Thursday, October 26, 2023

Album Review: The Rolling Stones - Hackney Diamonds

The Rolling Stones
Hackney Diamonds
** out of *****

The Rolling Stones Hackney Diamonds is the first studio album of original material by the band since 2005's A Bigger Bang and the group's first release following the 2021 death of drummer Charlie Watts.

It also sounds like what AI would come up with if someone plugged the phrase “year Rolling Stones album” into it, as Hackney Diamonds resembles what makes The Stones great on the surface, with touchpoints to past successes, yet, when you dig a little deeper things aren’t all that satisfying.

Working with producer/co-writer on a few tracks, Andrew Watt, the band sounds modern, fully taut, and glossed up as the production is overly pristine, robust, and gleaming. The booming hits from new drummer Steve Jordan and strutting riffs from Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood kick things off on album opener “Angry”, playing like a checklist of Stones attributes, but without a true connection.

The band has been corporate for literal decades at this point, and many of these songs will work in commercials and remind fans of even better past tunes, such as the disco touches of “Mess It Up” recalling the late 70’s/early 80’s efforts, the countryish Let it Bleed-like “Dreamy Skies” and the sax work on “Get Close”, yet this is not Sticky Fingers, more like Buffed Manicured Nails.

A few touches stand out positively, guest Beatle Paul McCartney surprisingly distorts up a punkish jam titled “Bite My Head Off” with giddy, infectious bass work before the band strap on a good guitar solo for “Whole Wide World”, but for one of the innovators of the genre Richards doesn’t have many memorable riffs here.

Jagger as well delivers a perfectly fine performance vocally, especially considering his age, but lyrically nothing is worth remembering after a few spins, as the vagueness of his words and the idea of still living a “hitting and running through" life style has all been heard before and can sound pretty stale from the great grandfather.

Then again, what is expected from 80 year old rockers? Overall, this is not a bad album, just an incredibly over-polished one from an aging band and maybe the fact that it exists at all on a totally acceptable-to-many-bands/middle-of-the-road level, is a complete success on its own. 

One of the best moments occurs when Charlie Watts is reborn with old bassist Bill Wyman for “Live By the Sword” which feels looser, almost as if the old guard were still workshopping the song, with Jagger’s lyrics in particular needing an upgrade.

If this happens to be the last studio album from the Stones, they went out on a high note to wrap it up. The band close Hackney Diamonds by showcasing the over the top drama they mastered during their peak years as Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder join for “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” whose extended, vibrant, interplay turns it into the clear standout track on the record. They then finish with a nod to their blues foundation, delivering a version of Muddy Waters “Rolling Stone Blues” which gave the legendary rockers their name.

It is hard not to grade The Stones against themselves, one of the greatest bands of all-time. No one outside of the band needed A Bigger Bang in 2005, and the same holds true for Hackney Diamonds in 2023. Also, no one should ever tell artists when to quit, and the fact that Mick, Keith, and Ronnie wanted to go through the writing/recording/release process all over again (with a host of A list friends helping them out) is perfectly fine. 

A high gloss, fairly bland, modern sounding album like Hackney Diamonds is just another step-on-down the road for The Rolling Stones.
Support the band, buy the album, and peep some video below:

No comments:

Post a Comment