As The Rolling Stones released their first studio LP consisting of original material in eighteen long-awaited years, you could be forgiven for thinking that, following the loss of their drummer of over half a century, Charlie Watts, a mere couple of years ago, their 24th album might not amount to too much.
Lyrically, in short doses, you may find yourself stroking your own ego, having perhaps pondered those exact thoughts and even more so as Jagger barks, “If you live like a wh*re, better be hardcore”. In contrast, instrumentally, you’d find Keith Richards pulling you a trademark middle finger come the end of the album as they conclude with their 12th track, Rolling Stone Blues, a Muddy Waters cover that inspired the band’s namesake.
Countless tracks within Hackney Diamonds are gemmed with a typical sharp melodic riff from the off, stapled namely within “Get Close”, “Whole Wide World”, and “Bite My Head Off”, the latter featuring an unusual distorted bass track from Paul McCartney. It’s the perfect blend of Ronnie Wood, himself 76 years of age, and Richards, 79, working together to showcase their growling dexterity.
You’re more than likely to find this handsomely followed with a Jagger-induced vocal sustain as the choruses kick in as “I wanna get close to you” and “I got to get away from it all” rings out throughout the tracks. The subsequent lyrics there, taken from the mid-album listing “Dreamy Skies”, a track which offers enough to be held in close high regard to “Sweet Virginia” or “Loving Cup” from years gone by. Jagger then shows his split vocal behaviour as he cries, “You think I’ll mess it up, mess it up, mess it up all for you” in a three-word sequence akin to “Start Me Up”, “Beast of Burden” and “Jumpin Jack Flash”. Timeless.
Hackney Diamonds still has its debatable moments throughout the fresh nostalgia within the album’s 48-minute and 28-second run time, which has never been far from a Rolling Stones record since the early 80s. Tracks such as “Driving Me to Hard”, a quintessential early 70’s Stones LP filler, alongside “Tell Me Straight” produce a similar presentiment that you may find towards the end of a gig where the act is raring to finish the set following a long touring schedule.
The preceding track from those couple of numbers, “Live by the Sword”, although offering the star-studded appearances of Elton John and former band member Bill Wynam, whilst also being one of the two tracks (alongside “Mess It Up”) recorded with Charlie Watts, unfortunately, would do better when falling on its sword. The production, this time a singular effort from Don Was (Ryan Adams, John Mayer) following a solid crack from producer Andrew Watt (Miley Cyrus, Iggy Pop) throughout the rest of this album, is found lacking here. Grace can be discovered nonetheless in the Jools Holland-esque keys by John and a blues-scale guitar solo that is gratefully unearthed over a minute and a half in.
Facing conclusion, “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” saves the record’s closure as guest starring Lady Gaga steals the show in a performance filled with Gimme Shelter vibes as she tussles fondly with Jagger, line by line, playfully eclipsing each other with harmonies as good as they come, in a track that could easily find itself placed amongst 1969’s effort “Let It Bleed”.
It is apparent throughout many stages that this typical Rolling Stones offering is missing the influence and skill from Charlie Watts. In particular Watts’ signature fills and master techniques of the hi-hat, but it must be acknowledged that replacement Steve Jordan offers his wealth of industry experience producing a valiant go at placing his stamp on the record, one which you’d be sure Charlie would be pleased with.
Album Highlights: “Sweet Sounds of Heaven”, “Mess It Up” and “Depending On You” Album Rating: 4 / 5 stars
In short, imagine Hackney Diamonds to be a Rolling Stones pimped time machine, transporting you throughout various points of their endurable and everlasting career; track by track, riff by riff, decade by decade.
By Josh Makuch
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