Bridges To Babylon

The Rolling Stones

Virgin Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I might have made a minor mistake in my selections for the best of 1997. In that column (which just ran its course here on "The Daily Vault"), I declared the latest release by The Rolling Stones, Bridges To Babylon, to be one of the best of last year.

No, I'm not changing my mind about that declaration, but I think I didn't go far enough. Allow me to make this modification: If not their best album in the past two decades, The Rolling Stones might just have made the best album of their career.

Bridges To Babylon symbolizes a shift in the center of sonic power for the British blooze-rock band. Long noted for centering their songs around one guitar riff from Keith Richards or Ron Wood (and promptly mashing that chord to death by playing it over and over), the center of attention now is the drumming of Charlie Watts (itself sounding revitalized) and the bass work of any number of session musicians. (Darryl Jones, who was used extensively on Voodoo Lounge, is criminally ignored on this album, appearing on only three or four tracks.)

This is not a knock on Richards or Wood; despite the fact I said off-the-cuff that Richards looked a healthy shade of pale, in fact none of the Stones have looked better since the days of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Tattoo You and "Start Me Up," and all of their contributions sound like they have been rejuvenated. Mick Jagger has learned that there is more to a song than sneering or screaming through it; the first single "Anybody Seen My Baby" is proof of that.

A logical choice for the first single, "Anybody Seen My Baby" (based partially on a k.d. lang riff - for which she got a songwriting credit) displays the power the Stones can have when the energy is focused right. With a killer bass line laid down by Jamie Muhoberac and a solid drum pattern from Watts, the song is allowed to slowly build into the crescendo of the chorus. (The gentle, jangling guitar work is further evidence that, when placed in the right settings, they sound great.)

But don't think that The Rolling Stones (undoubtedly the world's oldest teenagers) have gone politically correct. "Flip The Switch" is a lighthearted look at death by lethal injection (and a damn fine track at that). And who else but The Rolling Stones could write a killer song with a killer title like "Might As Well Get Juiced"?

It's especially refreshing to hear on Bridges To Babylon a salute to some of their musical roots, many of which are sung by Richards (who continues to impress me as a singer). "You Don't Have To Mean It" features a light reggae beat that almost makes it sound Carribean, while "How Can I Stop" is as good a rhythm-and-blues track as they come. A third Richards vocal, "Thief In The Night," is another powerful song with a more gentle touch.

Occasionally, though, a minor flaw or two pokes its head into the mix. "Already Over Me" is an attempt to recreate the ballad magic they captured on "Out Of Tears" back on Voodoo Lounge; however, there are not many moments like this on Bridges To Babylon.

Some critics of the band might say that it's time for these road-scarred veterans to call it a day, that their glory years are behind them. One word: wrong. If anything, the Stones might just have put behind them the disaster of the '80s (remember Emotional Rescue? "Harlem Shuffle"? Not one, but two half-assed live albums?) The rebirth started on Voodoo Lounge; on Bridges To Babylon, it appears to come into full-bloom.

I doubted the possibility of this album being so good myself - I didn't buy it until it had been out for two months. Boy, what a mistake I made. Don't be a doubter like I was; Bridges To Babylon is an incredible effort that seems to make the past 30-some years an exercise leading to the ultimate work. Pick it up - pick it up now.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.