Since the Kennedy Administration and for going on seven decades since, Mick, Keith, Charlie, Bill, and later Ronnie have been defining what rock and roll music is at its kernel root. For the vast majority of the people living on planet Earth, The Rolling Stones have always been there. We don’t know a world without The Rolling Stones in it. The band is to rock and roll what Willie Nelson is to country. Even more improbable is that the kernel of the band itself is still around, and rockin’.
Why is a country music outlet even talking about The Rolling Stones? If you don’t think albums like Let It Bleed and Exile on Main St., and songs like “Dead Flowers” and “Sway” haven’t been as significantly influential on country artists as almost anything from the country canon itself, you don’t know music. The Gram Parsons-influenced era of The Rolling Stones back in the early 70s was a gateway for so many rock fans to country. It was also a gateway for many country fans to rock.
The most important observation about the band’s first album of original material in 18 years is that it’s a Rolling Stones album. Hackney Diamonds doesn’t mess with the formula, because why would it? It’s a formula that The Rolling Stones created from whole cloth. You take an American blues foundation, and add a little horny British attitude, and that’s rock and roll, baby. Mick Jagger might be the big eight oh now, but he’s still out there strutting across the stage and singing about trying to get laid.
There’s no growing old with your music in rock and roll. The Rolling Stones are the reason for that rule. It’s better to die on stage of a heart attack or pull a hammy trying to throw a scissor kick than slow everything down and act your age. The lead single and first song on the new album called “Angry” set the stage that this wouldn’t be a record of a bunch of old men sitting around a condenser mic with acoustic guitars telling stories. The Rolling Stones are here to kick your ass.
Most 55-plus-year-olds would blow their back out trying to perform a song like “Bite My Head Off.” It sounds like a song to get a blow job to in the back of a Trans-Am. One of the things that’s cool about The Rolling Stones is they made music you just couldn’t make in this uptight and touchy era. It’s too dangerous. There’s a song on the new album called “Whole Wide World.” One interpretation of it would be that it’s a pick-me-up to the deplatformed.
It’s the sweat, spit, blood, and grit that has always separated The Rolling Stones from the posers, and that’s all over this record. You can hear this most emblematically in the verses of “Get Close,” even if the chorus feels a little too saccharine for these boys. “Mess It Up” gives you almost a disco vibe, like their trying to garner pop radio play. And do we really need to hear an 80-year-old Mick Jagger reaching for the falsetto? But overall, it’s hard to hate on what you get from Hackney Diamonds.
Where they really get the mix right is for the song “Depending On You.” This is where they inject that little bit of roots influence that makes the sound of The Rolling Stones just right. Though it would be a stretch to call it “country,” the song “Dreamy Skies” that name checks Hank Williams is the closest you get to the Sticky Fingers era on the new album. And even with Keith Richards suffering from arthritis, he and Ronnie Wood still help illustrate why taste and tone always trump technique when it comes to guitar playing.
The best moment from the new album might come during the second half of the 7-minute epic song “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” featuring Lady Gaga singing lead and backup, and Stevie Wonder on piano. It gives you the same chills we all felt when the London Bach Choir kicked in at the end of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Overall, it’s hard to not be spellbound by what The Rolling Stones accomplish with this album.
What’s also cool about Hackney Diamonds is it’s the closest thing we’ll have to the original Rolling Stones on a record henceforth. Long time drummer Charlie Watts passed away in 2021, but not before he made his way onto the songs “Mess It Up” and “Live By The Sword.” Bass player Bill Wyman who left the band in the early ’90s also plays bass on “Live By The Sword,” making this song a de facto reunification of the original lineup.
He’s no Rolling Stone, but the fact that Paul McCartney also appears on the album gives it additional historical significance. You add the fact that the album concludes with the band’s first ever recorded version of the Muddy Waters classic “Rolling Stone Blues” that seeded the band’s name, and if all The Rolling Stones croak tomorrow (knock on wood), this album would be like the perfect epitaph of a paramount and unprecedented career.
Lucky for Rolling Stones fans though, they apparently have another dozen or so songs from the sessions that will comprise a second record at some point in the future. But still, Hackney Diamonds feels like a great bookend, even if only a good, not great, album overall.
– – – – – – – – –
Purchase Hackney Diamonds