You can't disinvent 33 years of album making.

Bridges To Babylon

Among those who care, rumour often circulates the month or so before a new Rolling Stones album about what "direction" the leathery old warriors have taken this time. Thus, in the same way that some reckon that It's Only Rock'n'Roll and Goats Head Soup are "camp" and Their Satanic Majesties Request is "psychedelic", we have heard the unlikely epithet "techno" mooted about Bridges To Babylon. Certainly it features three contributions from The Dust Brothers and certainly there is a sense of post-modern knowingness on some tracks, At last, though, it can be told: the new Stones tour may come courtesy of Sprint communication technologies, but its accompanying CD artifact is more Dr. John than Dr. Who.

Bridges To Babylon is an entirely competent modern rock record saved from mediocrity by a handful of stand-out songs and the Stones' innate cachet. The air of dissolution, tended carefully over three decades of Hell's Angel murders and sexual hi-jinx, lends a raffish air to fairly ordinary songs like "Low Down" and "Might As Well Get Juiced", "Gunface", featuring Jagger at his playful best and "Flip The Switch" are better, both getting a jolt from nicely discordant guitar riffs. "Anybody Seen My Baby" and "Already Over Me" manage to get away with their mix of wounded male pride and sexual bluster. Whether they would were it not for their Stones imprimatur is another matter entirely, but you can't disinvent 33 years of album making.

Perhaps the most genuinely likeable tunes here are both sung by Keith Richards and both, to varying degrees, are exercises in pastiche. "You Don't Have To Mean It" shows the band audibly kicking off their shoes and having fun with a featherweight but musically perfect recreation of a Trojan Records single, circa 1974. And better still is the concluding track, "How Can I Stop" : beautifully moody, ersatz soul whose emotional punch is 100 percent authentic. Producer and pianist Don Was, Detroit born and bred, understands this stuff like few others and even he hasn't done it so well since Was (Not Was)'s What Up Dog? album in 1988.

Strangely, Bridges To Babylon often recalls R.E.M.'s Monster album, Both are functional and capable and both will be absorbed into fans' collections but neither will be remembered by neutrals in a year or two or win new admirers. But as several thousand people discovered last night somewhere in the midwest, Bridges To Babylon does the job it was made for.

Rating : * * *

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