The Rolling Stones' Hackney Diamonds review: 'Let the old still believe that they're young, yeah'

The Rolling Stones are back with new album Hackney Diamonds - featuring guest spots from Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga and Elton John.
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The thing that strikes you listening to The Rolling Stones' new album, Hackney Diamonds, is quite how vibrant it sounds.

First single and opener Angry is somehow both fresh and Stones-by-numbers, those vocal chords and guitar tones so familiar.

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Get Close follows suit, and while Elton John's piano is apparently somewhere in the mix, and Keith and Mick lead the track, it is James King's sax solo that really lifts the song.

"Now I'm too young for dying and too old to lose," declares Mick on the classic Stonesy ballad Depending On You, which sounds straight out of a 1971 session.

But this isn't the final act for elder statesmen meditating on rock, it's a band feeling the same groove as at their peak.

Bite My Head Off is a pretty straight-ahead hard rocker with the novelty of Paul McCartney on bass and a genuinely angry vocal: "But I ain't on a leash, yeah. Well, I ain't on a chain. You think I'm your bitch. I'm f***ing with your brain. Yeah." Blimey, point taken.

The Rolling Stones 2023 - Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. (Photo by Mark Seliger)The Rolling Stones 2023 - Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. (Photo by Mark Seliger)
The Rolling Stones 2023 - Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. (Photo by Mark Seliger)
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Whole Wide World continues the heavy riffing before a drive-time radio chorus that will no doubt be sung across packed fields and parks next festival season.

"When the whole wide world's against you and it's got you on the run, and you think the party's over, well, it's only just, only just begun."

It's also the point at which the capital enters the story, following the pre-publicity stunts around the 'Hackney Diamonds' repair firm.

"Well the dreary streets of London, they never promised much. A dead-end job to nowhere and all your dreams are crushed," Mick tells us, harking back to the superstars' less monied times.

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The record is not steeped in nostalgia, but Dreamy Skies brings to mind Bob Dylan’s sprawling Murder Most Foul, which appeared from nowhere in 2020. Perhaps its simply the melancholy and the radio playing “Hank Williams and some bad honky tonk”.

The song also delivers a likely inspiration for the album's title: “I’ll be dancing on diamonds. I’ll be skating on glass…”

The Rolling Stones 2023. (Photo by Mark Seliger)The Rolling Stones 2023. (Photo by Mark Seliger)
The Rolling Stones 2023. (Photo by Mark Seliger)

Although Hackney Diamonds is full of vigour, it is the first release since the loss of drummer Charlie Watts, who recorded parts before his death.

His contributions can be heard on Mess It Up and Live By The Sword, including a count in on the latter.

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They're not the strongest songs on the album but the former has a disco rhythm that hints at the Stones’ last great record, Some Girls (1978). Live By The Sword allows Elton to get his boogie on while Keith and Ronnie shred - and also features former Stones bassist Bill Wyman.

Driving Me Too Hard is solidly in radio-friendly rock territory, while for Tell Me Straight it is Keith's turn on lead vocals. Both are solid, if unremarkable, songs before the shock of the album's highlight.

The Rolling Stones. (Photo by Mark Seliger)The Rolling Stones. (Photo by Mark Seliger)
The Rolling Stones. (Photo by Mark Seliger)

Fans have already heard Sweet Sounds of Heaven, on which Stevie Wonder’s piano opens into a liquid groove. Mick's vocals have never sounded better and Lady Gaga's voice slots in seamlessly. It builds to a blues-gospel fireball.

It's a recording you know the Stones can make, and yet you are surprised they have done so once again. It seems to encapsulate their career musically, with its references ("tumbling down") and perhaps a tribute to Watts ("Bless the Father, bless the Son. Hear the sound of the drums").

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"Yeah, let us sing, let us shout, let us shout. Let us all stand up proud. Let the old still believe that they're young, yeah."

The album's closer sees Mick and Keith strip everything back to guitar, vocals and harmonica for Rolling Stone Blues - a take on the Muddy Waters blues standard for which the band are named.

"Well, my mother told my father, just before I was born. She said: 'You got a boy child coming - he's going to be a rolling stone.'"

Hackney Diamonds tracklisting

  1. Angry
  2. Get Close
  3. Depending On You
  4. Bite My Head Off
  5. Whole Wide World
  6. Dreamy Skies
  7. Mess It Up
  8. Live By The Sword
  9. Driving Me Too Hard
  10. Tell Me Straight
  11. Sweet Sounds of Heaven
  12. Rolling Stone Blues

Hackney Diamonds release date

The Rolling Stones' Hackney Diamonds is out on Polydor on Friday October 20, 2023.

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