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Hackney Diamonds is The Rolling Stones refusing to let the moss grow fat

"Hackney Diamonds"

Release date: 20 October 2023
The Rolling Stones Hackney Diamonds cover
19 October 2023, 09:00 Written by Steven Loftin

They could have quit ten albums ago and their legacy would have been iron-clad.

But here The Rolling Stones are with their twenty-sixth album, sixty years after first sauntering out onto London’s streets and proceeding to establish one of music's most recognisable and behemoth corporations. Now it would seem, in 2023, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood, have delivered their first album worth a damn in four decades.

While there have been releases since the 80s, none have captured the same energy and aptitude for guitar music like Hackney Diamonds. The question of what standards to hold it to looms large, and simply, there are none. The Stones will always be the Stones – untouchable giants in a world that's chewed up and spat out more bands than Keef has had Shepherd's Pies. But that doesn't mean they can't entertain, and here, entertain they do.

Their first album without drummer Charlie Watts, who passed away in 2021, opens with the fitting commanding drum line of "Angry" before swiftly delivering a knockout melody reminding us why the songwriting partnership of Jagger/Richards was so sought after to begin with. Then it’s on to “Get Close” which continues the rip roaring fun with a sax-tinged flirtatious entanglement in classic Stones fashion. It’s these backwards-calling moments that deliver the most reward; “Depending On You” is a similar lament to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, without the engorged grandiosity, while “Dreamy Skies” is a Exile-style country-tinged lilt yearning for wide open spaces “away from it all”.

“Whole Wide World” is where the reflective action takes place, with Jagger seemingly ruminating on the Stones’ early years of public scrutiny. Packed into twelve tracks, they leave little room for things to feel stale, but there are still moments that wane. “Mess It Up” and “Driving Me Too Hard” both feel like exercises in writing a Stones cut without attaching the same level of drive as the rest of the record.

It wouldn’t be a Stones party without a few famous faces. Bringing out those new(ish) and old, first up Paul McCartney brings a ripping bass swagger to “Bite My Head Off” while Jagger goads “Come on Paul, let’s hear something!”. Elton John’s tight-knit keys swing by for “Live By The Sword” with a posthumous rhythm section reunion with Bill Wyman returning to join the late Charlie Watts, while on “Sweet Sounds Of Heaven” Lady Gaga brings a powerhouse burst of soulful blues alongside Stevie Wonder’s piano magic.

Yes, Jagger eloquently struts and peacocks, Richards and Wood make their guitars sear – it's everything that propelled them to their infinite heights packaged into a twelve-song burst of energy that – even if it was the last of a dying supernova – more than takes a hardy bow. Given they’re in the twilight of their seventies now (Jagger is 80), the sprightly sounds, while obviously not approaching their very early output, rights a lot of the last handful of decades where they’ve been more akin to dusty royalty than rock ‘n’ roll renegades. Hackney Diamonds is a swan song cementing The Rolling Stones as one of the UK’s first and foremost rock bands; a force which has dominated culture without giving into any idea of retirement or slowing down – properly standing by “Live By The Sword”’s sentiment entirely. Closing out with “Rolling Stone Blues” – a Muddy Waters cut – it rounds things off back at the start, when Jagger and Richards bonded over deep blues cuts as teens, it’s a touchingly fitting full-circle moment.

As a culture we’ll be lucky to see another band dig deep after a hearty, storied, culturally transcendent career and bring an effort that captures a moment in time like Hackney Diamonds. It’s by no means perfect, but that’s not what the Rolling Stones are about. These troubadour, raconteurs set the blueprint and this is them laminating it for good measure, refusing to ever let the moss grow fat.

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