Album cover for “Hackney Diamonds” by The Rolling Stone
Bryce Russell | Contributing Writer
In 2023, the Stones have been rolling for 61 years, and on Oct. 20 they released their first studio album of original material since 2005’s “A Bigger Bang”. I would say “Hackney Diamonds” is the return of the Rolling Stones, but fans know that they really never left. With the constant touring and archival studio and live recordings released yearly, the “World’s Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Band” never stopped spreading their brand of jaw dropping and electrifying rock music. “Hackney Diamonds”, though, is a return to classic, original Stones music, after a string of original studio albums that range from alright (1990’s Voodoo Lounge and 2005’s “A Bigger Bang”) to downright horrible (1997’s “Bridges to Babylon”), as well as 2016’s “Blue and Lonesome”, an album consisting entirely of blues covers, which isn’t really of note (though if you’re a fan of blues music, I highly recommend).
The hype surrounding “Hackney Diamonds” started with the release of the album opener, “Angry,” as a single, along with a music video with “Euphoria” star Sydney Sweeney. “Angry” marked the band’s first new song since 2020’s non-album single, “Living in a Ghost Town,” and set the stage for a return to classic, hard rocking, Rolling Stones music. The music video, flaunting Sydney Sweeney laying atop a red Mercedes convertible, cruising through downtown L.A. while passing moving billboards of the Rolling Stones from different eras throughout their six decade spanning career, edited to look as though a 1972, 1981, and 1995 Mick Jagger were all singing the new song. The song and video were simultaneously an ode to the Stones’ past, as well as the launching point for the band’s future.
Following “Angry,” the second single was the rock/soul combination of “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” which featured Lady Gaga as well as Stevie Wonder. The song, which flaunts a gospel flare, continued building the “Hackney Diamonds” hype.
The album is a surprisingly tonally consistent release, complete with both hard rocking songs (“Angry,” “Whole Wide World,” “Bite My Head Off,”), as well as somber, emotional numbers (“Tell Me Straight,” “Dreamy Skies,” “Depending On You”). This inclusion of slower ballads alongside fast, riff heavy rock songs is classic Stones.
Along with being the first original Stones album since 2005, Hackney Diamonds also marked the first without founding drummer Charlie Watts, who passed away in 2021, leaving the band with only two founding members, vocalist Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards, as well as guitarist Ronnie Wood, who joined in 1975. Drummer Steve Jordan, who replaced Watts on their 2021 “No Filter” tour, made his first studio recording with the group on this album, bringing a strong, heavy feel to the band.
The album also contains many guest appearances, such as Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Paul McCartney. Stones fans will appreciate the inclusion of the songs “Mess It Up” and “Live by the Sword,” which were recorded in 2019 and featured Charlie Watts’ last work with the group. “Live by the Sword” was a true Rolling Stones reunion, with the appearance of founding member and bassist Bill Wyman who left the band in 1993 and hadn’t recorded with them since. It is a special experience as a Stones fan to listen to the song in 2023, to hear Mick, Keith, Charlie, Bill and Ronnie all back together (and piano work from Elton John doesn’t hurt either).
There are a few tracks that don’t really land for me, though not bad by any extent (“Bite My Head Off” and “Driving Me Too Hard” being my least favorite on the album). Despite these light misses, the good on Hackney Diamonds greatly outweighs the bad.
Some standout tracks for me include the fast paced, upbeat “Angry,” along with the cool, edgy bite of “Get Close.” The Keith Richards sung number, “Tell Me Straight,” was a surprisingly emotional track, reminiscent of the 1989 Keith song, “Slipping Away.” “Tell Me Straight” is a solid sleeper of a song on “Hackney Diamonds”. It’s Mick Jagger-less vocals might cause some to tune out, but I implore you, when Keith sings: please listen. It is by far the most emotional song the stones have released in the last thirty years.
For me though, the song off “Hackney Diamonds” I’ve been playing the most has been “Dreamy Skies.” Many Stones albums contain a country, bluesy number that I, being a huge fan of both genres, love listening to. “Dreamy Skies” is reminiscent of 1978’s “Far Away Eyes,” though less of a parody of country music than the 1978 classic, more akin to emotional tunes like 1972’s “Torn and Frayed” and 1968’s “Salt of the Earth.”
Finally, closing out the album, is a cover of Muddy Waters’ classic blues standard, “Rolling Stone Blues.” This is the track that makes it feel as though “Hackney Diamonds” is the last statement from a band that shaped popular music and culture over the last 60 years, with the group covering the song from which they gained their namesake, seemingly completing Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ transformations into the very old bluesmen that inspired them to start creating music all the way back in 1962 (it was also fun to listen to Mick’s return to the harmonica). If this is indeed the last original Stones album, it couldn’t have ended in a more perfect way, with the final lyrics sung by Mick Jagger being: “he’s gonna be a rolling stone, he’s gonna be a rolling stone.”
Final Score: 4/5
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