In addition to being America’s only rock ’n’ roll magazine, CREEM happens to be the world’s best rock ’n’ roll magazine—and, it could be argued, the world’s most masturbatory. Because we like ourselves a little too much, every now and again, we’re going to review past CREEM reviews in a series called CREEMAINS. Expect the most deliciously spoiled CREEM, like in our take on Lester Bangs’ 1972 review of the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. A lot has changed in 50 years. Lap it up! And read more Lester Bangs in the CREEM Archive, here.
Picture a world far different from ours today: there’s no internet and social media, financial stability is in abundance, guitars are the most powerful force in music, and a 30-year-old British man with charisma lives and walks among us. Not only this, but he, Mick Jagger, is being exiled from England, along with the rest of his band, the Rolling Stones.
Admittedly, it would be a spicier story if the Stones had their passports revoked for serious drug charges, or they were thrown from the country for making music that rocked too hard. Instead, the biggest band in the world left their Queen and country to emigrate across the smallest stretch of sea to France to avoid paying the left-wing government’s tax on very high earners.
This period of brutal (self-)banishment and the subsequent struggle abroad—set up in a mansion in the South of France with their loved ones—produced what is widely considered the Stones very best album, 1972’s Exile on Main St. Activities included sunbathing, bingeing drugs and alcohol, and casually making an album when it suited. Or, as Jagger said, just “accumulating material,” knowing they’d use it one day. Unfortunately, this tenth album was panned at the time as their worst. Rolling Stone, for example, talked of the album’s “blunt impact” and admitted that “when you’ve been given the best, it becomes hard to accept anything less.” Rambling on at 18-tracks, Exile followed albums of crisp baseball-striking hits like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Gimme Shelter.” Naturally, it was criticised for not having a clear direction, or style, or those smash singles. (Though, retrospectively, “Happy,” sung by guitarist Keith Richards, is one of their all-time greats.)
The listener most affronted—perhaps “morally disgusted” surmises the mood of his review best—by their offering was this magazine’s infamous critic Lester Bangs. “This is at once the worst studio album the Stones have ever made, and the most maddeningly inconsistent and strangely depressing release of their career,” he begins of Britain’s greatest rock’n’roll export since the Beatles, adding that the first time he listened to Exile, “I became utterly depressed.”