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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