The Rolling Stones: ‘Hackney Diamonds’ review 


Heralds proclaim it from the rooftops; messengers spread the word – The Rolling Stones are back with their first album of original material since 2005. Your dad might be declaring it ‘the best CD since Back to Bedlam‘, but is it really worth listening to? The Stones’ latest release reeks of a band past their prime, but diamonds of instrumental and vocal brilliance shine on through the hackneyed songwriting and soulless production.

The album’s opening single, ‘Angry’, inexplicably received high praise upon its release. The track is driven by an uninspired guitar riff and rudimentary drum work. It’s just bland; a doomed attempt at one last top-ten hit. As is the case with the whole album, Andrew Watt’s production is over-polished and over-compressed to the point that any sense of creative authenticity is killed. Jagger, however, growls and gurgles over the track as powerfully as ever. His vocal strength and charisma at the ripe age of 80 are genuinely shocking. Keith Richards’ work (aside from the main riff) is equally as youthful. It’s an okay pop song on the whole, but anyone who claims it’s anything better is listening to The Stones through rose-tinted headphones. 

‘Get Close’ is similarly mediocre in terms of lyricism and songwriting, though the sax solo halfway through is a breath of fresh air. The Take That-esque ‘Depending On You’ is a vanilla — yet intimate ballad, with all vocal harmonies, strings and electric organ. The track has a few interesting ideas to offer of love as a commodity to be passed from person to person.  Goofy, fun and energetic, ‘Bite My Head Off’ is one of the better songs on the album. Jagger barks out endless canine puns like a terrier who’s seen a rat. Paul McCartney’s contribution on bass is hardly revolutionary but he does a simple job well enough.

‘Whole Wide World’ is a masterclass in cringe. (“And you think the party is over/But it’s only just, only just begun”. Please.) It sounds straight from a down-with-the-kids rock musical that sank without a trace

Gentle country track ‘Dreamy Skies’ benefits somewhat from simpler production but is bloated with banal lyrics you’ve heard a thousand times before.

The second half of the album opens with ‘Mess It Up’, which seems yet another lifeless pop-rock song until the post-chorus arrives, and the funky rhythm guitar and rising, syncopated bassline sweep you along with the groove of the track. This is one of two songs on the album on which the late great Charlie Watts features. ‘Live By the Sword’ features both Watts and Bill Wyman, the original rhythm section having reunited in 2019 for one final track together. The band (including Elton John on piano) is in top form; each instrument explodes from the mix, the lyrics are fun and it has an irresistible energy. The song is a vast improvement on its precursors. ‘Driving Me Too Hard’ is a tuneful but ten-a-penny country pop track. The most boring song on the album ‘Tell Me Straight’ is sung by Richards, and no amount of reverb can save his vocals from being startlingly weak and inexpressive.

The soulful, 7-minute-long ‘Sweet Sounds of Heaven’, was the album’s second single, featuring Stevie Wonder on keys and vocals from Lady Gaga. It’s an infectious declaration of hope and faith – ebbing and flowing, rising and falling, eventually crescendoing to a horn-filled climax. The chemistry between Gaga and Jagger is electric and the seeming spontaneity of the recording overall gives the track a sense of authentic musicianship – not a common feature on Hackney Diamonds

The album’s closer ‘Rolling Stone Blues’ seems like the band’s way of rewarding the exceedingly patient fans who stuck around to the end of the project

It’s Jagger, Richards and a harmonica; the most raw and exposed track on the album – no hiding between sparkly production. Muddy Waters’ version of the song, recorded in 1950, was the band’s inspiration for their name. The song oozes tension and edge, and it’s really nothing short of epic. A stripped-back closing statement on the album, and potentially on the band’s career as a whole, ‘Rolling Stones Blues’ is to Hackney Diamonds what ‘Her Majesty’ is to Abbey Road. “This is the basics of it,” says Richards, on The Howard Stern Show. “This is where it comes (sic) from.”

Hackney Diamonds does not reflect the band’s creativity in a way they would want. The Stones try to go out with a bang, but on-the-nose production and songwriting tailored to radio-play prevent them from creating much more than sterile, thinly veiled pop. Despite this, strong individual performances from Jagger and Richards ensure the afterglow of The Rolling Stones’ former glory can still be glimpsed over the horizon of the album’s mediocrity. 

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One thought on “The Rolling Stones: ‘Hackney Diamonds’ review 

  • Let’s us compare all these songs to the drivel put out by the ‘ most popular ‘ Rock band on the planet; The Foo Fighers. Or – any other Rock band in the past 20 years. Apparently the author of this piece of ‘look at me’ ‘music’ journalism has gotten used to the death of Rock as has everyone else.

    Hackney Diamonds is exactly why The Stones have lasted longer than anyone else. Listen to any track singularly driving in your car. Every tune on the album makes the foot tap and a sing-a-long is a must. The Stones don’t release number one hits ( very few over the years ) but they do what noone else has ever done in any genre. Twenty five albums with minimum six great songs on every one of them.

    Legendary bands with the exception of The Beatles – all have maximum twenty great songs and at the most – four good albums. They all had a creative shelf life of eight years if that.

    The Stones are victims of their own brilliance and Hackney Diamonds will be talked about the same way Goats Head Soup, Black and Blue and VooDoo Lounge (etc) are talked about. If there is time between listening and enjoying those albums that is.


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