Bridges To Babylon

The Rolling Stones

Three years ago, the Rolling Stones released VOODOO LOUNGE, perhaps their best album since TATOO YOU, possibly SOME GIRLS, maybe even EXILE ON MAIN STREET. The lead single, "Love is Strong," had an infectious hook while the album was filled with other straight shootin' numbers like "You Got Me Rocking" and "Sparks Will Fly." Keith Richards delivered one of the best Stones tunes in years with "The Worst" (featuring some killer pedal steel by Ron Wood) while Mick Jagger's voice soared to new dimensions. The first Stones album without Bill Wyman even put the rather drool Charlie Watts in a good mood.

With VOODOO LOUNGE, the Stones re-affirmed their title as "The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band." Even after thirty years, the Stones proved once and for all they could still make a decent record. So with little time on their side, The Stones have returned three years later with another stab at longevity -- BRIDGES TO BABYLON.

Without the sharp focus of its predecessor, BRIDGES TO BABYLON still manages to kick up enough dust to warrant a listen or two. Whether or not the Stones are on a, so to speak, roll remains to be seen; however, one can rest easily knowing the band is at least putting a little more effort into their work than they were during the early 80's. Indeed, they've woken up to the fact that their days are numbered, and their every move will be scrutinized, analyzed, mostly criticized, and eventually mythologized.

The album's opener, "Flip The Switch" is delivered in the grand tradition of several Stones opener (e.g., "Brown Sugar" and "Start Me Up" come to mind). The track is a statement of what the Stones, in their mid fifties, are capable of. Too bad it is followed by the album's dismal first single, "Anybody Seen My Baby?" This is a definite step backwards. Even with the song's soothing bassline, pushing a single that salivates on k.d. lang melodies just doesn't seem very Stones-like. You'd have thought Jagger had learned his lesson with his reckless falsetto exercises on "Miss You" and "Emotional Rescue."

Fortunately, the album moves forward with some choice cuts. The slow, unremarkable groove of "Low Down" sustains the temperament, while "Already Over Me" flows like a suitable, superior second single. Jagger goes on to dip his wick in a the gospel-flavored "Saint of Me," which turns out to be far less sacrilegious than something like "Faraway Eyes." No matter how you slice it, you can't go wrong with tunes bearing such titles as "Might As Well Get Juiced" or "Too Tight," another potential hit single if the marketing folks at Virgin know the difference between what they think the Stones are, and what they actually are.

In an unusual turn, the album closes with two numbers spearheaded by the raspy vocals of Keith Richards. "Thief in The Night" and "How Can I Stop" sound less like Stones and more like X-pensive Winos (Richards' other band), but it all seems to go down the same.

Which leads one to an interesting point once the CD is over and returned to its jewel box: is it the Stones, or just an incredible simulation? A scan of the credits reveals that the band had a lot of help from the likes of Waddy Wachtel (an X-pensive Wino), Blondie Chapel (a Beach Boy?), Jim Keltner (a famous session drummer whose relegated to percussion status), Daryl Jones (Wyman's stand-in) and Don Was (co-producer with the Glimmer Twins).

Then again, the Stones have always recruited an assorted cast of characters to fill out their albums. Nicky Hopkins, Ian Stewert and Bobby Keys based their careers on playing with the Stones. It's only a different crew this time; and thirty years later, it's still only rock n' roll.

~Shawn Perry

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