The Rolling Stones have been together for 61 years. Yes, there have been lineup changes through the decades, but the core duo of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards has remained intact from the get-go – although, it’s been a rocky relationship. It appears that time is indeed on their side as Jagger (80), Richards (79), and Ron Woods (76) released an album of new music since 2005’s A Bigger Bang. Yes, The Stones have tossed off singles and covers here and there, but when a group that has been around a long time finds they have enough material to make a proper album, it’s something to sit up and take notice of.
Given their age, this album will likely be The Rolling Stones’ last one. And if this is the final musical statement from the band, Hackney Diamonds is a fine way to take a final bow. While the record features some drumming from the late Charlie Watts, bass work from Bill Wyman, and guest star slots from Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Elton John, and Lady Gaga, the record doesn’t feel like those Santana albums from the ‘90s and early 2000 that were more like random collaborations rather than cohesive albums. No, this is a Rolling Stones album. Their sticky fingers are all over this one with an impressively strong collection of songs. Compared to say The Who, whose 2019 release (WHO) was a tepid affair, Hackney Diamonds has a great vibe throughout. None of the songs feel like filler. Even the lead single, “Angry,” with guitar riffs reminiscent of “Start Me Up,” is good but a comparatively weaker track than other songs on the record. Indeed, “Angry” sounds like The Stones are trying too hard to be loud and in your face – which is comical considering Keith Richards’ view of hip-hop where he said, “I don’t really like to hear people yelling at me and telling me it’s music.”
Although “Angry” is going for a bold statement out of the gate with a lot of sizzle and flash, “Get Close” – a mid-tempo rocker– really breathes instead of breathing fire. It gets better from there with “Depending On You”– one of the best tracks on the Hackney Diamonds. Jagger hits all the right emotional notes in his vocals and has peppered the song with many well-placed hooks that should please even the most cynical listeners out there. Credit goes in part to producer Andrew Watt, who co-wrote the first three songs on the album with Jagger and Richards.
“Bite My Head Off” has the kind of punk vibe of “She’s So Cold” from 1980’s Emotional Rescue – and is aided by some aggressive (but melodic) bass work from Paul McCartney. One listen to this song and you’ll know why the band included it in their live performance on October 19th at Racket in New York City. The same goes for “Whole Wide World.” These songs complement classics like “Shattered,” “Tumbling Dice.” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” In other words, these aren’t run-to-the-restroom or get-a-beer “Here’s one from our new album” songs. Nope. This is a record for people who grew up listening to whole albums – and maybe younger generations who are doing the same. The track listing keeps the experience engaging – with a mix of uptempo and mid-tempo rockers and bluesy songs like “Dreamy Skies,” “Driving Me Too Hard,” and a cover of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone” (here, renamed “Rolling Stone Blues”). Even the obligatory Keith Richards lead vocals song (“Tell Me Straight”) is well crafted, with Richards sounding like a melodic Bob Dylan. The big finale before the coda is “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” with Stevie Wonder on piano and Lady Gaga on bombast vocals. Part of the problem is that Gaga takes a pretty good Stones song and deflates it with an overblown delivery. Perhaps, she was striving for Merry Clayton territory on “Gimme Shelter,” but really, why try?
Overall, Hackney Diamonds is worth the price of admission – even if that price is free. It’s a record that you can spin over and over because the group knows how to make both radio hits and deep cuts that are incredibly strong. Sure, in the history of the band, there are many times when they completely missed the mark on both hit singles and excellent deep cuts. However, on Hackney Diamonds The Glimmer Twins have taken the shattered glass of musical ideals and polished them up into some sparkling gems.
Note: Ted Asregadoo also hosts the Planet LP Podcast. Every month, fellow Popdose writer Keith Creighton comes on the pod to talk about new music. In episode 86, they chatted about Hackney Diamonds by The Rolling Stones (audio below).
Stream the album on Apple Music: