Bridges To Babylon

The Rolling Stones

Virgin Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


It’s difficult to imagine the rock world without The Rolling Stones, but when you think about it, the last time they were legitimately relevant was Tattoo You in 1981. Since that point they have released a handful of albums, some more successful than others but were any of them particularly necessary? Mick and Keith and Co. discovered their gifts a long time ago, but by now they have exhausted the benefits of them as far as it comes to inspired rock ‘n’ roll.

You have to hand to The Stones, though; they don’t care. Their tours remain immensely popular and their concerts are sold out all over the globe. A new record is almost immaterial, merely serving as a namesake for a new concert jaunt. The dwindling output of the band since the ‘80s has all but confirmed this; over time, the gap between records has grown from a year, to three, to eight (and as of this writing, that gap is again eigtht years and counting).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That delay, believe it or not, helps a great deal when examining a Stones record. Were these albums to come out one after the other, the patterns and substance would quickly become tiresome and stale (or as Jimmy Fallon and Jagger would put it, stay-uhl). But when one has to wait close to a decade to hear something new, the familiar isn’t so bad.

At the time of the release of 1997’s Bridges To Babylon, sampling was a practice that was gaining popularity, but it was nowhere as ubiquitous as it was today. So the fact that The Stones used it on the lead single “Anybody Seen My Baby,” courtesy of Biz Markie, was a big deal. It is also not a coincidence that the track is the best of the album, establishing a R&B groove that is a breath of fresh air stylistically. Apparently, Jagger recruited the Dust Brothers for production duties before Richards brought in someone else. Thankfully their influence on the record remains with the standout track.

There are the more “traditional” Stones moments that affirm a band that knows exactly how to go about its business and do it professionally. The bluesy rockers “Saint Of Me” and “Out Of Control” harken back to the band’s younger days, and the homage to the Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” in the latter track is an excellent example of emulation rather than a direct copy.

Jagger sings a few ballads, Keith takes a turn or two at the mic, and the usual fare is represented. It’s not that the songs in themselves are “bad,” but these are the moments that we’ve heard on every Stones records since the ‘70s. The band’s experiments (Their Satanic Majesties Request, Some Girls) were hit-or-miss, but at least they were trying something different. The brief stabs at innovation on this record are welcome, but it’s a shame they didn’t go further.

Bridges To Babylon has all the trademarks of a latter-day Stones records: it’s far too long for its own good and loses momentum on the back half of the record. Yet it still has moments that justify its existence. Mick and Keith don’t hit as many home runs as they used to, but there’s enough left in the tank to send a few into the gap.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B



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