CK Retro Review: Bridges To Babylon by The Rolling StonesPosted: September 19, 2016
1997’s Bridges To Babylon got lost a bit on the battleground between Mick Jagger’s efforts to drag The Rolling Stones into modernity and Keith Richards attempting to put the kibosh on those efforts at all costs. There’s nothing here that’s an out-and-out embarrassment not is there anything essential to the catalog. But it’s interesting as a document of the intra-band power play. Here is a song-by-song review:
13. “Gunface”- Goes on for quite a bit and tries to cop a tough lyrical attitude to go along with the music, but there’s never a part of it that truly feels special.
12. “Out Of Control”- The transition from quiet to loud feels more like a forced enterprise than something that’s essential to the meaning of the song. Nice, swampy harmonica work by Mick Jagger though.
11. “Low Down”- Not too bad in a grinding sort of way, elevated by the chorus, which sounds a lot like “Anybody Seen My Baby?”, the song that precedes it on the album. Better sequencing could have been exercised here.
10. “Too Tight”- Clearly a Keith Richards contribution in terms of the songwriting, based on those “Ah-ah” backing vocals and the ringing, raunchy guitars. I’d even go so far as to say it might been more effective had Keith taken the lead vocal and given one of those half-wounded, half-wicked performances.
9. “You Don’t Have To Mean It”- If you haven’t figured out that Richards likes reggae, you haven’t been listening too closely. But he always honors the music with his performances. On this one he gets help from some soulful backing vocals and perky horns. Lyrically, the message seems to be if you can’t say anything nice, lie to me and make something up.
8. “Might As Well Get Juiced”- This is one of the ones where The Dust Brothers’ influence seems to really come to the fore. Jagger’s strangled cries are surrounded by all manner of synthy distractions, but it still comes off suitably bluesy even with its modern touches. Again, Mick’s harmonica work helps immensely to that end.
7. “Saint Of Me”- Richards is nowhere to be found on this one, and it indeed sometimes feels like a Mick solo effort. Some surprising guest stars here, including Me’Shell Ndegeocello on bass and, returning to the Stones fold after many years away, Billy Preston on organ. Jagger makes his devotion to doing the wrong thing sound like gospel, of course.
6. “Already Over Me”- Apparently Babyface Edmonds tried to collaborate on this song with Jagger, only to have his efforts left on the cutting room floor. Turns out to be your average Stones ballad, which turns out to be better than the average ballad when you compare it to everything else.
5. “Thief In The Night”- It feels like an instrumental; the vocals are incidental, adding more through their sound than the meaning of the words. Richards does a great job arranging these kind of after-hours, slinky tracks, which often linger a lot longer than the brash rockers for which the late-period band is known.
4. “How Can I Stop”- It’s funny, but Bridges To Babylon feels like Jagger’s album in a lot of ways, only for Richards to deliver a one-two punch on the end that almost feels like it belongs on another record, one jazzier and more contemplative. It’s a simple song that relies upon subtle instrumental flourishes for its power. The last of those, provided by saxophonist Wayne Shorter over Charlie Watts’ surprising fills, is a real grabber.
3. “Anybody Seen My Baby?”- Jagger on the prowl is always captivating, especially when he’s in search of those beautiful, ethereal girls that only seem to cross paths with rock stars. That his wingman in this case was Biz Markie and not Keith may have come as a surprise (an unpleasant one to Keith, apparently, based on his later dismissals of the Dust Brothers’ production ideas), but you can’t just rely on rockers and 12-bars forever, right? A pleasant surprise as a first single back then and it still holds up nicely.
2. “Flip The Switch”- The sinewy bass line laid down by session man Jeff Sarli, the tough-guy guitars of Richards, Ronnie Wood, and Waddy Wachtel, Jagger’s defiant sneers in the face of all manner of insult and injury: It’s all fine. But it’s hard to imagine this song packing the punch it does without Watts’ backbeat, which is somehow, as John Wooden would have wanted, quick but not in a hurry. It’s a real wake-up call of an opening track; any doubters wondering what the old boys had in them were quickly put in their place.
1. “Always Suffering”- After being upstaged by Richards’ ballads in the previous few albums, Jagger reached back for a little something extra on this weeper. “We’re already lost,” he sings, suggesting there’s no way to reverse the course of painful events and unforgiving time. Keith does chip in with some sweet harmonies and understated guitar work to make a crucial contribution. Not much to say about this one except that it expertly touches that place inside of us that can’t see the bright side, a place where we all dwell from time to time.
(For a more in-depth look at The Rolling Stones, check out my book in the link below. As always, you can reach me on Twitter @jimbeviglia and e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)