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Music Review: The Rolling Stones – Bridges to Babylon

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It had been three years since the last Rolling Stones studio album and the group was preparing to leave on another massive tour. The Stones would play 108 shows over the course of a year before four million fans and gross over a quarter of a billion dollars. Mick Jagger was writing songs for another solo project and did not want to record a new Rolling Stones album. Ronnie and Keith outvoted him 2 to 1 and so Bridges to Babylon was born. It would be their last studio album for eight years.

Bridges to Babylon was recorded over a four-month period during which Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were constantly at odds over the album’s vision. Richards wanted a back- to-basics sound and Jagger wanted a modern-techno sound. This animosity created an album of disparate and varied songs that ultimately turned out all right. Eleven years after its release I call this album good but not great, pleasurable but not overly creative and very playable but not essential.

I tend to think the Keith Richards contributions are the strongest. He sings an unprecedented three songs on this album. “You Don’t Have To Mean It” is a nice reggae effort and he provides superior guitar lines to support the vocal. The final two songs of the release, “Thief In The Night” and “How Can I Stop” are typical Stones songs of sex and rock ‘n’ roll.  Richards vocals strain successfully to provide a strong ending to the album. These are totally Keith Richards’s creations as Jagger had walked out of the sessions and did not appear or work on the tracks.

The most interesting track was the funky and interesting “Anybody Seen My Baby.” It is an infectious song with some rapping and you almost want to sing along. After the track was completed Keith Richards realized that they had inadvertently copied the melody from a K.D. Lang song. It all turned out well as she did not really care and was happy to accept a writing credit.  

“Might As Well Get Juiced” was the prototype Mick Jagger song on the album. It featured drum loops and a dance beat. Jagger played some fine harmonica but I have never been a big fan of the Stones in dance mode. This song and others carried on Jagger’s inclination to make music similar to what was hot at the time.

“Gunface” was the hardest rocking song on the album and possibly of the Stones 90’s output. Keith’s guitar rips along in support of lyrics of violence. “Low Down” and “Saint Of Me” are average rockers but are not offensive.  Mick does hit the spot with the ballad, “Always Suffering.” He seems to be focused and proves that most of the time, at least for the Rolling Stones, less is more.  

Sometimes The Rolling Stones' members were their own worst enemies and victims of their past successes. This was most apparent in the studio but rarely so in concert. I thing Bridges to Babylon is under-rated but could have been better. My feeling is that there were just too many people in the studio. There are nine bassists credited on the album and Charlie Watts hired veteran studio drummer Jim Keltner to sit in when he was disinterested. Still, while the album produced no breakout or truly memorable songs, when taken as a whole, it remains a good listening experience.    

 

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About David Bowling

  • ThomasG

    Yes, it’s uneven but there are some tasty cuts. “Saint of Me” is NOT an average rocker, much better. Keith’s last cuts are not average Stones takes on women at all. “Thief in the Night” has a wonderfully spooky synth groove and “How Can I Stop?” has a moody, jazzy vibe. Critic forgot to properly evaluate “Might As Well Get Juiced”. Listen. It’s actually a Blues tune spiced up with Dust Brothers production. Jagger has blended many styles with the Blues and this track succeeds for me.

  • Steve Peaslee

    Saint Of Me and Out Of Control are two Stones songs that are the some of the most under rated Songs in the bands history. Listen to them 5 times and you will hear why. Always Suffering Is a great song and is full of fantastic writing.

  • ado

    This album has some of the Stones best work on it . . . not of the 90s, of their career.

    It is not remembered among the classics for a couple of reasons:

    1) it is too long: should have left off Always Suffering and Too Tight (despite that cool intro). They are generic and add little to the Stones repitoire.

    2) vocals too high in the mix: typical mistake of the Don Was era.

    The Mick/Keith tension on this album is what makes it great. If I had been in charge, I’d have done everything I could to open the album with the intro to How Can I Stop, only to have it interrupted by the synthesized sounds at the beginning of Juiced and the remainder of that track. . . put the tension up front. Would have left the rest of the track listing the same (flip the switch @ track2 – Saint of Me @ track 9. Skip Juiced – which would be new number 1 – along with Too Tight and Always Suffering, and end with Keith’s two steller closers).

  • dannyboy

    This is really two albums-one song Keith-one Jagger-production vs raw-the guitar work on this album is superb-listen to this recording-doesn’t get old-great production-keith wasn’t crazy about the dust brothers but I think they did the stones justice