The Rolling Stones – Hackney Diamonds (Universal)

If this is the last time, Mick & Keith have made it respectable. Actually Hackney Diamonds is more than just respectable; it may be the best Rolling Stones album since Some Girls.

18 years after their last studio album of new material and long after most fans gave up hoping for one last decent Rolling Stones album, here it is.

I admit, when I first heard Angry, the first ‘single’ and the album’s leadoff track, I was somewhat underwhelmed. It felt like a rehashed Start Me Up.

And that is both the charm and the curse of being a band with a 60-year legacy. Everyone wants them to sound like their classic hits, but then they get criticized for sounding too much like themselves.

Now, I like Angry just fine, thank you. This is not a band that’s going to break any new ground; they just want to rock (and not embarrass themselves).

And rock they do.

Second track, Get Close also rocks with Elton John somewhere deep in the mix on piano and a horn section blaring away at the end. Mick’s vocal is sounding stronger than ever as he spits out, “Tell me that you’d rather die than live without, live without me”.

Depending On You is a mid-tempo ballad with veteran string arranger/conductor David Campbell (Beck’s dad) swinging the baton while The Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench lets loose behind his Hammond organ.

The album is produced by Andrew Wood who also gets co-writing credit with Mick and Keith on the first three tunes.

Track four is a buzzsaw rocker titled Bite My Head Off featuring none other than Paul McCartney on bass, sounding like he and the band are up for a little Helter Skelter.

Whole Wide World follows with another classic Stones riff (Keith truly is the human riff). So far it is the most melodic song on the record sounding slick and sassy in equal measure.

Of course there is a blues tune or two among the chosen twelve here. Dreamy Skies is slow and slinky. I’m assuming that’s Keith on slide, but it could be Woody, and Mick takes this opportunity to play his harmonica. This song has one of the best lyrics as Mick drawls, ‘An old damn radio is all that I’ve got, It just plays Hank Williams and some bad honky-tonk.’ Shades of that girl with The Faraway Eyes…  

Six songs deep into Hackney Diamonds (not fond of the title) and I keep thinking of the Some Girls album. Mick notoriously took control back then while Keith was struggling with his addictions and once again, Jagger sounds energized and his enthusiasm must have been infectious.

A few notes…the late great Charlie Watts shows up on two tracks, the first being Mess It Up, featuring a funky beat that yes, reminds me of Miss You, from Some Girls. And bass duties on the record are handled by everyone…Keith, Woody, Paul and producer Andrew Watt…even Bill Wyman returns for track eight, Live By The Sword which also features Charlie on drums…the old rhythm section together one last time.

Elton John’s piano gets heard here and Mick paraphrases The Zombies.

Continuing on, track nine is Driving Me Too Hard with Ronnie on bass. Of course Keith gets to sing a tune, this time it’s Tell Me Straight. Sure he sounds grizzled and old, but he did when he was in his 30s!

“Let the old still believe that they’re young” sings Mick (and Lady Gaga) on Sweet Sounds Of Heaven a 7-minute slice of gospel-infused soul  driven by Stevie Wonder’s piano and Gaga’s best Merry Clayton turn.

Finally, we finish where it all started, The Rolling Stones finally record a version on Muddy Waters’ Rolling Stone Blues. It’s a stripped back affair with Mick again on harmonica. In case anyone has forgotten what made this band keep going for over 60 years, the answer is right here.

Marty Duda