Acoustic Sounds

The Rolling Stones

Hackney Diamonds

Music

Sound

Produced By: Andrew Watt

Engineered By: Many

Mixed By: Serban Ghenea

Mastered By: Matt Colton

By: Joseph W. Washek

November 13th, 2023

Genre:

Rock

Format:

Vinyl

The Rolling Stones----Hackney Diamonds

Jagger and Richards release first album of original material in 18 years

Years ago, a lawyer friend said to me half seriously that the Federal Trade Commission should adopt a “Truth In Rock Band Labelling Act,” the main provision of which would be that a nationally touring “icon” band could not advertise themselves as “The XYZ Icon Band” unless more than half of the original members including the lead singer and primary songwriter(s) were still in the band.  If such a regulation had been enacted, the Rolling Stones would now be the Jagger-Richards Band and I would be reviewing the new band’s first album, Hackney Diamonds.    

That’s what I’m going to do. It’s an easier job. Listening to a new album by the “Rolling Stones” objectively is impossible. The words “Rolling Stones” and “Satisfaction,” Let It Bleed, Beggars Banquet, “Gimme Shelter”, Sticky Fingers, Some Girls and so many more are like magic incantations that conjure up spirits—stage, strutting ghosts of rock ‘n roll past. There is too much history, too much image, too many classic recordings, too much nostalgia, too much emotion, too much money, and it’s all been said too much, way past the point of tedium. I’m not going to mention the Rolling Stones again. The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame has a website. You’re welcome.

So, what am I going to say about the new Jagger-Richards Band?  I’ll start by telling you that, no surprise, they are still playing 60s-70s raunchy blues rock but are now melding it with catchy pop sing-a-long anthemic choruses. For Hackney Diamonds they’ve employed Andrew Watt, a hot shot young producer in an attempt to make a contemporary sounding album that will sell to younger people without alienating their core audience. There are guest 60s and 70s superstars—Paul McCartney, Elton John, Stevie Wonder plus the more than four decades younger Lady Gaga, but only Lady Gaga gets a “featuring” credit on the back cover. Yeah, times have changed.

All twelve songs, excerpt for a Muddy Waters cover, were written by Jagger and Richards with three co-credits to Andrew Watt. The first three tracks are the Watt tunes and are the most popish and contemporary sounding. “Angry,” the lead off track is a pounding melodic rocker powered by a prototypical Keith riff and a great Jagger vocal. “Get Close” has some nice rhythm guitar and a percussion and sax break but Jagger’s vocal is affected and the repetitive “I wanna get close to you” chorus is annoying the first time and like a mind drill the fifth time. “Depending On You” is a ballad with a passionate vocal performance of a dramatic, written to be covered by Adele melody, featuring beautiful slide guitar over a tasteful string arrangement. “Bite My Head Off” is British punk 1977 with crunching jack hammer guitars behind a snarling Jagger vocal that sometimes sounds like John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten. Paul McCartney’s fuzz bass solo is simplistic and perfect. “Whole Wide World” is a strong song with another one of those big, anthemic choruses that somehow manages to be catchy but not irritating. Ron Wood’s guitar solo is superb. “Dreamy Skies” is ersatz country. Jagger’s attempt at a country accent is bad, the lyrics are corny and while the playing is good, the song goes on way too long.

“Mess It Up” starts as a Keith riff rocker but suddenly, on the chorus, turns into a very dated 80s dance club sing along. This is one of the two tracks featuring the late Charlie Watts’ drumming and, as always, while playing a heavy groove he manages to be light and subtle . “Live By The Sword” has lyrics that seem off the cuff and a droning melody with a 60s psych feel. The guitars rock hard and Wood plays an amazing solo. “Driving Me Too Hard” starts with a near “Tumbling Dice” quote, then crunches along nicely, driven by Keith’s propulsive guitar while Jagger sings the pretty melody. “Tell Me Straight,” the requisite melodically and lyrically repetitive Keith ballad, is quite likely destined to provide a convenient restroom break for thousands of concert goers.

