In my world, any new Rolling Stones album beats no new Rolling Stones album. So I’m more than, um, happy that Mick, Keith and Ronnie finally got around to writing and recording some original songs. Even if it did take them at least a decade too long. And even if it will never be the same for me without Charlie.
I doubt I’m alone in any or all of that. But even if I am the most forgiving Stones fan in the world — and if I’m not, I’m fairly close — I just can’t go along with the latest inevitable crop of fawning reviews trumpeting Hackney Diamonds as their best album since (insert classic title / era / year here), and a great way to wrap up their recording career if it turns out to be their studio swan song. Sorry (not sorry), but I can’t go for that. No can do.
I mean, OK, maybe it’s their best album in 20 years and all — but only because they haven’t made an album in about that long. And yeah, they still sound pretty good for a bunch of dudes in their 70s and 80s — mostly because they’ve been touring pretty regularly for decades. Muscle memory and experience can do a lot of heavy lifting, as I’ve learned firsthand. And sure, it has just as many highlights and memorable tracks as A Bigger Bang, Bridges To Babylon, Voodoo Lounge and any other of their last half-dozen releases — which is to say, about a handful. If you have small hands.
In the win column, there’s the scrappy Bite My Head Off (even if it’s a little too close to The Sex Pistols’ Liar for its own good). There are two tracks featuring leftover recordings from Charlie (though they’re hardly classics). There’s the soulful slowburner Sweet Sounds Of Heaven (though it’s no Memory Motel or Moonlight Mile). There’s the rootsy closer Rolling Stone Blues (though it feels like it should have been on their last album of blues covers). And of course, there’s the mandatory Keith ballad Tell Me Straight. Yes, there’s no denying Hackney Diamonds has its moments.
Trouble is, they’re just moments. And for me, there aren’t enough of them to outweigh all the tossed-off fare, half-baked ideas, skippable filler and overly familiar songs that seem like knockoffs or revamps of earlier, stronger works. Make no mistake: I like Hackney Diamonds. Trouble is, I really wanted to love it. And for that, it needed to deliver a much bigger, bolder, ballsier bang than it does.
THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “The Rolling Stones’ Hackney Diamonds is their first set of new material since 2005’s A Bigger Bang, their first album since the death of founding drummer Charie Watts, and their first studio album since 2016’s Grammy-winning blues cover set Blue & Lonesome.
“It’s completely different,” singer Mick Jagger says of recording the band’s 29th album. “We used to live in the same flat. I didn’t play much guitar; Keith (Richards) did. Sometimes he would give me ideas for lyrics and I sang all the top lines. Because we lived together we would come up with all this stuff, then carry around a reel-to-reel tape recorder when we were on tour.”
“These days, I know I can sit down at the piano in my house and come up with something. Might be Sweet Sounds of Heaven. Might stand there with a distorted guitar and come up with Bite My Head Off. It is magic, in a way, because you sit down with nothing and 10 minutes later you have something.”
Hackney Diamonds marks surviving bandmembers Jagger, Richards and Ronnie Wood’s first collaboration with New York-born producer and musician Andrew Watt, who was named Producer of the Year at the 2021 Grammy Awards and has worked with Post Malone, Iggy Pop and Elton John. “Andy’s a pop producer who loves rock ’n’ roll,” says Jagger. “I’m not trying to make The Rolling Stones not sound like The Rolling Stones — that would be really stupid, especially after not putting out an album for so long — but the temptation a lot of producers have is to remake their favourite Stones album. I had to say to Andy, ‘We’re not making Sticky Fingers Mark II here. A few references are OK. Loads of references are not OK.’ ”
The album features guest appearances by Elton John, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and former bassist Bill Wyman, playing along with Watts on one of two tracks featuring the late drummer. “I was sitting there singing when I saw a woman sitting at my feet and went, ‘Oh, it’s Lady Gaga’,” recalls Jagger. “Turns out she was recording next door. I gave her some headphones, she did a few oohs and aahs, and I said, ‘Why don’t you sing the words? … (And) I was kind of surprised Paul wanted to play on (Bite My Head Off), actually. I wrote so many punk songs for the Stones and I could never get away with them, but Paul is a very open-minded person — musically speaking.”
The album was recorded in various locations around the world, including Henson Recording Studios, Los Angeles; Metropolis Studios, London; Sanctuary Studios, Nassau, Bahamas; Electric Lady Studios, New York; and The Hit Factory/Germano Studios, also in New York.
Despite not venturing into a studio in recent years, The Rolling Stones have continued to smash box office records on a series of global sellout tours. Last year, they thrilled European audiences, playing to nearly a quarter of a million on the anniversary Sixty tour.
The first single from the album, Angry arrived accompanied by a music video directed by Francois Rousselet, whose credits include work with Nike, Diesel, Pharrell Williams and the Stones’ own Ride ‘Em On Down from Blue & Lonesome. The new promo clip stars Emmy-nominated actress Sydney Sweeney (The White Lotus, Euphoria, The Handmaid’s Tale). The bespoke artwork for Hackney Diamonds is by digital animator Paulina Almira.”