It’s been a long time coming, but the new Rolling Stones album Hackney Diamonds is now out. If the early released tracks “Angry” and “Sweet Sounds Of Heaven” are anything to go by, the album should be a cracker. Will it smash more than the windscreens referred to in its humorous title?
Hackney Diamonds is the first Rolling Stones' new music since A Bigger Bang came out in 2005. Notably, it’s also the first since drummer Charlie Watts passed away in 2021. Watts does appear on a couple of tracks recorded quite early in the process, “Mess It Up” and “Live by the Sword”. And it’s a Watts-approved and endorsed replacement with his good mate Steve Jordan sitting in as drummer on the remainder of the album.
The advance releases signalled the Rolling Stones returning to their majestic best. Strutting rock and roll, soulful blues and tight musicianship were all present. Having had the chance to listen to the album as a whole, the promise of those two early release tracks was not false hope. Both were great tracks, but the rest of the album has plenty more of those.
The Rolling Stones Hackney Diamonds sparkle brightly
It’ll take a few listens to really appreciate, but I’m delighted to want to keep doing so. This new album sounds pretty damn hot from an early listen and of course from those two early tracks released. There are lots of standout tracks and very few that don't impress as much or haven't had time to do so yet.
Amongst the top songs for me are a guitar-led “Get Close” with riffs aplenty and a catchy chorus that will stick with time. Elton John appears but has seemingly reverted to his early days as a session pianist in the background rather than needing to be a huge star on the keyboard. There’s even a bright sax solo as a break near the end to add another memorable note.
There's also a punky “Bite My Head Off” with Paul McCartney joining in on excellent form on his bass. It’s easy to forget how good this supposed ex rival is on his bass, though Mick Jagger does urge him on during the song - "C’mon Paul, let’s hear some bass!" It’s loud and brash, just like the band.
In a couple of variations to style, there’s “Dreamy Skies”, a light acoustic country blues number with some quieter and laid back Jagger vocals. Not to mention the return of almost a disco number on “Mess It Up” with its bouncy beat. It reminds me in places a little of “Start Me Up”. In another memory of past glory, the start of “Driving Me Too Hard” has a “Tumbling Dice” vibe about it. It's very laid back too. I suspect it's one you’d soon find yourself singing along to easily after a couple of plays.
For a typical stones ballad there is “Depending On You” with pedal steel throughout and a some great backing vocals going on. “I’m too young to die and too old to live” sings Jagger, just after his 80th birthday. Also, there’s always a Keith Richards vocal on an album and “Tell me Straight” has his turn here. This one is another slow and thoughtful track with some busy guitar and keyboards backing Richards up nicely.
Elton at the back as the Stones get the band back together
There’s an occasional track which feels more ordinary, perhaps that's just by comparison with the other excellent songs. “Live By The Sword” features both Elton and the return of Bill Wyman alongside drummer Watts. The band is back in town. It maybe promises more in emotional terms than it delivers. This is a fun bit of pub rock though with Elton at the honky tonk piano.
On “Whole Wide World” the chorus line of the world being against you may well stick in your mind with its sing along tune to help become a future earworm. The rest of the track is just ok. It’s big stadium anthem rock, but feels like you are waiting just for that chorus to come around again. It might easily prove me wrong though and become a new live favourite.
Closing the album perfectly is “Rolling Stone Blues”. This is another great blast from the past, reminding us of the band’s early blues roots. Written by Muddy Waters, it’s a fresh and compelling, bringing a raw and stripped back listen. I’m always a sucker for a bit of blues harmonica and it’s delivered in bucketsful here. Add in the terrific “Angry” and outstanding “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” with Stevie Wonder and some amazing Lady Gaga vocals to the tracks above and you’ve got a standout album overall.
Terrific reception for the Rolling Stones and Hackney Diamonds
"It’s 2023, and the Rolling Stones Have Made a Record You’ll Want to Play More Than Once — Seriously.- Rolling Stone magazine
They haven't sounded this on top of their game in about half a century."
The point about this being the band's best in years is a common theme from many reviews. With the promise of a 2024 tour, tracks from this album will certainly grace the set list. There’s also apparently plenty of new recordings lined up to continue this return to new music by the Stones. A lot to look forward to if this album is anything to go by. And if for any reason this turns out to be their final album in their current format, well, its been an absolute blast.