“Sweet Sounds Of Heaven” is a seven minute 60s R&B style song with an uninteresting melody and cliché lyrics that strives for drama and profundity but never becomes more than self-indulgent and half baked. Lady Gaga’s high, thin voice behind Jagger’s sounds shrieky rather than soulful. “Rolling Stone Blues” is a cover of Muddy Waters’ song “Rollin’ Stone.” Mick and Keith perform a creditable version of the tune that captures some of the mystery and menace of Muddy’s original.

Now I need to discuss what makes Hackney Diamonds different from all those “previous endeavor” albums that Jagger and Richards made. It’s the most heavily produced album they’ve ever released. Andrew Watt’s work is in the contemporary “the producer is the most important artist in the studio” style. Obviously, when Jagger and Richards decided to employ him for Hackney Diamonds, they knew they would sacrifice some of the individuality of their music in the attempt to be up to date. In my opinion, it was a devil’s bargain, but I’m not signing or cashing the checks.

Watt did what he does and heavily processed and compressed Jagger’s vocals throughout the album so that the unique bottom end of his voice and his great sense of dynamics are totally missing. Pitch correction is constant and frequently obvious, eliminating the blues and R&B note bending that is the hallmark of his style. Just enough essence of Jagger remains to satisfy the fans. Watt also mixed the vocals way up above the band, making Hackney Diamonds sound like a Jagger solo album. The signature Ronnie/Keith interplay is all but unheard because the guitars are so heavily compressed, distorted and equalized that they are hard to tell apart amid the grunge. Most importantly, the band’s unique, simultaneously ahead and behind the beat swing that made Jagger and Richards rock gods is quantized and “corrected” into that contemporary, generic stiff pound and thud.

Six of the songs on Hackney Diamonds are strong; the rest are mediocre and forgettable. Jagger’s voice is in amazing shape for his age and his phrasing and cocksure charisma are fully intact. Wood and Richards bring the rock and raunch intensity. Charlie is missed. Steve Jordan in the drum chair makes this a less nimble, less grooving band. Hackney Diamonds is a good, designed for the 2023 market, debut of the Jagger-Richards Band, but don’t expect “The World’s Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Band.” Much of what made that band unique--- Jagger’s voice and their special groove-- has been sacrificed and eliminated on the computer grids.

No nostalgia here. Time waits for no one. It’s only rock ‘n roll, but I sorta like Hackney Diamonds.

                                        ____________________

 

 Hackney Diamonds was recorded, mixed and mastered for ear buds. Played on good speakers, the sound of the album is an unpleasant, harsh midrange blare. Dynamic range is severely constricted. The soundstage is between the speakers narrow. Bass is thin, not deep and barely audible. High frequencies are so attenuated that the cymbals are a dull sizzle. Separation between the instruments is minimal. Air and room sound are nonexistent. By audiophile standards, this is a poor recording. By 2023 Pop/Rock standards, it’s average.

My black vinyl Czech Republic pressing of the record arrived unmarked and was not warped. It played very well without significant noise.

 

Copyright 2023 by Joseph W Washek. All rights are reserved.

       

 

Music Specifications

Label: Polydor

Pressing Plant: GZ Media

SPARS Code: DDA

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Presentation: Single LP

Comments

  • 2023-11-13 02:13:17 PM

    Ivan Bacon wrote:

    I was emotionally rescued from the Stones in my late teens (the 80's), since then not a fan as my knowledge and taste in music evolved and became broader and more sophisticated. Visiting their early work, i really only like their bluesy stuff. Never was gonna buy this but i appreciate the review.

  • 2023-11-13 02:32:15 PM

    Come on wrote:

    What a shame that a group like this doesn’t manage to get a decent engineering team.

    • 2023-11-14 11:53:50 AM

      palasr wrote:

      A 'decent' engineering team would allow the band to let it rip in the studio. Unfortunately, none of them can play their instruments well any more, and Mick sounds quite geriatric - hence the pitch correcting, quantizing, etc. Getting old is a bitch, even for the Rolling Stones. No way I'd ever buy it.

