Music

The Rolling Stones remind us rock stars weren't meant to be role models

People get pissed off too easily these days. The Rolling Stones' new single Angry finds them still a reliably bad influence

The Rolling Stones: Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood in black jackets against a red background

The Rolling Stones at a press conference to launch their first new album in 20 years. Photo: Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock

Lock up your granddaughters, shake your replacement hip, The Rolling Stones are back! At a press conference in East London, the world’s greatest and most enduring rock’n’roll band announced Hackney Diamonds, their first new album proper in nearly 20 years.

The three surviving members of the Stones’ classic line-up – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood – were all there, dressed like a trio of peacocking mobsters. The memory of drummer Charlie Watts, who died in 2021, was very much present too.

The first taste of the new record finds The Glimmer Twins, as the legendary Jagger-Richards songwriting partnership is known, still in rude health and good humour after all this time. Lead single Angry struts to another one from Keef’s seemingly bottomless bag of electrifying bluesy-brittle guitar riffs.

Jagger, 80, is on an unrepentant quest for a hump from a girlfriend in a mump, his voice conspicuously stiffened, seemingly without irony, by the vocal Viagra that is autotune. It’s all a touch icky, but a lot of fun.

The Angry video sees American actress Sydney Sweeney cruise through LA, sprawled over the back of a classic convertible in flagrant disregard of Californian seatbelt legislation. Throughout she gawps thirstily at billboards depicting iconic imagery of the Stones from throughout their 61 years, rendered alive and in motion by the wonder of computer graphics. A nice gimmick slickly done, if undermined somewhat by all the letchy lingering on leather bodice clad Sweeney’s cleavage and behind. Times may change, rock stars might age, but unapologetic objectification of the female body remains the same.

They’re not entirely cloth-eared to the modern world, are the Rolling Stones – see their decision to drop Brown Sugar from their live setlist last year owing to its shonky allusions to slavery (albeit to Richards’ noisy protestations). But their lore is built by and large on being a rock of extremely basic dependability in a forever shifting sea of music, politics and societal values. More sex and drugs, less difficult questions, please.

Younger observers may be entitled to ask what on earth more the world could yet need from a band who’ve been around almost as long as the Soviet Union lasted, and proven even less amenable to reform. Father-of-eight Jagger is, by his own frank and funny admission in the lyrics of Angry, popping actual Viagra these days to keep his legendary libido raging (“I’m still taking the pills, and I’m off to Brazil!” he hoots defiantly in the song’s coda). Plainly there’s only so much you can teach inebriate’s inebriate Richards – a man who claims to have once gotten so wired he stayed awake for nine days straight – about being woke.

If the Stones have any wisdom left to impart to a new generation, maybe it’s something about quite simply not giving a shit. Living as we do in an age of hyper-cautiously enlightened rock and pop stars is no bad thing and make no mistake about it. But the constant requirement to be on the right side of the issues all the time, and to quickly scythe down others who might cross the line of accepted behaviour or opinion, whether intentionally or otherwise, is all a bit exhausting. People get pissed off too easily these days. Some people seem to love being pissed off.

The Rolling Stones hark back to a day when rock stars weren’t supposed to be held up as paragons of virtue, but rather examples not to follow. The Stones in their day embodied danger and excess, and in their own way helped re-draw Britain’s stiflingly narrow boundaries of morality. Sufficiently to make The Beatles – far from angels themselves, as history has well proven – look like boy scouts. They’re rock’n’roll’s great pantomime villains, piratical wardrobes and all.

It’s easy to crack mildly ageist jokes at Jagger, Richards and Wood’s expense – I’ve done it several times just in this article – but to be doing what they’re doing at their vintage, and still looking badass about it, is extraordinary. We’re very lucky to still have them. Especially because they can’t possibly keep on keeping on much longer. Hackney Diamonds is almost certainly the last all-new Rolling Stones album ever to be made, and however good or not it may prove to be, it’s cause for celebration. You’ll never see another band like them.

Hackney Diamonds by The Rolling Stones will be released on Universal Records, 2 October. rollingstones.com

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