Hackney Diamonds is the Rolling Stones' most quintessentially Stonesy album in 40 years: it's also a 21st-century record for a 21st-century audience

The Rolling Stones' Hackney Diamonds is the first album of original material in 18 years from the creators of rock's blueprint

The Rolling Stones - Hackney Diamonds cover art
(Image: © Polydor)

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According to Mick Jagger, Hackney Diamonds producer/bassist Andrew Watt “kicked us up the arse”. Watt’s USP is his ability to put artists back in touch with who they actually are. He recently coaxed the remarkable Every Loser out of Iggy Pop by asking him: “Are you ready to be yourself?” And it seems he’s done it again, because the Rolling Stones haven’t delivered an album this quintessentially Stonesy in 40 years. That said, Hackney Diamonds is no museum piece. It’s a 21st-century record for a 21st-century audience that, with an old-school 48-minute duration, only ever leaves the listener hungry for more. 

Opener and lead single Angry benefits from a contemporary production that doesn’t go too far. Watt plays it just right across the entire album, as he modernises the Stones without once dressing them in a sound that doesn’t suit them. 

Following the muscular, riff-driven Get Close, Depending On You is a classic Stones ballad: pedal steel, subtle strings, cascading keyboards, and Jagger, ‘I’m too young to die, but too old to lose’ (with the merest suggestion of contemporising auto-tune) on heartbreakingly fine form. 

The stroppy Bite My Head Off finds Paul McCartney pumping out a slack-jawed, punked-up bass solo and Keith being so unapologetically Keith that it’s all you can do not to punch the air. Whole Wide World boasts a chorus to die for (and Jagger never more deliciously ‘Lahndan’ in his over-sold vernacular), Dreamy Skies a reflective country blues with a melody line reminiscent of Short And Curlies, before two back-to-back Charlie Watts-featuring tracks (elsewhere Steve Jordan shines reliably), Chic-y floor-filler Mess It Up and Bill Wyman-benefitting textbook Stones rocker Live By The Sword, with loose-ass handclaps and miles of Keith and Ronnie’s intricately woven ancient art to unravel. 

Driving Me Too Hard finds Jagger on the unfortunate end of a cruel, mistreating woman, and Tell Me Straight a mournful Keith musing: ‘Is my future all in the past?’ Gospel epic Sweet Sound Of Heaven is a Jagger master class, Lady GaGa in fine voice, with Stevie Wonder also in evidence, but as with all the album’s guest slots (Elton John also serves) no one outshines the Stones. Performances serve songs rather than egos. 

And finally, Rolling Stone Blues (the Muddy Waters tune that gave the band their name) closes the circle. Raw, stripped, flawless, it’s an unspoken message for all who choose to receive it. Brilliant.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.