The Rolling Stones review, Hackney Diamonds: Rock legends prove age hasn’t dulled their shine

“Let the old still believe that they’re young,” Mick Jagger cries in a definitive Rolling Stones ethos that is delivered towards the end of Hackney Diamonds, the rock’n’roll legends’ first album of new material since the back-to-basics A Bigger Bang 18 years ago. And with that attitude, there’s no reason to believe it’ll be their last. The band reportedly have three-quarters of a follow-up album left over from the sessions, and with AI advancements promising drive-thru nanobot blood changes and Keith Richards clearly mainlining the elixir of life these days, in another couple of decades the Stones might still be too busy rocking to download their celebratory centenarian Moonpig from the king.

Yet there’s a certain scent of career closure to Hackney Diamonds. They round off this 24th UK release with a faithfully grainy cover of Muddy Waters’ “Rolling Stone Blues”, the 1950 track from which they took their name and a cut from one of the albums that Jagger had under his arm when he and old schoolmate Richards ran into one other at Dartford Station in 1961 and decided to chance their arms at becoming one of the greatest and most successful acts in rock history.

They also fill the record with a glittering array of their creakier contemporaries, as you might for a great celebratory send-off. Elton John, fresh from his purported final ever tour, adds piano to modernist roadhouse rockers “Get Close” and “Live by the Sword”. Paul McCartney, who recently concluded his McCartney trilogy as if tying up loose ends, brings grungey bass to the febrile “Bite My Head Off”. One-time Stones bassist Bill Wyman makes an Easter egg cameo on “Live by the Sword”, reunited after 30 years with late drummer Charlie Watts, who recorded two tracks on the record before his death in 2021. And Stevie Wonder, seen only sporadically since a kidney transplant in 2019, gets a virtuoso, classic soul keyboard solo at the climax of the astutely titled “Sweet Sounds of Heaven”. Roger Daltrey might have good reason to check his missed calls.

If this all sounds as though Hackney Diamonds was probably recorded, for tax purposes, in the basement of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, in truth, the median age of its roll call belies the sheer vitality of the thing. Richards and Ronnie Wood rip through gritty glam and blues rock riffs like guitarists half of half their ages, and rather than mutter reflective wisdom gleaned from a rock’n’roll life mid-winddown – a la Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan – Jagger bawls and yowls about blurry nights, media intrusion and relationship ructions like an eternal A-list twentysomething.

“Get Close” catches him crawling the night, sleepless and lascivious, “the press strapped to my back”. And anthemic drivetime rocker “Whole Wide World” appears to be an illuminating exposé on the loneliness at the heart of the band’s early tabloid infamy. Wandering old London haunts, Jagger throws back to their bed-hopping mid-Sixties days as rock’n’roll reprobates drenched in “the smell of sex and gas” at “the filthy flat in Fulham”, garnering the unwanted attention of the authorities and feeling ostracised from true friends and lovers. Finally, the butterfly’s testimony from being broken on a wheel.

Back home, things are tougher still. “We haven’t made love and I wanna know why, why you angry with me?” Jagger wails like a Viagra brand ambassador amid the infectious, Queen-like groove of an opener “Angry”, reflecting the fact that a fair proportion of Hackney Diamonds emanates from the doghouse. The gorgeous “Driving Me Too Hard” – essentially Springsteen’s “Glory Days” after 12 more bar-room Buds, and loading the jukebox with Traveling Wilburys tunes – details the pressures of a sanity-testing relationship. The punk-ish “Bite My Head Off” ricochets in from the height of the row: “The whole f***ing ship is sinking,” Jagger roars, “I’m looking for a quick way out”.

With producer Andrew Watt giving the whole thing a gleaming contemporary sheen and most tracks building to bombastic rock climaxes, Hackney Diamonds bristles with such sonic and emotional turbulence. It’s no wonder the Stones crave occasional respite. “I love the laughter, the women and wine, I’ve just got to break free from it all,” Jagger croons over the slide guitar campfire folk of “Dreamy Skies”, ditching his phone and fleeing to a country bolt-hole “where there ain’t no other human for a hundred miles” to chop some wood, listen to Hank Williams and get “some peace from the storms”. For his part, Richards holes up at the mic for the plaintive “Tell Me Straight”, a lament of life and love as both pass him by, awash with intimate alt-rock atmospheres akin to Band of Horses or Sun Kil Moon.

A late-career Exile on Main Street? Their best since the Seventies? Arguably, but such hyperbole undeniably rests on the broad shoulders of the seven-minute “Sweet Sounds of Heaven”, the album’s spectacular spiritual crescendo. As Lady Gaga spills out gospel trills and gymnastics over a slow-burning Pentecostal groove, Jagger delivers a sermon both defiantly personal (“I’m not going down in some dusty motel”) and universally stirring (“Let the music play loud…let us all stand up proud”). It’s a statement song worthy of rounding off a career this monumental, but also one that revives the gritty passions of 1969’s “Gimme Shelter”. It’s enough to convince you the old are still young.

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