  • 2023-11-13 03:01:05 PM

    Vince wrote:

    I imagine they got the engineering team they wanted. Likely the engineering goal was other than our HiFis. Probably more like dorm room stereos and car stereos.

  • 2023-11-13 03:01:08 PM

    Vince wrote:

    I imagine they got the engineering team they wanted. Likely the engineering goal was other than our HiFis. Probably more like dorm room stereos and car stereos.

    • 2023-11-22 03:17:52 PM

      Michael Weintraub wrote:

      Dorm room stereos?

  • 2023-11-13 03:55:12 PM

    Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

    I fully agree with the review and really wonder why the put this piece of crap out that, yes, does work to destroy their greatness. It won't do that, but it sure doesn't help. I like a few of them, but yes the production is a compete fuck in the ass attempt at pandering to some non-existent group of kids that will never appreciate the stones without a fucking biopic promoting them to modern popular awareness again (ala Queen). This album just reminds me of how much I hate modern pop culture in every single way. They should've stopped with 40 licks, or at least Charlie's death. And yes, the rhythm is absolutely not the Stones. Charlie's fast and slow pacing is gone. Glad I didn't buy this!

  • 2023-11-13 07:22:34 PM

    Robert DuPont wrote:

    I suppose we should be grateful that they even have the strength to make a record and tour like they do... God bless 'em . it's a product, another artifact by the GT (Glimmer Twins) Corporation . I don't mind either way , they still have my thanks for all the good stuff they made

  • 2023-11-14 02:17:14 AM

    PeterPani wrote:

    They should give the raw material another producer for a second go.

  • 2023-11-14 03:14:33 AM

    PeterG wrote:

    Sadly, I must agree. An accurate and insightful review.

    On the half band or more thing--I am so bummed out about the guitar situation, these guys are just not worth listening to anymore as The Stones. Mick Taylor would have fixed a lot of this

  • 2023-11-14 09:10:34 AM

    Harry Prenger wrote:

    Music: 10 Sound: 8

    • 2023-11-14 12:20:27 PM

      Scotty wrote:

      Music 9/10...Sound 7/10...I have the standard black version and yes it is compressed I can still crank it without fatigue and it has some decent lower end. I can't believe this person wrote this review when they obviously don't care for the Stones anymore. Oh well, is what it is but surprised they took the time to publish this here.

  • 2023-11-14 03:02:52 PM

    Silk Dome Mid wrote:

    A lot depends on the expectations of the listener. I certainly knew I wouldn't hear anything as good as Beggar's Banquet or Exile on Main Street at this point! The employment of a current "hitmaking" producer obviously meant there would be some digital sound shaping that I wouldn't like. Overall, it sounds best on CD and the songs are stronger than the last few Stones albums. Someone else should have written this review instead of Washek, who rips everything about the album and then, inexplicably, says "I sorta like Hackney Diamonds". In particular, his bitching about how many original band members are still alive is petty and pointless.

  • 2023-11-15 03:40:33 AM

    PeterPani wrote:

    But the live Sweet Sound of Heaven sounds good - voice and instruments and dynamics. So it is simply the mastering that destroys the record. Listen to Lady Gaga on vinyl and on the youtube. This is like shadow and light. A mixing as on youtube and I would buy the record for sure.

    • 2023-11-15 06:36:54 PM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      sure, the mastering is too loud for this album, but i also think the mix is sterile. serban ghenea is a great mixing engineer... for pop records. the stones need more grit than that.

      also consider that mixing engineers now often deliver the mixes 'pre-smashed' to the mastering engineers. they'll send clients the mixes with EQ and peak limiting already on the master bus, so the clients approve the mixes with the mixing engineer's 'pseudo-mastering' baked in. they're not actually hearing the mix, and mastering engineers are basically shoved in a corner when they get these already limited mixes. yes, people have put stuff on their master mix buses for decades (and therefore baked in whatever compression etc), but this is different. it's not 'mix glue', it's a pre-compromised product. not saying this is how 'hackney diamonds' was done, but it's quite likely. there's a years-long gearspace thread about this.

