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Review: “Hackney Diamonds” by The Rolling Stones

When not bogged down by horrendous vocal production, the Stones’ new album manages to produce some classic-sounding tunes.
Image by Ava Weinreis
This the group’s first album in 18 years.

The everlasting British rock icons, The Rolling Stones, released “Hackney Diamonds” Friday — their first collection of original material released since 2005. Despite staying strong as a live act for seven decades, their new album has some striking instances of the band showing their age in the studio, and not in a good way.

After an 18-year-long gap where The Rolling Stones were “lazy” when it came to new original songs, the band decided to pump out a full studio album around last Christmas, their first since the death of long-time drummer Charlie Watts. While there are 12 tracks on “Hackney Diamonds,” it appears some remaining tracks from the recording sessions (23 in total) are being used for a follow-up.

“I don’t think it’s the last Rolling Stones album,” singer Mick Jagger said in an interview with the New York Times. “We’ve got almost three-quarters through the next one.”

The first track and lead single from the album, “Angry,” is the epitome of what any aging rock band should not be doing, as Jagger’s seemingly auto-tuned vocals on the song’s refrain ruin the song. As by far the worst song on the album, “Angry” is an awful choice as an album-opener.

To be fair, the song starts fine, with guitarist Keith Richards playing a catchy and characteristically simple guitar riff. The glaring problem with this song lies only with the vocals however, as Jaggers’ singing sounds slightly grating before the band goes into the refrain, as he sings, “We haven’t made love and I wanna know why” — but the worst is yet to come. 

Jagger sounds terrible due to painfully obvious pitch correction and an unintentionally dissonant vocal harmony on his vocals. He ruins the song by singing the refrain, “Please just forget about me, cancel out my name. Please never write to me, I love you just the same. I hear a melody ringing in my brain. Just keep the memories, don’t have to be ashamed.”

The album’s opening cut shows Jagger trying to sing in an upper register that the 79-year-old (at the time of recording) singer naturally can not reach anymore. A more raw vocal performance, one not masked by blatant studio trickery, would have served the song much better and would have been more true to the Stones’ classic sound.

Despite the poor vocals on the studio recording, the song will likely sound much better in a live setting as the bad vocal effects ideally cannot be reproduced live. In terms of musical structure and songwriting, the song sounds like a typical 1970s Rolling Stones song, in a good way. It just so happens that the good parts of the song are far outweighed by the offensive sounds of the irritating vocals.

Not only is the recording itself bad, but its accompanying music video is just as lame, coming across as forced. The video, starring Sydney Sweeney, feels like a desperate attempt to make the band’s new music seem relevant by having the “Euphoria” star sing along to the song as she poses in a skin-tight leather outfit in the back of a convertible coasting through the streets of Los Angeles. 

Throughout the music video, billboards featuring the members of the Rolling Stones performing live during their classic eras are poorly brought back to life, as they are shown animated, singing the new single as Sweeney traverses through the city. These effects look so poorly done that they feel like an animated composite of images that could have come out of Bing’s AI image generator. It’s a pathetic attempt to lump in the song with the group’s previous seminal work. The video is so low-effort for what is supposed to accompany a comeback single, it is almost as if the band is afraid of being portrayed as the aging rockers they actually are in a music video, but obviously, they take no issue with doing that every night they sell out stadiums around the world.

After the frustrating album opener comes “Get Close,” a considerable step up in quality. The song is complemented by a bluesy guitar riff and a saxophone solo towards the end of the track. While Jagger’s vocals sound iffy in certain moments, they are nowhere near as poor as “Angry.” It is much closer to the vocal performance that listeners have come to expect from Jagger, despite some seemingly touched vocal inflections.

Fourth in the track list is “Bite My Head Off,” one of the stronger tracks on the album, showing high energy from the band and a more raw vocal performance from Jagger. The track features a bass performance by Paul McCartney, as the former Beatle lays down a memorable groovy bass solo. The feature is one of the most notable parts of the album considering the long-standing Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones debate amongst rock nerds for decades.

“Whole Wide World” features a standard classic rock riff drenched in a phaser pedal effect. It starts out pretty uninspired, but again, not bad by any means. But then the obnoxious vocal arrangement style that ruined “Angry” returns in the chorus, making this track another skip on the album. While the song’s main riff is decidedly blasé, Keith Richards’ impressive guitar solo on the track more than makes up for it, as his guitar playing proves to be the strong point throughout the LP’s track listing.

Thankfully, the album never reaches the lows that appear on “Angry,” as the biggest flaw that appears throughout the tracklisting (other than overproduced vocals) is boring musicality: “Dreamy Skies,” an uninspired blues ballad, and “Depending on You,” a corny, sentimental ballad, being key examples. 

Penultimate in the track list is the album’s second single, “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” which is through and through the strongest song on the album. The seven-minute soulful ballad features vocals from Lady Gaga and piano playing from Stevie Wonder, both musicians making the song seem much more inspired than much of the tracklisting. Gaga’s gospel-inspired singing, in a way, calls back to “Gimme Shelter,” a duet between Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton. While “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” shows the Stones sticking to a tried and true formula by showcasing a soulful male and female vocal duet, it does not hold a candle to the masterpiece “Gimme Shelter.”

While not reaching the highs of the Stones’ most influential songs and classic albums, “Hackney Diamonds” does have its lively moments despite some questionable production choices across a few songs. For die-hard fans of the band, the album is worth listening to, if only for the highlights. For casual rock fans, however, go listen to their older stuff instead.

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  • Rick Keene
    Oct 24, 2023 at 9:15 pm

    With respect- you are too young to have lived through all the sounds of The Stones in real time. This album is just another clog on the wheel and does new things and old like The Stones always have. New drummer – only thing that is different except two tracks.
    Jagger sounds like Jagger always has BTW.