Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
As anyone lucky enough to see The Rolling Stones on their global tour last year will know the band are in exceptionally rude health, the spark still great enough to light up a city.
It’s with that same fervour that they entered the studio to put down ‘Hackney Diamonds’ and the results are no less incendiary, the album their most complete and captivating work in quite some time. Given the six-decade career they’ve enjoyed, to sound this fresh and vibrant is nothing but miraculous but ‘the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band’ have the firepower and experience to make this all look so effortless.
With its perfectly curated patchwork of tones, the whole sounds like a happy run through of all the band’s best bits and with a shimmering production by Don Was and Andrew Watt the first listen through captivates but you just know that repeat plays will reveal even more layers.
Along with the formal introduction of drummer Steve Jordan into their recorded world, the album also features longtime bass player Darryl Jones alongside a few stellar guests in the form of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Lady Gaga. Most touchingly of all, not only does the release see the return of Bill Wyman on one number but fallen brother Charlie Watts plays on a brace of songs, his last recorded work with the band.
Opening with the snake-hipped groove of single ‘Angry’, the album is off to a buoyant start, the Stones at their most playful as it bubbles with life and an irresistible hook.
Sounding very modern, this is dappled with sunshine and the glitter of neon lights across water, the urgency demanding you move your body along with its rhythms. Featuring Elton, the smooth, swinging ‘Get Close’ is up next and Jagger is on peak form, sounding older and wiser but still full of the seductive purr he’s made his own, ‘Depending on You’ continuing the flow with its beautifully constructed form that’s touched with the ghost of Country.
With its utterance of “I’m too young for dying and too old to lose”, there’s an air of wistful defiance here, mixed with an acute longing that breathes life into something with a deal of true substance that goes beyond the run of the mill.
Showing they’ve certainly not lost any of their fire or mellowed with age, ‘Bite My Head Off’ is a rumbunctious rocker with lots of snarling attitude and grit. One of the heaviest tracks the band has ever done, McCartney’s bass adds extra drive and buzz, the guitar solo pure rock ‘n’ roll as the whole feral beast bucks and spits flame. ‘Whole Wide World’ also has an untamed energy, its New Wave stutter thrilling as Jagger assumes the role of a street urchin wryly observing the world passing by.
There’s some stripped back barroom blues here too with the touch of Americana in ‘Dreamy Skies’ and the Keith Richards vocally led ‘Tell Me Straight’, both evocative of small rooms everywhere from London’s Troubadour to the Whiskey on Sunset in L.A.. The band go from grit to glamour with the vibrant, almost disco, early 80’s pop of ‘Mess It Up’, the track complimenting the tonal changes rather than jarring, the writing too good to be anything but ice cool as Watts makes his contribution felt and keenly missed now.
He and old rhythm partner Wyman add a real driving groove to the propulsive R&B of ‘Live by the Sword’, their pairing highlighting what a great partnership they were and the sense of this drawing an end to what they had nothing but a celebration.
With the blue collar, sophisticated country rock of ‘Driving Me Too Hard’ another of the diamond’s facets is revealed but it’s when the Gospel of ‘Sweet Sounds of Heaven’ sweeps in that souls are saved. With pitch perfect and dazzling contributions from some tasteful ivory tinkling from Wonder and Gaga’s extraordinary vocals adding to the heady mix, this is the Stones at peak power. Obviously having an utter ball, the guitars of Richards and Wood dart and weave, the live feel and call and response turning the whole into a dynamic and visceral experience that lights up the synapses like a 4th of July night.
With the closing bare bones cover of ‘Rolling Stone Blues’ seeming like a coda for their recorded career, you get the feeling that this may well be the last thing the legendary band will release. If this is the case, they’re certainly going out on a high as working through the album it’s impossible to not be struck by the real quality of every aspect here, the playing, songwriting and production all being sprinkled with something out of the ordinary. This is The Rolling Stones at their very best, their mojo at full power and sovereignty reassured. Nobody does it better.
HACKNEY DIAMONDS TRACKLIST
DEPENDING ON YOU
BITE MY HEAD OFF
WHOLE WIDE WORLD
MESS IT UP
LIVE BY THE SWORD
DRIVING ME TOO HARD
TELL ME STRAIGHT
SWEET SOUNDS OF HEAVEN
ROLLING STONE BLUES
HACKNEY DIAMONDS RELEASED WORLDWIDE ON UNIVERSAL OCT 20