The Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds
Few bands have a legacy quite like The Rolling Stones, with a career stretching over 60 years. The group has returned with Hackney Diamonds, their first album of original material since 2005’s A Bigger Bang and first outright since 2016’s Blue and Lonesome. This also marks the first release without drummer Charlie Watts, who sadly passed away in 2021. It was preceded by Angry, which had the trademark swagger and pomp of later year Stones’s tracks – riff-heavy and full of energy.
This record is noteworthy for its list of major guest stars: Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder appear on the epic soul and gospel-influenced Sweet Sounds of Heaven, Elton John guests on two tracks, and Paul McCartney plays bass on Bite My Head Off.
If this is to be the final Rolling Stones album, it acts as a victory lap, encapsulating the various styles they have embraced over the years, with Mick Jaggers’s voice remaining distinctive, even after turning 80 earlier this year. Get Close, with its James King saxophone solo, is a throwback to the Sticky Fingers era, while still sounding contemporary.
Depending on You is a more stripped-back track, with hints of Americana. It feels instantly like a classic Stones number and is sure to become a fan favourite. Bite My Head Off, with McCartney’s driving bassline, is one of the more frenetic songs on the album, demonstrating the group can still live up to their reputation as the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.
Dreamy Skies embraces the country and folk influences that have always been present in their work, especially on the likes of Let It Bleed and Exile on Main Street. It is a welcome change of pace and has some sublime slide guitar work from Ronnie Wood.
Mess It Up, one of two songs to feature Watts, is a lively track that feels more like recent Stones efforts though is not the most memorable on the record. Live By the Sword, on the other hand, is more enduring and one of the standouts: propulsive, it shows Jagger at his very best.
Sweet Sounds of Heaven, coming in at over seven minutes, is without doubt another highlight, recalling the likes of Shine a Light or You Can’t Always Get What You Want, with Wonder playing both keyboards and piano. Gaga, a background presence for much of the first half, gradually comes more into play, her vocals interplaying perfectly with Jagger’s.
Ending on a cover of Muddy Water’s Rolling Stone Blues harks back to their R&B roots, as reflected so well on Blue and Lonesome. It shows how well they understand the genre and how important it has been for their evolution.
Andrew Watt’s production helps this feel very much like a contemporary Rolling Stones record that looks back but also has merits of its own, rather than simply recalling their 60s and 70s glory days. If lyrically this isn’t as groundbreaking as early Stones’ work, the sense of vibrancy and care that has been put into it make it worthwhile.
Hackney Diamonds is a very strong late entry into The Rolling Stones’s legendary discography. If not quite perfect across the board, at its best, it perfectly captures their continued appeal and the value each member brings. It taps into how their sound has evolved over the years, with hints of rock ‘n’ roll, blues, Americana, country and pop. The who’s who of guest names only adds to the appeal, never proving distracting – outside of Gaga, the guests are happy to be on instrumental duty. Longtime fans will find plenty to enjoy while there is a wealth of styles for more casual listeners to dive into.
Photo: Mark Seliger
Hackney Diamonds is released on 20th October 2023. For further information or to order the album visit The Rolling Stones’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Angry here: