The new Rolling Stones album actually sounds like the Rolling Stones

“Hackney Diamonds” might start in a defensive crouch — Mick Jagger, hands up, wailing: “Don’t get angry with me!” — but then the music pounces to life with an elasticity no Rolling Stones album has possessed since the big ba-boing of “Tattoo You” circa A.D. 1981.

Who could be angry with that? Maybe those who find it sacrilegious that one of the most singular bands ever produced by civilization decided to continue on after the 2021 death of its inimitable drummer, Charlie Watts. And, hey, fair. But in the heat of this moment, Jagger isn’t having it. In the outro of that hot-brained, full-blooded leadoff track, “Angry,” he finds a way to storm out of his own tantrum, reminding us that he’s still alive, still hungry, still testy, still funny: “I’m still taking the pills and I’m off to Brazil!”

Refreshingly, these 2023 Stones don’t sound like they’re trying to fulfill their own blues-pirate mythology. Instead, they’re trying to live out their twofold creed: They can’t get no satisfaction, and therefore will never stop. We’re talking about Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, here, and instead of veering toward the ponderousness of last men standing, they’ve wisely found a way to be themselves. (Before his death, Watts recorded two of these tracks, “Mess It Up” and “Live by the Sword.”)

This is the band’s first album of fresh material since 2005, and “fresh” is the word. Richards, 79, and Wood, 76, make their guitars bark and bang with a finesse eternally masquerading as rudeness, while Jagger, 80, sounds as hot, bothered, alert and connected as ever. Together, as a perpetual touring act, these three have spent the past four decades reaching the highest levels of rock-n-roll telepathy, and now they finally have a 21st-century album to show for it.

Should it be this difficult for the Rolling Stones to make a Rolling Stones record? Probably not. So it’s hard to say how much credit should be showered on the band’s new producer, Andrew Watt, a 33-year-old who’s worked with Justin Bieber, Ozzy Osbourne, Miley Cyrus, Eddie Vedder, Post Malone, Maroon 5, Iggy Pop, Dua Lipa and other names I promise I’m not randomly pulling out of a hat. Watt obviously gets some great performances out of his heroes here but sonically, he gives the songs a tangy sheen that they don’t quite need.

The album’s starry guests don’t feel entirely necessary either, though their contributions are tasteful. Paul McCartney adds a buzzy bass riff to “Bite My Head Off.” Elton John plays piano on the sturdy “Get Close” and the snarling “Live By the Sword.” Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder materialize for a bluesy ballad, “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” and seem to improvise their way through the breakdown. Good songs, all. Very Stonesy. Really cool.

“Hackney Diamonds” comes wrapped in a cruel little paradox, though: You’ll actually want to listen to it more than a few times and the more you do, the more you’ll miss Charlie Watts. This is no fault of his replacement, Steve Jordan, a longtime Richards collaborator who plays everything even, straight and low to the ground. But Watts gave the Rolling Stones its quintessential vim — that impossible feeling of tight looseness and loose tightness. He played his drums as if to prove that we were never hearing the same band twice. After his two tracks on “Hackney Diamonds,” we’re never hearing that band again.

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