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.