On Friday, Oct. 20, the Rolling Stones released their 24th album, Hackney Diamonds. This was their first album release in 18 years, and it included two songs recorded in 2019 with the Stones’ late drummer Charlie Watts, who died in 2021 at 80 years old. According to NPR, Watts had chosen Steve Jordan as his replacement should the need arise. In much of the lead-up to the record’s release, however, many seemed less concerned with the new percussionist and the content of Hackney Diamonds, but rather with the band members’ ages: Mick Jagger being 80, Keith Richards being 79 and Ronnie Wood being 76.
Fans were itching to see how the band’s sound had developed with their age. However, it would be a mistake to judge this album solely from the standpoint of what the Stones can do at 80, 79 and 76. The band has proven to us time and time again that they know how to produce truly earth-shattering music, and to set a different standard for Hackney Diamonds on the basis of the group’s age would completely undermine the power of their music. Thus, I present to you Hackney Diamonds: proof that the Rolling Stones “still got it.”
The record kicks off with “Angry”, which had been released as a single. The accompanying music video features Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney sitting in the back of a red convertible, dancing and singing along to the lyrics, driving past billboards with clips of the Stones performing at various stages throughout their career. Sweeney looks like she’s having fun listening to the song — as she should, given the upbeat, catchy sound and simple but effective lyrics. The Stones successfully start off with a bang with “Angry” — in my opinion, a reincarnated “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. My only complaint: it felt a bit sanitized for a song called “Angry”, from arguably the most influential rock ‘n’ roll band of all time.
“Get Close” is infused with not just the classic Stones sound but also lyrics reminiscent of their previous work. This song reminded me of another Stones anthem, “Beast of Burden”, in the way it uses repetition healthily, avoiding the easy trap of redundancy. The Richards riffs are what make this song a Stones essential. Unexpectedly, the bridge included a jazzy trumpet bit; despite being a surprise, it worked really well with the rest of the song and demonstrated the impacts of different genres that culminated in the unique Stones sound.
The third track is “Depending on You”, which shows that even the most experienced musicians can still exhibit growth in their artistry. It illustrates another dimension of the Stones: how the group grapples with loss. Even though this song is clearly about a woman, it almost seems like parts of this song were directed towards Watts: “Now I’m too young for dying / and too old to lose / ‘cause I was depending on you, yeah”. The outro is perhaps the best part of this song, where Jagger’s voice comes at the listener full-throttle.
The album begins to pick up with “Bite My Head Off”, featuring the legendary Paul McCartney. Although this was not the first song McCartney had worked on with the Stones, the last time they had worked together was “We Love You”, which was released in 1967, making this an especially significant track. As put by Jagger: “‘Bite Your Head Off’ is kind of like a punk song. Andy Watt, the producer, was…working with Paul that week and…said ‘let’s bring Paul into the sessions and we’ll get him in’…And Andy said, ‘let’s put him on this punk tune’. Paul was amazing. I’d sung with Paul before. I was playing guitar, he was playing bass. He was great on it. He was amazing.” This song was exactly what I wanted from a new Stones record, and it was everything I expected from “Angry”. To top it all off, we got to hear Paul McCartney absolutely shred the bass after a “Come on Paul, let’s hear something” from Jagger. “Whole Wide World” continues to carry a bit more energy than the first part of the album, and can completely put to rest any worries people may have had about the Stones potentially declining with their age (spoiler, they have not).
Next on the record is the twangy “Dreamy Skies”, which slows the album down and allows the listener to catch their breath after “Bite My Head Off” and “Whole Wide World.” This song sounds very much like the early Stones, and even appears to refer to “Honky Tonk Women”, released in 1969, with the lyric “An old AM radio is all that I’ve got / It just plays Hank Williams and some bad honky-tonk.” “Mess It Up” brings the energy back up with its poppy sound. Jagger’s voice takes center stage on this track, and the simple chorus is extremely effective in making this song get stuck in your head. The most important part of this song is, again, the outro, where it becomes increasingly obvious how much fun the band had while making it and proves that whether you’re 13 or 79, sometimes it’s just fun to play the guitar.
“Live By The Sword” features Elton John, and is simply the Stones doing their thing. This type of song was what got them in trouble with parents in the 60s, but they just do it so well. The guitar break is absolute perfection and complements the rumbling quality of Jagger’s voice. This track is a reminder of how the Stones set themselves apart in the first place: by reminding us to break the rules. “Driving Me Too Hard” is also notable for its chorus and its instrumentals, which is owed completely to Richards’s fun, sweeping contributions on the guitar. We got a much-appreciated surprise with “Tell Me Straight”, which is sung by Richards with support from Jagger, providing an interesting diversity of voices to the album that we do not really get in other Stones albums. Although the song is relatively simple, it’s an entertaining listen, and even gives a bit of a late 70s-early 80s track vibe.
My favorite song on this album was “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” with Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder. First of all, this lineup is absolutely amazing. The fact that Gaga was a last minute addition is absolutely amazing to me; Gaga explained how she got involved on her Instagram: “I sat down on the floor, my back against a Rhodes – someone handed me some headphones and eventually a mic. Mick was towering over me smiling saying ‘go on and do your thing then.’ I listened to the music and scribbled furiously trying to learn the tune and then freestyle and sang along…I didn’t want my vocals to bleed into any of the magic they’d been making.” She confessed, “I sang in a way I never really sang before except for with Mick.” To hear her vocals along with Jagger’s overlaying Stevie Wonder on the piano is an incredible, out-of-body experience – like Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” but better.
The album ends with “Rolling Stone Blues,” an ode to the band’s origins in blues. Muddy Waters’s powerful blues was a huge inspiration for the Stones’ sound and name. Not only did this song provide a beautiful form of closure for the album, but it also serves as a full-circle moment for their career and an important reminder of who it is you’re listening to; as Jagger sings, “He’s a Rolling Stone.” And as a Rolling Stone, he has shown us, once again, exactly how it’s done.
Sydney Levinton is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].