We were becoming accustomed to several years between Rolling Stones albums. Since 1994’s well-received Voodoo Lounge they’d given us the not-really-unplugged Stripped, as well as finally approving the all-star Rock And Roll Circus CD and video. Their next studio album arrived pretty quickly.
Bridges To Babylon is another “better than expected” set of new versions of their trademark sound produced mostly by the omnipresent Don Was. Despite the presence of several bass players, guitarists and even Jim Keltner, they still sound like the Stones, which is good. However, the handful of tracks that utilizes such remixers as the Dust Brothers don’t sit as well as when the boys just do their thing.
For the most part, the album rocks, starting from the opening “Flip The Switch” and continuing on “Gunface”. We could’ve sworn “Too Tight” and “Out Of Control” were already song titles of theirs, but even “Anybody Seen My Baby?” (which notoriously bore such close resemblance to k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving” that she got co-writing credit) is mixed so well that it sounds like 1975; that, by the way, is a compliment. It was also their best single in years.
Keith shines vocally on three songs that showcase, in turn, his reggae side (“You Don’t Have To Mean It”), his bluesy side (“Thief In The Night”) and his slow ballad side (“How Can I Stop”). By contrast, Mick’s tendency towards history lessons (“Saint Of Me”) and woe-is-me heartbreak (“Already Over Me”) were getting tedious, but if you can ignore the lyrics, the music works. And every now and then, such as on the slightly countrified “Always Suffering”, it actually sounds like they’re working with instead of against each other.
At over an hour long, there’s a lot to take in, and perhaps it would have been better served as a tight single LP. At least there’s nothing really embarrassing, so it’s a decent listen. Just in case you’re keeping track, Bridges To Babylon was their 40th American album; however, since nine of those were hits compilations and seven were live recordings, it was really only their 24th new album. But with another extravagant world tour underway, the odds of the next one being a live album weren’t exactly going to result in a gambling windfall for anybody.
The Rolling Stones Bridges To Babylon (1997)—3½