Album Reviews

The Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds

(Polydor) UK release date: 20 October 2023

With a galaxy of guest stars, from Stevie Wonder via Elton John to Lady Gaga, if this astonishingly fresh album really is the legends’ last, it’s an incredible swansong

The Rolling Stones - Hackney Diamonds It may have been difficult to suppress an apathetic sigh when The Rolling Stones‘ 24th album, Hackney Diamonds, was announced. I mean, really? Do we need yet another album from Mick ‘n Keef, who now boast a combined age of 159 years old? And, with Charlie Watts sadly no longer with us, can this really be called a Rolling Stones album?

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is an enormous yes on both counts. Hackney Diamonds, the first album of all-new Stones material since 2005’s middling A Bigger Bang, is pretty astonishing in its freshness, vitality and energy. Jagger sings like a man half his age, some of Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards’ guitar riffs hark back to the band’s glory days, and there’s some touching cameos for the late Watts on a couple of tracks. Bill Wyman even returns, briefly. If this is The Rolling Stones’ swansong, then it’s a hell of a way to go out.

Angry kicks things off, and from the counted-in intro it already sounds like classic Stones. It’s an energetic strut of a song, complete with handclaps and a vintage Richards guitar lick. It’s also genuinely quite funny, with the 80-year-old Jagger bemoaning he hasn’t had sex in a month, before concluding “I’m still taking the pills, and I’m off to Brazil”. It’s a great way to kick off the album.

That energy pulsates throughout the record. Bite My Head Off is almost punk, all snarling guitars, chant-a-long choruses and Jagger being quite magnificently sweary to the song’s subject (“Acting such a jerk off…. you think I’m your bitch, I’m fucking with your brain”). All this, and a certain Sir James Paul McCartney appears playing bass (“Come on Paul, let’s hear something” drawls Jagger at one point, in a distant approximation of a Scouse accent) .

That McCartney appearance is typical of the A-list guest stars on Hackney Diamonds. Elton John adds piano to Get Close and Live By The Sword, the latter of which reunites the vintage Stones line-up of Jagger, Richards, Wood, Wyman and Watts. Perhaps the most startling moment though is the seven minute gospel epic Sweet Sounds Of Heaven, which not only features Stevie Wonder on keyboard, but also Lady Gaga singing with Jagger which becomes not so much a duet, but rather a battle for vocal supremacy. It’s one to play loud.

What’s so impressive about Hackney Diamonds is how much it sounds like classic Stones without ever sounding like a parody of themselves. Depending On You resurrects the bluesey ballads they used to do so well, while there’s more than a hint of Midnight Rambler to Dreamy Skies. Whether that’s down to the influence of producer Andrew Watt (obviously the go-to man for rock icons these days, following his work on Iggy Pop‘s Every Loser album earlier this year) or simply the spirit of a band wanting to go out on a high note, it’s a very welcome attitude for a band that’s seen and done it all, but still have something to prove.

Mess It Up nods towards Start Me Up in both its title and the disco-rock sound it recreates, and also sees Jagger shaking his head in a bemused manner at social media – “you shared my photos with all your friends, you put them out there, it don’t make no sense” – while even Richards taking over vocal duties on Tell Me Straight doesn’t sound so bad, in no small part due to the uncanny Bob Dylan impression he does on the song.

It all wraps up with Rolling Stones Blues, a variation of the Muddy Waters song which gave the band their name 60 years ago. It’s a fitting end to the album and feels like a career coming full circle. It may not quite be the equal of records like Exile On Main Street or Let It Bleed (very few are, to be fair), but if Hackney Diamonds really is to be the final Rolling Stones album, it’s one incredible swansong. Maybe we shouldn’t count against them ‘doing an Elton’ at next year’s Glastonbury.

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