Exile is not one of the Stones' more immediately accessible albums; it takes a while to appreciate its treasures. At first listen it might sound just raw and messy but eventually the scales fall from your ears and a true gem is revealed. Very much of a cohesive whole, the album gains momentum in its successive tracks to display the multifaceted rock virtuosity of the Stones at their most powerful. The music is intense throughout and often energetic. To me, the first section culminates in the lilting masterpiece Tumbling Dice.
The yearning country strains of Sweet Virginia introduce the next segment; this song reminds me of Far Away Eyes on the 1978 album Some Girls. Torn And Frayed has a similar soulful country feel and the catchy Sweet Black Angel is probably the closest to a pop song on the album. The track Happy is the bridge between this sensitive segment and the harder or bluesier rock of Whatever On The Run, Ventilator Blues, the spooky atmospheric I Just Want To See His Face and the soulful Let It Loose.
The uptempo hard rock of All Down The Line opens the final section, followed by Stop Breaking Down with its jangling guitars and Shine A Light with its varied tempo and complex arrangement. The album concludes with the driving rock of Soul Survivor. There are moments on Exile, especially the slower songs, that evoke the sound of 1971's Sticky Fingers while others remind me somewhat of the aforementioned album Some Girls. I wouldn't say this is the best of all Stones albums, but it definitely belongs in the top 5 of their work.