“Don’t get angry with me” sings the iconic voice of Mick Jagger on the opening track, aptly titled “Angry.” In some ways, it is difficult not to be a little annoyed, if not necessarily angry. “Hackney Diamonds,” the new Rolling Stones album that the song resides on, is the first new record of Stones’ music since 2016, and is their first album of original material since 2005- Mick, you have been starving us.
Those are not the only firsts this album has, it is also the first Stones album after the unfortunate passing of original drummer Charlie Watts two years ago, as well as their first recording with original bassist Bill Wyman since the early 1990s.
Despite being down a man, the band sounds as unified and powerful as ever. Watts has been replaced by Steve Jordan, who possesses the same drive behind the kit that Watts had. If you did not know there was a different drummer, I am not sure you would be able to tell the difference, Jordan is that good.
The album also features a noteworthy number of guests. Elton John plays piano on two tracks, Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder show up on “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” and Paul McCartney adds bass to the song “Bite My Head Off.” That is not all- as mentioned before, the band’s original bass player, Wyman, pops in on “Live By the Sword,” his first recording with the band since the early 1990s. Even Watts appears posthumously on a pair of songs. In fact, Watts and Wyman both ended up appearing on the aforementioned track, making it a full band reunion for the first time in years.
I have been stalling long enough… how are the actual songs on the album?
On our opening track, “Angry,” we hear that the band really has not lost their edge at all. Jagger sounds much younger than you would expect an eighty-year-old to sound, while the riff created by Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood recalls the band’s classic era. It follows in the tradition of fantastic opening tracks by the Stones. “Bite My Head Off” is a killer, with McCartney taking over bass duties. While I do wish his bass line was more prominent, the song rocks too hard to care. “Whole Wide World” and “Get Close” feature strong hooks that have been exchanging space in my brain for a little bit now.
While most of the tracks are at the very least solid, there are certainly a few duds here and there. The country twang of “Dreamy Skies” is tantalizing, but it goes in one ear and out the other. The moody “Tell Me Straight” features Richards on lead vocals, but it lacks the ferocity of a song like “Happy” or “Before They Make Me Run,” which also swapped Jagger for Richards behind the microphone. The good thing about this filler though is that none of it is truly awful. Usually every Stones album has one or two outright disposable songs- “Hackney Diamonds” is apparently the exception, as every song is at the very least okay.
Back to the highlights, we now come to the track “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” which features piano from Wonder and backing vocals from none other than Gaga. Maybe it sounds like an odd pairing, but she absolutely crushes it. Despite her performance being more impressive than Jagger’s, she never steals the spotlight, instead coming off as an equal, a partner. The team up is one of the most satisfying songs on the entire album. There is also a great little moment where Gaga and Jagger have a riff off, trying to outdo each other with little falsetto yelps. It is a great bit.
While a soaring track like “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” might seem like a great way to end off things, the way the album actually comes to close is somehow even better. After a whole album of some of the band’s hardest rocking in years, we finish off with a cover of “Rolling Stone Blues” by Muddy Waters. This song already had a lot of significance for the band, as it is the song that gave the group their name 60 years ago.
Jagger’s seductive harmonica slides in and out over the drone of Richards and Wood’s guitars. It is a great throwback to the band’s roots, and if it ends up being the group’s last-ever song, a somewhat likely possibility, then it will have brought the band’s career full circle. Frankly, I can not think of a better way to end the record.
All of this is to say that “Hackney Diamonds” is the best Stones record in decades. That is not necessarily the highest bar in the world- they have not released a record this solid since “Tattoo You,” and nothing this great since even longer before. We would be lucky to get any Stones album in 2023- we are even more blessed to be given such a fantastic one.