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Why ‘Hackney Diamonds’ Is the Best Rolling Stones Album Since 1981

Paul McCartney, Elton John, Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder help make the band’s first new music in 18 years their best since ‘Tattoo You’

spinner image ronnie wood mick jagger and keith richards at a photocall at the rolling stones hackney diamonds launch even in london
(Left to right) Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
Jo Hale/Redferns

The World’s Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band is in no danger of losing its title. After six decades of doling out blues-driven hard rock, the Rolling Stones are goosing the genre with Hackney Diamonds, a staggering, swaggering return to form.

The iconic band’s first set of originals since 2005’s A Bigger Bang and best since 1981’s Tattoo You arrives Oct. 20 on Polydor Records. For those who doubted the Stones could match the greatness of past glories, Hackney will come as a gratifying surprise. It crackles with the familiar grit, tattered pomp and dirty riffs that built their brand. In a phrase, Hackney Diamonds is off the hook.

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The title is drawn from British slang for the shards of glass left after a scofflaw smashes a windshield or window. Other titles considered were Hit and Run and Smash and Grab. All suit the album’s brash posture and merry turbulence.

The long wait for Hackney owes to the band’s busy touring schedule, the COVID lockdown and, as singer Mick Jagger confessed at last month’s London press event hosted by Jimmy Fallon, “Maybe we were a bit too lazy.”

The group went into the studio last December, and Jagger imposed a Valentine’s Day deadline. It stuck.

spinner image the album cover art for the rolling stones hackney diamonds
Universal Music Group

“We cut 23 tracks very quickly, finished them off in January and mixed them in February,” Jagger said, noting that the work yielded not only Hackney but 75 percent of a follow-up record.

Core members Jagger, 80, and guitarists Keith Richards, 79, and Ronnie Wood, 76, are joined by Matt Clifford on keyboards, Darryl Jones, 61, on bass and new drummer Steve Jordan, 66, handpicked by the late Charlie Watts as his replacement. Watts, who died in 2021 of cancer, and original bassist Bill Wyman, 86, who left the band in 1993, appear on tracks recorded in 2019.

The album got a critical assist from producer Andrew Watt, a Stones disciple and 2021 Grammy producer of the year, who cracked the whip and pressed for high-voltage synergy. Consequently, the 12-track collection reveals the Stones’ most collaborative effort in decades, performed with the brio and mettle of their earliest hits.

Here’s a track-by-track breakdown of the eagerly awaited album:


“1, 2, 3” and boom! The album starts with a furious kick, pairing Jagger’s taut wail with Richards’ grimy riffs and supple solo. The decades slip away, and the two rock with the fervor of blokes in a pub audition. Against a propulsive beat, Jagger gamely attempts to douse a flame, pleading, “Please just forget about me, cancel out my name/Please never write to me, I love you just the same.”

“Get Close”

Elton John, 76, plays piano and Jordan proves himself a worthy successor to Watts on a raucous but cohesive tune built on lurching rhythms, a soulful sax solo and Jagger’s pining.

“Depending on You”

Jagger shines on this superb blues-rock ballad, and it rises to the level of previous mournful lovesick odes the band has served up. Backed by strings, piano and pedal steel, Jagger laments, “I’m too young to die and too old to lose.”

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“Bite My Head Off”

Paul McCartney, 81, brings fuzz box bass to an aggressive punk-rock anthem bolstered by Richards’ scrappy guitar, Jordan’s galloping beats and an indignant Jagger as the rejected lover spitefully spits: “Why you have to mouth off? I got the world to worry about.”

“Whole Wide World”

Jagger bemoans the tough times of his youth in “the dreary streets of London” on this poppish rock tune elevated by the stormy soloing of Richards and Woods. It falls short of the album’s bigger bangs but delivers enough snap and strut to check the blueprint boxes.

“Dreamy Skies”

A yearning country ballad reminiscent of “Far Away Eyes” finds Jagger seeking pastoral escape “from the city and the suburbs and the sprawl and the small-town chatter and the know-it-alls … to a place where no one can call.” His Nashville twang and bluesy harmonica glide atop a bed of rustic guitar strumming.

“Mess It Up”

On this feisty dance tune, the singer rails against a vengeful ex who stole his phone, shared his photos, seduced his landlord and broke into his home. The lyrics and boisterous falsetto are fun, but the showstopper is the incomparable Watts on the hi-hat and snare.

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“Live by the Sword”

While a tad heavy-handed, the song chugs with authentic Stones grime and bluster. The real draw is the warm nostalgic rush of hearing Watts and Wyman back in the fold. Wyman retired in 1993 and hasn’t recorded with the Stones since 1989’s Steel Wheels.

“Driving Me Too Hard”

The midtempo rocker opens with a heady Richards riff copped directly from “Tumbling Dice,” then slinks into a steady churn as Jagger yowls and growls about another romance gone wrong. Richards steals back center stage with a gloriously shaggy guitar solo.

“Tell Me Straight”

Richards gave up smoking in 2019, and while it didn’t lift him to the ranks of Sinatra and Crosby, it’s clear on this vocal showcase that his casual rasp has fewer barnacles. He’s both warm and effortlessly cool as he moans, “Is my future all in the past?” on a whiskey-soaked ballad that measures up to the best of 1988’s Talk Is Cheap.

“Sweet Sounds of Heaven”

Hackney hits its peak with this soul-steeped supernova, a massive, transcendent gospel song that roils and swells for seven-plus minutes. Lady Gaga belts to the stratosphere, and Stevie Wonder, 73, adds dazzling keys and piano, but Jagger owns this with a jaw-dropping vocal performance that is strapping, limber and passionate.

“Rolling Stone Blues”

The album ends where it all began, with a nod to blues giant Muddy Waters, whose song “Rollin’ Stone” inspired the band’s name. Jagger and Richards strip it down to voice, guitar and harmonica for a plucky Delta flashback. It’s the first time they’ve covered the song on record.

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