Bridges To Babylon
Like the musical equivalent of Chinese food, the ’90s Stones albums fill you up when you first gobble them down, but leave you hungry soon afterwards. I mean, how many songs can you name from Voodoo Lounge or Steel Wheels, without looking at the covers?
So it comes as no surprise that Bridges To Babylon fits the same mold. Take all the highly touted Dust Brothers production (only on a few cuts), Wayne Shorter sax solos, and Me’Shell Ndegeocello and Billy Preston guest spots, toss ’em into the formula, and all you get is another sturdy, rock-solid Stones album which you’ll forget about in a few months. That’s not to say there aren’t great, even transcendent moments here. “Lowdown” and “Gunface” grind along like the best Stones rockers, Mick’s in great voice throughout, nobody defines rock and roll rhythm guitar like Keef, and if there’s a more distinctive drummer on earth than Charlie Watts, I’ve yet to hear him. Both Dust Brothers cuts (interestingly they’re next to each other), “Saint Of Me” and “Might As Well Get Juiced,” add a VERY subtle techno edge, but never overpower the Stones’ natural, dirty flow. Ballads like the touching “Always Suffering” and the almost tragic way he cry/sings “Already Over Me” (“You’re so cold, you’re so cruel, I’m your man not your fool”) benefit from Mick’s been-there-done-that world view. The disc closer, a nearly 6-minute gospel thing that Keith talks/croaks through is elevated to near classic status by Wayne Shorter’s closing angelic soprano sax, and is truly touching. The album finds an intoxicating groove and rides it like a well-trained thoroughbred. Taken out of context, this is one of the better rock and roll albums of the year.
The problem is that you can’t take a Stones album out of context. There’s this 30 plus year history crammed with songs that changed the face of music scattered along the guitar-littered road that brings them here. It’s a daunting beast of burden to bear, let alone live up to at this late stage, and it’s unlikely that ANY new Stones release will be able to fill the shoes of all the classics of the past. You gotta give ’em credit for trying though, and if you’re a fan, this is a better album than we have any reason to expect from these mid-50’s geezers. Go with the flow, don’t look back, and dig it for what it is.