One thing I like about the Rolling Stones is that they're not big on nostalgia. They never seem more cantankerous than when they're forced to talk about the past. They haven't made a great album for 30 years, but it doesn't stop them from playing at least a couple of new songs every tour. And, apparently, they can't be bothered to go through their vaults in search of lost gems from the '60s and '70s - even their Rarities album, released a few years ago, consists of B-sides, remixes and other previously released ephemera.
Someone -- probably someone with a calculator showing them how much money was to be made -- finally convinced Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to do a little musical archaeology for the deluxe reissue of their 1972 masterpiece, Exile On Main St., about which enough has been written so I don't need to discuss it here. They've dutifully dug up ten unreleased songs for a bonus disc to hook all the fans that already own one of the half-dozen or so editions of the regular album that have been marketed in the last 38 years.
Only problem is, they didn't do a very good job of it. Of the ten tracks they chose, they'd only gotten around to doing vocals on five of them (one is an instrumental) before setting them aside. What to do? Well, if you're Mick Jagger, you write some lyrics and cut some new vocals on top of the old instrumental tracks (apparently Keith Richards steered clear of this part of the process). Mick even got the Stones' Exile-era guitarist Mick Taylor (later replaced by Ron Wood) to overdub some period-sounding guitar parts, besides adding backing vocals and, on one track, a string section.
The results don't really sound anything like the record they put out in 1972. But then again, Exile itself was recorded in several studios over many months, in some cases using songs that had been written years earlier -- the alternate take of "Loving Cup" included on the bonus disc was recorded in 1969, at the sessions for Let It Bleed. And the Stones have been ace recyclers for their entire career. Under pressure to put out a new album in time for their 1981-82 world tour, they grabbed a fistful of outtakes and half-finished songs stretching back a decade and put out Tattoo You -- their last album, in my opinion, to come within shouting distance of classic-dom.
So while new/old songs like "Pass The Wine (Sophia Loren)" or "Plundered My Soul" don't sound like "Tumbling Dice" or "Happy," they do sound like really good Rolling Stones songs, as satisfying in their own way as the "real" outtakes included on the bonus disc. And if you want to do the inevitable Stones/Beatles comparisons, these songs trounce "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love," the two after-the-fact recreations by the "Threetles" with the ghost of John Lennon at the helm.
In fact, I'd go so far to say that Disc Two of Exile is the best new Stones record since Tattoo You. And you get the original, newly remastered Exile On Main St. album in the deal as well. What's not to love? As far as I'm concerned, all future Stones albums should begin with a trawl through the vaults in search of scraps from their 1968-72 peak. The Stones have already proved that when it comes to reheating leftovers, they're the master chefs of rock and roll.