Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Rolling Stones "Hackney Diamonds"

The last time the Rolling Stones released a proper studio album, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were still a year or two away from retirement age, celebrated expanded reissues of Exile on Main St. and Sticky Fingers weren't even being discussed and, most significantly, original drummer Charlie Watts was still alive. A Bigger Bang arrived in 2005 with a revitalized band linking their gloried past to a new future, and the Stones built on its momentum with several tours, repackaging of their classic records and enough nostalgia to remind everybody that they used to be the greatest band around.

Their 2016 album Blue & Lonesome managed a glance back even further, all the way to their original dues-paying club days, with a set of blues covers first made famous by their earliest heroes. It's the best they sounded on record in decades. Hackney Diamonds, only their second album of original material this century, finds the Rolling Stones at a curious stage in their long career: with both nothing and, for the first time in decades, something to prove.

And they step up for the occasion, delivering their most committed set of songs and performances in years. Starting strong with "Angry" – a blender whirl of classic Stones signposts – and continuing through to the LP-closing acoustic "Rolling Stone Blues," Hackney Diamonds is the rare occurrence of a veteran band embracing its legacy with new determination. The Rolling Stones aren't doing anything new here, but there's a surprising amount of vitality to almost everything they do.

Producer Andrew Watt – who has worked with Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop and Eddie Vedder in recent years – never gets in the way of the songs, while still infusing tracks with nods to the band's storied past. There's Sticky Fingers-like sax in "Get Close," a snarling, punk-inspired Some Girls-era vocal from Mick Jagger in "Bite My Head Off" and "Dreamy Skies," a Beggars Banquet throwback featuring Keith Richards on acoustic slide. Hackney Diamonds sounds like a half-century's worth of classic Stones music distilled into 50 exhilarating minutes.

The album comes with a bigger guest list than usual: Elton John, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and original bassist Bill Wyman show up in some capacity throughout. The late Watts appears on a couple of tracks that were started before his 2021 death. Steve Jordan, the Stones' touring drummer and Richards' longtime solo sideman, ably fills in for the rest. But it's the songs that will immediately grab you. Even the ballads are uniformly solid: "Depending on You" and "Driving Me Too Hard" absorb country influences; "Sweet Sounds of Heaven" builds over seven and a half minutes, recalling a Let It Bleed castoff with Lady Gaga channeling Merry Clayton. Maybe it's the renewal of their fighting spirit, or perhaps they realize that because it took nearly two decades to get here, this could be their last album. Whatever the reason, Hackney Diamonds finds the Rolling Stones sublimely reclaiming a crown they relinquished long ago.

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