      • 2023-11-16 02:54:36 AM

        Mark Ward wrote:

        I cannot tell you how many recent rock records I've bought where what you are talking about seems to have happened - or some similar version. These are albums which are pretty decent musically, but the sound is like having your ear drums pulled along a cheese grater. So sad, and so unnecessary. Malachi, become a sound engineer and fix this please!!!

        • 2023-11-16 03:05:41 PM

          Malachi Lui wrote:

          well the other issue is that even when the mix isn't pre-smashed before mastering, a lot of artists, producers and labels don't want to spend the money on a separate, dynamic master for vinyl. that means that they'll cut the loud digital master to lacquer, which also usually makes for a mediocre result. the louder the digital file, the quieter it'll be when cut to lacquer!

          again, i haven't heard 'hackney diamonds' on vinyl (only the 96/24 stream), but it'd be really embarrassing and cheap if the stones didn't get a separate vinyl master prepared. or perhaps, we'll just have to wait 20 years for the properly dynamic half-speed mastered 45rpm remix 2LP.

          • 2023-11-16 03:14:13 PM

            Mark Ward wrote:

            I hear you! I'm curious as to whether you've heard the half-speed remastered Stones late-era LPs of a few years ago. I've hesitated to take the plunge....

            • 2023-11-16 08:09:52 PM

              Malachi Lui wrote:

              i wrote a bit about this on the 'previous endeavor' and so did fremer. the half-speeds don't have the urgency or three-dimensionality of the originals (especially 'exile on main st') but the EQ is good and the dynamics are mostly fine. definitely avoid the 'sticky fingers' reissue though. for that one you'd be best off with an original TML cut (rare, expensive) or the japanese flat transfer SACD or CD.

              • 2023-11-16 08:11:58 PM

                Malachi Lui wrote:

                as for the late era albums, i haven't heard them but most 90s and early 00s vinyl was cut from CD-ready masters anyway so i'm sure the half-speeds are fine. originals of 80s stones records are plentiful and not expensive.

                • 2023-11-19 02:50:03 PM

                  Mark Ward wrote:

                  Yes it's those Steel Wheels and later albums I was curious about. I have the vinyl from the time they were released, but yes, it would not surprise me to know they were cut from CD masters. I find that my UK and US OG copies of 80s releases sound really good. In fact I recently cleaned up and put on my OGs of Undercover and Dirty Work and both the sonics and music were much better than I remembered! Some years ago I finally tracked down an artisan cut of Exile (my fave Stones album) and it sounds amazing. Y'know my regular early US cut of Sticky Fingers sounds pretty great. I recall you mentioning in an earlier piece that Japanese SACD/CD - I will look into finding that.

      • 2023-11-16 03:10:18 AM

        Andrew Curtis wrote:

        In case you lost it, the Shift key is just to the left of the Z key :~)

        • 2023-11-16 06:44:02 PM

          Azmoon wrote:

          NOT WHEN YOU ARE TOO COOL TO BOTHER WITH CAPITAL LETTERS......

  • 2023-11-15 03:03:17 PM

    Rashers wrote:

    Bizarre. Here we have a record that was mastered for Oasis fans circa 1995, with possibly the worst cover in the history of major label rock (no photos of the band), presented in 200 vinyl variants for millennials who likely have no interest. In the past, when I bought a new PC, I installed a program called "PC Decrapifier" that deleted all those unnecessary programs that clogged up the system. I wish someone would invent a box that you could place between your amplifier and speakers called "Music Decompressifier" to restore dynamic range to recordings. The songs on this album seem decent but are frankly unlistenable. The vinyl record has slightly better range than the CD but it still sounds awful. The whole presentation comes across as a band lacking in confidence due to their age: Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and David Crosby (RIP) do not suffer the same problems. Attempting to appeal to a much younger demographic results in marginalizing those who have followed them, in a staggered fashion, for the duration of rock history. The video for "Angry" sums up everything: good song, cool AI generated images of the band through the ages, but the whole thing focuses on a big breasted blond woman sort of dancing in the back of a convertible while being driven around LA. No sign of the octogenarian band. Perhaps someone in the Stone's organization will read our frustration and release a revised version with some dynamic range and a nice cover.

