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Photo: Mark Seliger
Photo: Mark Seliger

The Rolling Stones Roll with the Punches on Hackney Diamonds

The legendary band mine their catalogue for classic techniques and novel sounds on a guest-heavy new studio album.

by Brad Simm

What every Stones fan loves and craves is the almighty guitar riff that has launched some of their biggest and best songs. Think “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Brown Sugar” or “Start Me Up.” It’s what the Stones do very well; they’re master craftsmen of big, beautiful hooks.  

And that’s what leads off Hackney Diamonds — a big, beautiful riff that propels the album’s first single, “Angry.” The track is full of attitude and swagger, and the band is sounding great — fresh, upbeat, and amazing, Ronnie’s guitar has the fabulous fuzztones which he perfected in the early days with Rod Stewart, and Mick’s vocals are pure rock and roll splendor. The rhythm section, consisting of Daryl Jones on bass and newbie Steve Jordan on the drums lock down an elaborate deep groove, while the production wizardry of Andrew Watt polishes the intimate details as it all swells altogether. Charlie Watts’ drumming is also featured on “Mess It Up” and “Live By The Sword.”

Moving through the tracks, the Stones check off a number of boxes while executing a familiar touch. There’s a Bobby Keys-inspired sax solo, the country twang and stripped down cottonfield blues lifted off Exile On Main Street, Jagger’s emotive heart pouring out beautiful ballads, and Keith moaning — more than his usual croaking — on a slow drag that features his vocals.  

And there are some surprises, as well. “Bite My Head Off” surpasses its tough title with a two-chord tear driven by Paul McCartney’s manic bassline. It would have easily given the Sex Pistols a run for their money in 1978. It is shockingly aggressive, a superb punk rave-up. “Whole Wide World” follows immediately after, and while it’s a bit more of a melodic pop-rocker, the searing guitar solos cut through like nothing Keith or  Ronnie have done before — incredibly fierce, a fantastic sonic burn. Finally, there’s the album’s crowning glory, “Sweet Sounds Of Heaven,” a seven-minute fired-up gospel breakout launched by Stevie Wonder’s dazzling keyboards which Jagger and Lady Gaga then whip into a howling hurricane. 

It’s easy to label Hackney Diamonds as a return to the Stones’ classic form, and in many ways, it is. But it also roams into more vibrant, colourful territory that’s well-grounded at the same time. Jagger’s lyrics are remarkably on point, reflecting his onslaught of experience. He’s a wise old dog — not cynical, instead just rolling with the punches. And there’s a lot of punch here. As the new dynamic duo, Jordan and Jones’ rhythm delivery pumps new life into the Stones — Keith, Mick and Ronnie are on top of their game.