Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:26 April 2024 


You could be forgiven for thinking that the glory days of the Rolling Stones were not years ago, but decades. Sure, they keep touring and breaking audience and accountancy records, yet the bald fact is that the last album of new Stones material was A Bigger Bang, back in 2005. So here, just in case you missed it, is the shocking news: 2023’s Hackney Diamonds is good. In fact, it’s very good. You would not have bet your house on it, especially if you’d only seen the garish, ghastly cover with its cheap fortune cookie font, but there it is. A Rolling Stones album that will make you grin as well as rocking your ever-loving ass off. Fancy that.

"Angry" opens proceedings optimistically, well for long term Stones fans at least. Could this be an updated "Street Fighting Man" fifty-five years on? No, but it’s still good, with a sharp middle-weight punch and a great chorus. This is followed by "Get Close", featuring a Keith Richards riff that will undoubtedly bring a smile. The pace slows for "Depending On You", a ballad that may not measure up to "Wild horses" but still sounds authentic. By now you are thinking, wow, Sir Mick has really turned up ready to roll and Keef to rock. That’s clear on the straight ahead rocker "Bite My Head Off", where none other than Paul McCartney provides a galloping bass line. The first side closes with country breezes in "Dreamy Skies", proving that the Stones haven’t forgotten "Sweet Virginia". I really enjoyed this gentle throwback; it feels as if Mick and Keef have been inspired by their own back catalogue and are not simply re-hashing tired cliches of their own devising. They sound invigorated by their own history, not enslaved by it.

The loss of Charlie Watts in 2021 was a body blow to the band. Hearing him on side two opener "Mess It Up" is fantastic. The Stones had been recording and had this one in the can. It’s solid.

When they find a rolling boogie groove, the Stones always sound hot. "Live By The Sword" hits that mark, no doubt helped by Elton John on piano, Watts on drums and original bass player Bill Wyman claiming the bass player’s stool for the first time in thirty years. Keith’s turn at the microphone is next, a pared back ballad that slips down like a vintage whisky.

If the guests mentioned so far—McCartney, Elton, Wyman—come from the Stones much storied past, bringing in Lady Gaga for "Sweet Sounds Of Heaven" was a clever move. The song is strong, building from a sparse opening to a full throttle arrangement. Ms Gaga throws everything into the ring. Yes, there are hints of the magnificent Merry Clayton from "Gimme Shelter" days but who cares when it’s done with such verve and passion? Even Richards is spurred on to deliver a deft guitar coda. After such thrilling theatrics, closing Hackney Diamonds with a duo by the Glimmer Twins is very satisfying. That they chose the Muddy Waters classic "Rollin’ Stone" (slightly re-titled here) is a nod to both their past and their current status as elder statesmen of rock and roll.

As you spin Hackney Diamonds a few times—because you will actually want to—connections with classic Stones songs are inevitable. Many have lived with their songbook all their lives, after all. And it’s true: on this LP the Rolling Stones sound exactly like the Rolling Stones. When they are in such good form would you have it any other way?


© Bruce Jenkins﹣April 2024

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