    • 2023-11-15 06:24:53 PM

      Silk Dome Mid wrote:

      They get so much flack for looking old, I'm not surprised there are no photos!

    • 2023-11-15 07:09:23 PM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      technically, you could roll off the sub-bass (20-30Hz) and it'll measure as more dynamic. whether or not it actually sounds more dynamic depends on the material and your system.

      and regarding it being mastered as if 'for oasis fans in 1995'... well basically everything's been mastered like that since then!

  • 2023-11-15 06:37:10 PM

    Lemon Curry wrote:

    Sound = 4? No, that would be the new Giles "She Loves You". But I digress...

    Let's all say what the sound problem is: it's too compressed. The CD (and blu-ray, doh!) are at DR6. I've not seen a measurement of the vinyl but it's to my ears it's only slightly better, maybe DR8 if I was to guess. But there is soundstage and good tonality... 4 seems a stretch. 6-7 would be my number.

    Music = 6? What?

    These guys are barely standing, and they have put out a record I keep wanting to hear again. You don't think highly of Mess It Up, but I sure do. This would have fit perfectly on Tatoo You. Mick may be tuned up in the studio here and there, but he wasn't autotuned on stage for that promo gig with Lady Gaga. He sounds GREAT. And while it's clear Keith isn't a technician anymore, he has the feel and timing. And let's hear it for some of those tasteful Ron licks. And, also, thanks Keith for another tasty groove with your voice sailing above. No surprise it's Charlie on Mess It Up. And Live By The Sword has that classic, immediately recognizable bass+drums interplay between Wyman and Watts. Amazing to me how they fell right back into it.

    I read that the atmos mix on the bluray (only) is actually at DR12. I bought it just to get my hands on it, and am visiting a friend who is atmos-ready to hear it for myself. If the dynamic are there, the obvious question would be: why not the vinyl as well?

    This is an enjoyable record that came as a total surprise. Best Stones album since the times of Keith's X-Pensive Winos.

    Music = 8. I cant believe these guys did it, but they did.

  • 2023-11-15 08:55:34 PM

    Anton wrote:

    You know why sex is like pizza? Because even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. I'm a lifelong fan, so this release brings me joy. Show of hands: are there audiophiles who can turn it off? Go play this in your car and enjoy! Lady Gaga kills it, on a Stones album, of all things!

    • 2023-11-20 12:48:46 PM

      Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

      Good point- I don't hate the album.. there is a lots of fun in here. Trying to court a new generation is dumb- Just be the Stones and the fans will come. Notwithstanding gripes like production and mastering, it's still a new Stones record!

  • 2023-11-16 08:53:48 AM

    Andrew J Aldridge wrote:

    A generous review. At 68 years I don't qualify as a younger audience so this one isn't for me. Having been a fan since my teens this definitely doesn't register with me as a Stones record. A new nadir.

    • 2023-11-16 02:40:43 PM

      Silk Dome Mid wrote:

      Insert "old man yells at cloud" image here. If it doesn't "register" as a Stones record despite the Keef riffs, Mick vocals and Ronnie leads you have some confusion issues. And I'm older than you are.

  • 2023-11-16 06:31:56 PM

    Frank A wrote:

    Being a “young” (almost 40) Stones fan, this is the second new album I get being released at the actually launch time and the very first one that I actually got on release day and went to a record store to physically get it (got A Bigger Bang a month latter or so).

    I waited until Oct 20th to listen to it completely, first on AirPods (sounded “great”) and then on 96/24 and vinyl. Yeah, didn’t really like the sound but at the end I feel so grateful to have this guys at this age and this wealthy to keep trying and recording a full album, so for me it will always make a great memory of it. Mick’s voice is incredible.