Byline: Seth Colter Walls
It's a fact as undeniable as it is oft-repeated: in the late '60s and early '70s, the Rolling Stones were incapable of doing wrong. Or, at the very least, the wrongs they were committing were exactly the sort that the public wanted from its rock stars. The Stones did drugs, got caught, and came back with "Jumpin' Jack Flash." They rode with the Hells Angels to a concert at Altamont, someone got killed, and it only added to the legend. When the band decamped from England to make Exile on Main St in 1972, they cut a boozy path from the south of France to Los Angeles. What resulted was an 18-track album of such bad-boy, Dionysian swagger that it's been rereleased on format after format in the years since. The latest iteration of this Exile industry, however, isn't only a marketplace sop. Universal's new "deluxe" edition adds 10 unreleased tracks from those sessions, a documentary, and a chance to puzzle over why no one hits these notes -anymore--least of all the Stones themselves, who oddly elected to overdub new vocal and guitar lines onto some outtakes from nearly 40 years ago.
These bonus tracks from the Exile sessions aren't half bad, even if it's easy to tell why they got cut. The new entry "Plundered My Soul" can't best "Tumbling Dice" for an articulation of down-and-out pride, and the Delta touches of "I Ain't Signifying" aren't superior to the slide guitar that drove "Ventilator Blues." What the collection does reveal is a band locked into a performing groove, one capable of steering them toward worthy takes of half-sketched songs. There's a casual confidence that puts the lie to some of Mick Jagger's late-period stage manner, in which strutting became an end in itself. There's less self-conscious showboating here, but a lot worth boasting about. …