Hackney Diamonds

Hackney Diamonds

Near the end of The Rolling Stones’ first album of original material in 18 years, Keith Richards takes the microphone to ask a series of emotional questions, pleading for honesty about what might lie ahead for him: “Is the future all in the past? Just tell me straight,” he asks. The answer is, remarkably, no: Hackney Diamonds is the band’s most energetic, effortless, and tightest record since 1981’s Tattoo You. Just play “Bite My Head Off,” a rowdy kiss-off where Mick Jagger tells off a bitter lover, complete with a fuzz-bass breakdown by...Paul McCartney. “At the end of it, I just said, ‘Well, that's just like the old days,’” Richards tells Apple Music of that recording session. Hackney Diamonds was indeed made like the old days—live, with no click tracks or glossy production tricks—yet still manages to sound fresh. After years of stalled sessions, and the death of their legendary drummer Charlie Watts in 2021, Jagger and Richards decided on a fresh start, traveling to Jamaica (the same place they wrote “Angie” in 1973) for a series of writing sessions. Based on a recommendation from McCartney, Jagger hired producer Andrew Watt, who’d also worked with Miley Cyrus, Dua Lipa, Ozzy Osbourne, Post Malone, and more, to help them finish the tracks. “He kicked us up the ass,” Jagger tells Apple Music. With Steve Jordan on drums, Watt kept it simple, bringing in vintage microphones and highlighting the interwoven guitars of Richards and Ronnie Wood. “The whole point is the band being very close, eyeball to eyeball, and looking at each other and feeding off of each other,” says Richards. In the spirit of 1978’s genre-spanning Some Girls, the album comprises sweeping riff-heavy anthems (“Angry,” “Driving Me Too Hard”), tortured relationship ballads (“Depending on You”), country-tinged stompers (“Dreamy Skies”), and even dance-floor grooves (“Mess it Up,” featuring a classic Jagger falsetto). The capstone of the album is “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” a stirring seven-minute gospel epic featuring Lady Gaga. Halfway through, the song goes quiet, Gaga laughs, and Stevie Wonder starts playing the Rhodes keyboard, and then Gaga and Jagger start improvising vocals together; it’s a spontaneous moment that’s perfectly imperfect, reminiscent of the loose Exile on Main St. sessions. “Playing with Stevie is always mind-blowing, and I thought that Lady Gaga did an incredible job, man,” says Richards. “She snaked her way in there and took it over and gave as good as she got with Mick, and it was great fun.” Richards didn’t expect to make an album this good as he approaches his 80th birthday. But he’s using it as a moment to take stock of his career with the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world. “The fact that our music has managed to become part of the fabric of life everywhere, I feel pretty proud about that, more than any one particular thing or one particular song,” he says. “It is nice to be accepted into this legendary piece of bullshit.”

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