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The Rhythm Twins: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards Lead a March Toward Babylon

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Maybe age does matter," suggests Richards, 53, "in that you consider time in a different way. You start to use it more, rather than clambering all over it and using it as scaffolding."

"You have to break the mold," says Jagger, who turned 54 on July 26. "That's why I went for a few different noises. I just wanted to change the way the grooves worked. I love the way we do grooves normally. But we've done them so many times."

"I hope people don't say, 'Oh, Dust Brothers — trying to be trendy,' because that's not true; that's just a textural approach to performing the songs," argues Was, who played bass on a few tracks, as well as producing the bulk of Bridges and serving as executive producer with Jagger and Richards. "These guys are such personalities. You got to go a long way to water them down. Like when Keith sings harmony — even if there are five other people singing, you'll hear him on top there."

The Dust Brothers — who also produced "Saint of Me" and co-produced "Anybody Seen My Baby" with Was — don't take any excess credit for their contributions to Bridges. When the two Dusts, John King and Mike Simpson, went to New York to meet Jagger and talk about working together, the first thing that Jagger played was his home demo of "Might As Well Get Juiced." "I was really impressed," Simpson recalls. "I said, 'Wow, it sounds like we already worked on this.' "

And Saber says that "Gunface," for all its dense, gray locomotion, was cut live in the studio: "I could have easily sat in another room, fucked off with a computer and looped everything. I know there was a bit of tape swapping going on with the record. But I wanted to be there in the room, to play with them.

100 Greatest Artists of All Time: The Rolling Stones

"For me, it was a big thrill," he crows. "One side of you is being professional and getting your job done. And the other side of you is like, 'I'm fucking jamming with the Stones, dude.' You feel like Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

Jagger claims he was writing new songs last year — at his chateau in France, in the West Indies, in Kenya — to no specific purpose when the prospect of renewed Stones activity came up: "Everyone said, 'We should do an album and tour.' And I said, 'Well, isn't it a bit soon to do an album and tour?' " After spending the '80s in a general state of suspension, the band had crammed in four albums (two live, two studio) and two world tours since 1989.

"But I thought," Jagger goes on, " 'Well, we might as well get on with it sooner rather than later.' You can just wait and wait and wait, and then it gets more difficult to do."

So, Jagger outlined his idea for using multiple producers to the other Stones and started interviewing prospective collaborators. "It's the same as interviewing a nanny," he cracks. "You check out what they've done before. You talk to them over a cup of coffee, see what kind of people they are. You get their references. You go in for a day and see what it's like. If you don't like it, throw it away and say, 'Thanks very much.' "

Among the people whom Jagger short-listed and spoke to were Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Dr. Dre, Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs and Butch Vig. Jagger and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds got as far as recording a version of "Already Over Me," mostly done with rhythm loops and keyboard programs, then amicably agreed to bag it. "It was like a Babyface ballad put on top of 'Wild Horses,' " says Was. "It wasn't going to fly as the Rolling Stones."

"It was really my fault — I threw the wrong song at him," Jagger says of Babyface. "We went in and wrote the loops and the programs. We got Charlie to play on it. And in the end, I didn't like the way it was looped. I said, 'Kenny, leave it. I'm gonna do it another way.'" The Stones ended up cutting "Already Over Me" live in the studio.

On the other hand, Jagger and the Dust Brothers built almost the whole of "Saint of Me" from loops, computer edits and overdubs at the Brothers' no-frills home studio, in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles. ("They had nothing in the house," Jagger says with a put-on, exhausted-parent sigh. "I'd say, 'Can I have a glass of juice?' They'd look at me. I had to get groceries, look after them like children.") And Jagger doesn't flinch at the word constructing when talking of the song.

"That's what records are," he points out a bit impatiently. "I mean, many Rolling Stones records have been constructed in a similar way [notably 1981's Tattoo You, a smoke-and-mirrors melange of old rhythm tracks and new overdubs]. There are many, many ways to make a Rolling Stones record."

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