It’s difficult to describe anything that The Rolling Stones have released as ‘underrated’. For over five decades, The Stones have held together as one of the sturdiest rock and roll outfits of all time, racking up one classic after another alongside their contemporaries like The Beatles back in the day. If anyone can weigh in on which Stones record needs a little more love, however, it would have to be Keith Richards.
Every decade, Richards has been the ultimate rock and roll survivor, seeing drug addiction, heartbreak, and prison time, only to carry on with a guitar in his hands and a cigarette dangling from his lips. However, that’s not to say that every era of The Stones was sunshine and roses for him.
During the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Richards would mention numerous disagreements between him and lead singer Mick Jagger, incidents which could often get ugly on tracks like ‘Had It With You’. Although the dolled-up version of The Stones may have been his personal low point, it wasn’t until a decade later that he talked about the band getting back on track.
When discussing some of the most underrated pieces of his catalogue, Richards singled out the 1997 record Bridges to Babylon as a personal favourite, telling Much Music: “This one is the first one since maybe the early ’80s, late ’70s where it’s taken another step. (That) is actually pushing some boundaries again, for better or worst. I knew from the songs that we had a good album”.
While this might have been a far cry from what The Stones had gotten up to in their glory years, it was pushing boundaries from where they had been. Working with the production duo The Dust Brothers, this was one of the first times The Stones started to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of the ‘90s.
Despite having some decent songs that Richards mentions, like ‘Anybody Seen My Baby’, their attempts at blending in with the alternative scene in the ‘90s did have their fair share of audible thuds, like the techno nightmare ‘Might As Well Get Juiced’. Richards did say this was boundary-pushing for better and worse, but he wouldn’t change a thing about the group’s dynamic at the time either.
When discussing the chemistry between everyone in the band, Richards was complimentary about the camaraderie among his fellow Stones, saying, “I never had a problem (with the band) they are expert musicians, you know what I mean. I am always looking to make good records, I don’t want major hits. If one happens, great. But I’m just trying to put a good album out. (Also) make the best out of my friends. Even if they don’t like it at the time”.
While the results definitely varied throughout their time in the studio on this record, Richards chalks it up to the freewheeling vibe of the sessions, capturing the joy of getting friends in a room to hammer at the best tunes they can think of. Bridges to Babylon might have been a mixed bag from back to front, but it’s easy to picture the band in the studio letting their muse guide them. In Richards’s words, “You’re not really thinking too much. You’re just doing it and after you think about it. When you’re doing it, it’s flowing. That’s what counts”.