Thursday, December 23, 2010

It Rocks, But Not In Any Memorable Way: Bridges To Babylon Is More Average Than Extraordinary.

The Good: Well-produced, Some decent tunes that rock
The Bad: Very average vocals and lyrics
The Basics: A very average and unsurprisingly generic album, Bridges To Babylon is well-produced, but a fairly unmemorable outing from The Rolling Stones.

There was a joke on The Drew Carey Show some years back when one of the albums from The Rolling Stones came out that I truly liked, even though I didn't know much about the band at that point. The friends are hanging around and one of them becomes obsessed with going to a concert The Rolling Stones are throwing in Cleveland. Another challenges the excited one with the question, "Can you even name a song the band has made in the last twenty years?" in response to the idea that the band has a new album out. Having just started to get into The Rolling Stones (The Rolling Stones, Now! is reviewed here and Out Of Our Heads is reviewed here!), I'm finding this to be true, nowhere more so than on Bridges To Babylon.

Bridges To Babylon was the last studio album The Rolling Stones released in the 1990s and despite all of the hype for it, I don't hear the single. Listening to it (I've heard it a dozen times now), I can admire the production and how the album actually does rock, but there's no hook, there are no songs that actually stick out for me. In fact, before I listened to the album on such heavy rotation, the only song I think I had ever heard was "Saint Of Me," possibly from a television commercial for the album. Regardless, nothing sticks out on the album as remotely remarkable, even though the album is eminently listenable.

With thirteen songs, clocking out at 62:23, Bridges To Babylon is mostly the work of The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote all but two of the songs: "Anybody Seen My Baby?" I've learned what my ear suspected all along, that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger avoided getting sued by k.d. lang and Ben Mink for a tune so close to "Constant Craving" by paying them. The other song, "Thief In The Night" was co-written by the pair and Pierre de Beauport. Outside that, though, the band maintains a lot of creative control on the album. Mick Jagger leads all of the vocals and Keith Richards and Charlie Watts provide backing vocals. The quartet (guitarist Ronnie Wood rounds out the band) plays all of their own instruments for the primary sounds on the album.

But Bridges To Babylon, more than the early works I've been listening to more from the band, is a collaborative work in terms of instrumentation and production. A trumpet section is more prominent than the guitars on "You Don't Have To Mean It" which is an atypical sound for The Rolling Stones, but adds a musical flavor that is nice to the otherwise straightforward rock and roll sound. The album was not produced or co-produced by any members of the band; in fact, it has several different producers, track to track, which explains the somewhat fragmented overall sound of the album.

While no two tracks sound alike, the album is remarkably straightforward rock and roll. Outside "You Don't Have To Mean It" has the slight instrumental variance to it, the rest of the songs are very typical rock and roll songs with guitars, bass and drums . . . and little flavor. "Out Of Control" is pretty much the archetypal rock and roll track complete with guitar solo and pounding drums. As well, more than any other album by The Rolling Stones that I have heard, Bridges To Babylon produces the instrumental accompaniment ahead of the vocals, so the lyrics and vocals are a bit more obscured than the classic songs by The Rolling Stones. For example, the opening to "Saint Of Me" is almost indecipherable as Mick Jagger opens it with lines that I had to look up to understand, even after a dozen listens!

As for Mick Jagger's vocals, his voice on the songs on Bridges To Babylon fit into his same comfortable baritone range that he has been performing in for years. On this album, though, his voice is a little scratchier than on other works. Ironically, final track, a slow ballad called "How Can I Stop" sounds more like Jagger is exhausted from singing the prior, more active songs than actually conveys the emotions of the lyrics. Jagger is competent in his vocals, but they are produced on many of the tracks to not have the same weight as the instrumental accompaniment and that is disappointing. . .

. . . Or it would be if the group had something important to say that they had not said already. The band goes almost psychedelic with the vocals and guitars on "Might As Well Get Juiced," but who cares about another rock song about getting wasted? The idea is almost as cliche as the aging rock stars. So, when Mick Jagger sings "If you really want to tear up your mind / If you really want to get yourself blind / Might as well get juiced" ("Might As Well Get Juiced") the listener hears the lines and says, "well, okay . . . what if we DON'T want that? What do you have for us?" In some ways, The Rolling Stones are more obsessed with celebrity and the consequences of being rock stars on this album than they are with anything their listeners can actually empathize with.

That said, amid songs about getting high and getting laid easily, there are songs with real emotional resonance. On "Already Over Me," they sing about something pretty universal; losing love. While the lines might have pretty predictable rhymes like ". . . when you laugh / I just cry / When you left / I just died / Are you already over me" ("Already Over Me") the only the most sheltered or insensitive listener will not have an idea what the band is singing about. And in this way, the band manages to keep from having a complete disconnect with their listeners.

But even when the band is singing about things that can be easily understood or empathized with, some of the songs are just annoying. "Always Suffering," for example, continues a long trend on the album of having songs with the most obvious possible titles to them. The two word title is repeated so many times in the song that the listener feels they are suffering more than the musical protagonist!

Ultimately, Bridges To Babylon is a good, but not in any way great or even notable rock and roll album and it makes it very easy to skip unless one is a fan of The Rolling Stones or rock and roll in general. Considering that even the fairly generic rock is still better than what I've heard on the radio, I opted to recommend this one.

The best song is "Already Over Me," the low point is the unmemorable and somewhat ridiculous "Too Tight."

For other groups that rock or former Artist Of The Month selections, please check out my reviews of:
@#%&*! Smilers – Aimee Mann
Whoever’s In New England – Reba McEntire
Minutes To Midnight – Linkin Park


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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