Country : United Kingdom Label : Polydor Genres and styles : Rock Year : 2023

The Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds

· by Zenith Wolfe

“Is my future all in the past?” the Rolling Stones ask on the tenth track of their latest album, Hackney Diamonds. With most of their discography released before the 2000s, and over a billion Spotify plays on their iconic Paint It, Black (1966), it’s a fair question.

Some of the album’s tracks, Angry and Close To You, are as emotional as the titles make them sound, but they don’t feel like they generate a Rolling Stones atmosphere. That doesn’t mean they’re bad songs by any measure: the drum beats and guitar riffs are inventive, and it’s obvious vocalist Mick Jagger is having fun with his lines. Knowing what The Rolling Stones can do, however, lyrics like those in Mess It Up – “You think I’m really, really, really gonna really make your dreams come true/You say you really, really, really, really wanna hear the truth” – make the music sound too generic.

Depending on You and Driving Me Too Hard offer a more appealing rustic style while Bite My Head Off goes for a more contemporary grunge. This helps to keep the album dynamic and shows that the band is still trying to incorporate new ideas 60 years later. Here, the problem is more a question of matching the tone to illustrative lyrics – the longing feeling in Wild Horses (1971), for example, only worked because of its powerful imagery.

It’s hard not to compare this album to their hits like Gimme Shelter (1969) and Sympathy For The Devil (1968). These songs didn’t just pair strong instrumentation with forcefully sung words. They developed memorable melodies and rhythms to shed light on their metaphors. The Rolling Stones always worked best when they maintained a bit of subtlety, which is largely not found on this album.

Two songs break this pattern. The surprisingly solemn and self-reflective Tell Me Straight grapples with the band’s notoriety and how the act of creation works in the shadow of such a renowned pre-existing body of music. Finally, something for the listener to sink their teeth into, yet it ends only three minutes in at the peak of emotional investment! It’s an impressively anticlimactic fade-out too…

Lady Gaga’s feature is unquestionably the best track on the album, which is remarkable considering she’s up against the likes of featured artists Elton John and Paul McCartney. She lends to Sweet Sounds of Heaven what Merry Clayton lent to Gimme Shelter way back: a soulful, angelic voice that contrasts Mick Jagger’s slow and raw vocals. The piano, at the hands of the legendary Stevie Wonder, is also a gem, especially when Jagger prompts Wonder with a casual “Play me something Stevie” under the mellow drums and vocals. And those controlled but passionate brass riffs? This song is not afraid to embrace how cool it is, but it knows exactly when it’s gone as far as it can. It generates such a satisfying mystique that it single-handedly makes the album worth listening to.

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