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THE ROLLING STONES
Bridges To Babylon
(Virgin/All formats)

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TO CALL the Stones dinosaurs three years from the end of the century is to put tyrannosauraus rex and his Jurassic associates to shame. It will quite clearly take more than a meteorite the size of Mars landing on Earth's surface to do away with this lot.

But in a world where even U2 - mere striplings at the time of their debut album, just as the Stones were rallying for their last truly great moment with 'Undercover Of The Night' - are beginning to look tired of playing the PopMart stadium game, back come the Zimmerframe twins and their goodtime cronies yet again with a shiny new album and word of another colossal live assault on the world's pockets.

A staggering 34 years into their recording career it feels, on the strength of 'Bridges To Babylon' (let's not ask, eh?), like the Stones have pretty much seen off the curse of age-old pop group reality (fame, backlash, wilderness period, solo comeback, obscurity). Here they are happily bumming fags and busking away at the blues in some place far beyond reality, where their Darwinist take on rock'n'roll survivalism pretty much makes them untouchable.

As you'd imagine, then, it's business as unusual. We're provided with the occasional heaps of boogie freebasing - marshalled expertly by Don Was - and just the odd sparkle of a diamond. The single, 'Anybody Seen My Baby?' must have been a relief to radio programmers worldwide, bearing in mind Mick Jagger's recent declaration that he's been getting into 'ambient reggae'. It's a no-frills shuffle in the spirit of 'Waiting On A Friend', but amidst the Keef-ola shambling that surrounds it ('Flip The Switch', 'Too Tight', 'Out Of Control', all of which aspire unsuccessfully to the drunk-at-the-fretboard racket of 'Start Me Up') there's some bizarre brilliance. 'Saint Of Me' marks a bastardised return to (yes!) the quasi-religious rebel hues of 'Sympathy For The Devil', complete with Billy Preston pounding away on the organ. Keef's gospelised croon on 'Thief In The Night' is oddly charming, whilst 'Might As Well Get Juiced', distorted into a howling blues steamroller courtesy of the Dust Brothers, even sounds (whisper it) contemporary.

Simply in terms of being a Stones album - and there seems little else to compare it to, really, when you consider they've been a band longer than all of Ash have been alive (possibly) - it is, in parts, near-revelatory.

So what if Mick inexplicably barks, "I've got a toothbrush, mouthwash all that shit" during the turgid 'Flip The Switch'? He's entitled to the occasional multi-billionaire foible. Plus, at the close of the final track, Keef, marvellously bullshit-free throughout, gives up on all pretence of being anything other than an ancient relic and, to the sound of a solitary piano, whispers, "How could I stop?" to let us know he'll be a Stone 'til the day he dies.

When you come across the oldest, biggest most legendary animal in the rock'n'roll jungle in a mood like this, the only thing you can rightly do is call it sir.

7/10

Paul Moody


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