At last month’s official launch of Hackney Diamonds, The Rolling Stones’ first album of new material in 18 years, Mick Jagger said: “I don’t want to sound big-headed, but we wouldn’t have put out this record if we hadn’t really liked it.” Now, the singer’s not really known for his modesty, but it turns out it wasn’t bluster. This record is miles better than anyone could have possibly hoped it to be, even in their wildest dreams.
Even though it’s been a while since we’ve had to go through the motions, it’s become par for the course for a Stones studio album to be a relatively inconsequential affair that merely set up a tour where the oldies once again took centre stage. While the band have confirmed they want to hit the road again next year, the sense of purpose and vitality that infuses this record makes it one you’d be happy to hear in one of the stadiums they’ll presumably be filling next summer.
It’s a surprisingly energised affair for a band in their twilight years. With nothing left to prove, The Stones simply sound like they’re having fun. Hackney Diamonds is infused with a myriad of touches that hark back to the true spirit of the band, while producer Andrew Watt simultaneously provides it with a subtly modern sheen.
While the three remaining core Stones – Jagger and guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood – are on fine form throughout, the record obviously benefits from the A-list help of the likes of their mates Lady Gaga, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. Gaga in particular scales the heights when duelling with Jagger on the epic Sweet Sounds of Heaven, mirroring the memorable Merry Clayton appearance on Gimme Shelter. Macca’s propulsive bass on the gnarly, punky Bite My Head Off is also a highlight.
Speaking of bassists, ex-Stone Bill Wyman even shows up on the handclap-heavy rocker Live by The Sword, reuniting poignantly with Charlie Watts on one of two tracks the drummer worked on before his passing in 2021, the other being the disco-flavoured Mess It Up. Steve Jordan, who Watts blessed as his replacement, ably fills in for the dapper legend elsewhere.
The inclusion of a cover of their hero Muddy Waters’ Rolling Stone Blues as the final track, delivered in a tastefully raw and ragged fashion by Jagger and Richards, would seem to complete the circle. But this has been rubbished by the band, who insist they are not far away from completing the follow-up already. It’s just as well – if we were to wait as long for the next one they’d both be knocking 100. So it would be prudent to get a move on. The impression this record gives is of a strident sense of purpose, so who’s to say it won’t happen? But that’s for the future, so for now let’s just enjoy this unexpected jewel of a record.