The virtues of "Exile on Main St." - variously ranked as the best record the Rolling Stones ever made, if not one of the best rock and roll albums of all time - need no explication here. Nor do the album's attractions to those who enjoyed the country byways it explored as part of its weary travelogue of American music, beginning with Sweet Virginia
and on through the entire sweep of the second side of the LP's original four. All of that has been articulated many times before.
But now there's something new to talk about. The album has been given its deluxifying makeover - the original tracks newly remastered (and your opinion of that may depend on how much importance you attach to the sonic murkiness the original has come to be so famous for), and a second CD of "rarities" added (also available as a separate, single-disc purchase). Which means there's a new (and, it's claimed, never before heard) collection of outtakes, alternate versions and songs that didn't make it onto the original for Stones aficionados to listen to, evaluate, argue over....
Well, not exactly. Three of the new tracks are indeed alternates - an early version of Loving Cup, a slower, much bluesier version of Tumblin' Dice, called Good Time Women, that has completely different lyrics, and an alternate version of Soul Survivor with vocals by Keith Richards. There's also a brief, jammy, throwaway instrumental.
As for the rest, they were found in various states of incompletion, lacking vocals, and in some cases, lyrics. So, nearly 40 years later, Mick Jagger finished them, supplying new lyrics for those that lacked them, recording new vocals and adding background singers as well as instrumental overdubs here and there.
In many cases, the results - Plunder My Soul most of all, but also songs like Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren), with its honking horns and wailing background singers, and the vintage Richards twang-driven Dancing in the Light - sound like they might not have been out of place on "Exile" - if, that is, the band had finished them at the time, and if the band had decided that they made the cut.
But, of course, the band didn't finish them at the time, and the contemporary additions and revisions to them serve to diminish whatever connection they may have had to the album, to separate them from the conditions in which it was created (promotional materials for the reissue implicitly acknowledge as much in suggesting that the tracks "have undergone a unique evolution"). Whatever their individual merits, releasing them in a way that attempts to make them part of that classic is a dubious exercise at best.