Exile on Main St by Robert Greenfield

All this righteous posturing distracts from the narrative itself, distorting its no-bullshit prose into downright surliness.

Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell With the Rolling Stones

Publisher: Da Capo
ISBN: 0306814331
Author: Robert Greenfield
Price: $24.00
Length: 224
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2006-11

"Those seeking a track-by-track analysis of Exile on Main St. detailing how each song was recorded, overdubbed, and mixed ... are hereby advised to consult the works mentioned at the end of this book, this sort of travail having always been the bailiwick of rock critics as opposed to rock writers."

So writes Robert Greenfield at the start of the final third of Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones, his account of the drama surrounding the making of the band's legendary 1972 double album. Indeed, readers looking for insight into the technical minutiae of the record's production have a number of existing texts to consult, including Bill Janovitz's entry in the "33 1/3" series. In fact, it isn't until nearly halfway into the book that the band begins congregating in the now-notorious French basement with no ventilation to make what many will deem the album of its career, and even then, such documentation takes a backseat to the dissection of power struggles and the psychological powder keg that is the band's chemistry. Greenfield is far less concerned with the music than he is with tabloid-esque gossip (many incidents in the book become questionable when told from so many conflicting viewpoints); he is, as he so definitively points out, a rock writer and not a rock critic, and is more inclined to plumb the shadowy depths of the characters at the heart of this tragedy of sorts. This is not to say that his book is a glorified, hardbound tabloid, though it does traffic in excessively lurid accounts of drug-fueled misbehavior. (By all accounts, the summer spent making Exile on Main St. certainly was a season in hell.) While the Stones' long-running association with vice is so well documented in the annals of pop lore that it continues to be a wellspring of parody, Greenfield manages to present a picture of debauchery devoid of all ironic traces.

Greenfield follows the tax-evading Stones first to Villa Nellcote, Keith Richards's 19th-century mansion in southern France where the recording of Exile would finally and arduously begin, and then on to Los Angeles, where they would complete and mix the record. The book favors Richards (who Greenfield deems "our hero", "our antihero", and "our Jesus of Cool" in an early moment of effusive iconography) and his then-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, who fluctuate between heroin addiction and futile detoxes; most of the book's action (drug smugglings, bust-ups with the local authorities, infidelities, negotiating the priorities of the hangers-on -- in effect, all the things going on at Nellcote while the band waited around for something resembling a recording session to occur) places at least one of the two in the starring role. In contrast, Greenfield does his best to passively condemn Mick Jagger's absenteeism ("It would be tempting to call him the villain ... but that would not be fair to anyone, Mick most of all") and selfishness ("Because Mick had an agenda, he was always prepared to play a dazzling variety of games to achieve his aim"), though he does manage to eventually acknowledge the creative importance of the uncomfortable friction generated between Jagger and Richards.

Greenfield has written of close encounters of the Stonesian kind before: S.T.P.: A Journey Through America With the Rolling Stones (1974), his firsthand account of the band's 1972 post-Exile tour, is a good, if often unflattering portrait of the band blazing a Dionysian path across the US. Where that book was fueled by an in-the-moment immediacy and insider access, Exile on Main St. is marked by a reliance on the quoted perspectives of others, as if all this distance from the actual events requires a reinforcement of talking heads. After a strong start in Greenfield's electrifying, rock 'n' roll-infected language, the book becomes increasingly dependent on quotes from outside interviews and previously published books, so much that at times its construction is no more complicated than a series of cuts and pastes.

Another hindrance to Greenfield's style is the recurring failure to suppress snarky flare-ups, which erupt as contemptuous, unintentionally hypocritical asides. He belittles music critics, yet repeatedly incorporates their quotes and opinions into his own text. He takes Paul McCartney to task for selling out to sponsors like Fidelity ("he now bears little real resemblance to who he used to be"), only to go on to defend the similar actions of the Stones, the band that arguably invented rock 'n' roll whoring to the highest corporate bidder. In one particularly embarrassing moment, Greenfield calls out a number of authors on their factual inaccuracies ("Next time you want to check a fact about the Stones," he smugly writes, "please feel free to call me"), only to commit a glaring error of his own two paragraphs later by incorrectly asserting that "Jumpin' Jack Flash" can be found on Sticky Fingers. All this righteous posturing distracts from the narrative itself, distorting its no-bullshit prose into downright surliness.

Despite its fly-on-the-wall intimacies, first-hand accounts, and genuinely insightful portraits (special attention is given to the band's alienation of Mick Taylor, the Stones' brief and best lead guitarist), Exile on Main St. fails to confront the most obvious of questions: Exactly how did one of rock 'n' roll's most influential albums emerge from all this sturm und drang? If the Stones' last truly exceptional album -- a record they don't particularly admire -- is a work of genius, how was said genius manufactured by a collection of torn and frayed consciousnesses? Greenfield's book avoids hypotheses and sticks to the realism: These are the Stones as-is, plainly if not shockingly candid, reduced to mere men both callous and indifferent. Unfortunately for them, the music's always been more interesting.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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