The Rolling Stones Are Better Than They Need to Be on 'Hackney Diamonds'

BY Daniel SylvesterPublished Oct 20, 2023

It should be a surprise to no one that the Rolling Stones managed to make such a strong album in 2023. If anyone is known for flouting age and staying true amidst changing trends, it's Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. That said, the strongest thing about Hackney Diamonds is that it mostly sounds like a regular old Rolling Stones album. 

As soon as the record's first two singles were released — the cascading riff-driven "Angry" and the barn-burning Lady Gaga-featuring gospel anthem "Sweet Sounds of Heaven" — critics were already declaring this their best work since the legendary Some Girls. But repeat listens of the LP reveal perhaps one of its only obvious flaws; the Stones of 1978 were working tirelessly to break new ground, while the Stones of 2023 are engineered to recover that ground. 

As sessions with longtime studio collaborator Don Was (who produced their last LP of original material, 2005's A Bigger Bang) stalled, the band brought in Andrew Watt to record the majority of Hackney Diamonds. Once known as a producer for pop luminaries like Miley Cyrus and Post Malone, Watt has recently worked with Iggy Pop and Ozzy Osbourne to create vital late-career comebacks. This was mostly achieved by bringing in familiar-sounding and seasoned rock veterans — most commonly Duff McKagan, Josh Klinghoffer and the late Taylor Hawkins — to play backup. Watt follows the same recipe here, ushering in Elton John and Stevie Wonder to add keyboards, plus Paul McCartney and original Stone Bill Wyman on bass. As contemporaries of Mick, Keith and Ronnie Wood, the LP's guests know the exact tone and energy needed for the It's Only Rock and Roll bawdiness of "Bite My Head Off" or the Exile on Main St. slinkiness of "Live by the Sword." The latter, featuring the late Charlie Watts, stands as the first song in 34 years to reunite four of the five original Stones. 

While many of these tracks come off like they were focus-grouped to sound like classic Rolling Stones, they nonetheless hit their desired mark, thanks to solid performances and some terrific musical choices. "Whole Wide World" is anchored by an enormous drum sound from new member Steve Jordan (of the Blues Brothers and John Mayer Trio), while "Mess It Up" features producer/bassist Watt laying down a disco-thumped rhythm.

Just where most albums would include soundalike filler, the Stones end their 24th outing with a handful of late-stage high points. The gritty ballad "Depending on You" includes a terrific (though Auto-Tune-assisted) performance from Jagger, the nakedly vulnerable "Tell Me Straight" showcases Richards on vocals, and the stark harmonica and acoustic guitar cover of Muddy Waters's "Rolling Stone Blues" (which gave the band their name) works purely off the raw emotion. 

Hackney Diamonds may not go down as an iconic Stones LP, but this late in the game it's basically a triumph by nearly every measure. But anyone who knows what Mick and Keith are capable of should have seen this coming. After all, they're the bloody Stones. 

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