones define the unhealthy state, cop to how far they are mired in it, and rail at the breakdown with the weapons at their disposal: noise, anger, utter frankness. It's what we've always loved them for. And it took a lot more guts to cut this than "Street Fightin' Man," say, even though the impulse is similar: an intense yearning to merge couples with the realization that to truly merge may be only to submerge once more. (pp. 45-6)
What Exile on Main Street is about, past the party roar, is absorption. Inclusion. Or rather, the recognition of exclusion coupled with the yearning for inclusion…. (p. 46)
Lester Bangs, "I Only Get My Rocks Off When I'm Dreaming," in Creem (© copyright 1973 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 4, No. 3, January, 1973, pp. 43-7, 86-7.
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