REVIEW BY GLEN PARKES
To witness The Rolling Stones during their global tour last year, the band’s vitality and spark were still as incandescent as ever, capable of lighting up an entire city.
With the same fervour that fueled their electrifying performances, the band entered the studio to craft ‘Hackney Diamonds,’ and the results are nothing short of explosive. This album stands as their most comprehensive and enthralling work in recent memory. Given their illustrious six-decade-long career, maintaining this level of freshness and vibrancy is nothing short of miraculous. Yet, ‘the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band’ effortlessly demonstrates the firepower and experience required to make it all seem effortless.
A meticulously curated tapestry of tones, the entire album feels like a jubilant journey through the band’s most iconic moments, enhanced by the shimmering production of Don Was and Andrew Watt. The initial listen is captivating, but it’s clear that subsequent plays will unveil even more intricate layers.
Introducing drummer Steve Jordan to their recorded realm, the album also features the long-standing bassist Darryl Jones, alongside a roster of exceptional guests, including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Lady Gaga. What adds an emotional resonance is the return of Bill Wyman on one track and the presence of Charlie Watts, their late drummer, on a couple of songs, marking his final recorded work with the band.
The album kicks off with the snake-hipped groove of the single ‘Angry,’ setting a buoyant tone from the start. The Stones appear at their most playful, exuding a vivid and irresistible energy.
With a strikingly modern sound, the album is drenched in sunshine and neon reflections on water. It compels you to move in tandem with its rhythms. ‘Get Close,’ featuring Elton John, follows with a smooth and swinging tempo. Mick Jagger, at the peak of his form, exudes a pearl of mature wisdom, while ‘Depending on You’ continues the flow with its beautifully crafted composition, imbued with a hint of country music nostalgia.
The track’s proclamation, “I’m too young for dying and too old to lose,” conveys a sense of wistful defiance and longing, lending the album a depth that transcends the ordinary.
Proving that they haven’t lost an ounce of their fire, ‘Bite My Head Off’ emerges as a raucous rocker, brimming with snarling attitude and grit. It’s one of the heaviest tracks in the band’s catalogue, with McCartney’s bass providing extra drive and fervour. The guitar solo is pure rock ‘n’ roll, and the entire composition roars like a feral beast, spitting flames. ‘Whole Wide World’ maintains the untamed energy, with its New Wave-inspired staccato rhythm, and Jagger assumes the role of a streetwise observer of the passing world.
The album also delves into stripped-back barroom blues, as evident in ‘Dreamy Skies,’ and in the Keith Richards-led ‘Tell Me Straight,’ exuding Americana vibes reminiscent of intimate venues like London’s Troubadour or L.A.’s Whiskey on Sunset Strip. The band transitions seamlessly from grit to glamour with ‘Mess It Up,’ offering an early 80s pop-disco feel that complements the album’s tonal shifts.
With ‘Live by the Sword,’ a propulsive R&B track, the combined groove of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman, their classic rhythm section, shines, highlighting their exceptional partnership and paying tribute to their enduring legacy.
The album’s true zenith is reached with the gospel-inspired ‘Sweet Sounds of Heaven.’ Featuring remarkable contributions from Stevie Wonder on the keys and Lady Gaga’s extraordinary vocals, this track showcases the Stones at the height of their powers. Clearly relishing the moment, Keith Richards and Ron Wood’s guitars weave and dart, creating a dynamic, visceral experience that lights up the senses, much like a Fourth of July celebration.
Closing with the stripped-down cover of ‘Rolling Stone Blues,’ this track serves as a fitting coda to the band’s recorded career. It’s difficult to ignore the overwhelming quality present in every facet of this album—be it the musicianship, songwriting, or production. The Rolling Stones deliver their best work, with a mojo at full throttle and a reaffirmed sovereignty. Nobody does it better.
‘Hackney Diamonds’ Tracklist:
- GET CLOSE
- DEPENDING ON YOU
- BITE MY HEAD OFF
- WHOLE WIDE WORLD
- DREAMY SKIES
- MESS IT UP
- LIVE BY THE SWORD
- DRIVING ME TOO HARD
- TELL ME STRAIGHT
- SWEET SOUNDS OF HEAVEN
- ROLLING STONE BLUES