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  • Writer's pictureBlair Morgan

Hacked ..any Diamonds in the Rough?

Rock critics, whoever and whatever that means these days seem to falling over themselves in praise of the new Stones album Hackney Diamonds - the "best since Some Girls" said The Times of London, "they've still got it" , says NME. and on and on .


After letting the tracks sink in, and at the risk of putting a dampener on all the Stones "luurve" out there I'm afraid most of these "Diamonds" would have been better left in the mine..



Ladies & Gentlemen - Hackney Diamonds


1. Angry (written about last month here)


It actually gets worse on repeated listening , Jimmy Miller, Nicky Hopkins, Billy Preston, Ian McLagan, Ian Stewart all gave light & shade to Rolling Stones compositions and all would be turning over in graves ..while surviving Stones Bill Wyman & Mick Taylor , glimpsed in the video could be forgiven for shaking their heads. It's soul less Stones in 2023 ...


2. Get Close


More promising than the album opener, "Get Close " immediately has echoes of "Slave" from Tattoo You via the "dah de dah" guitar riff , consequently we are interested. The nice groove settling in is unfortunately let down by a leaden chorus (which sadly is recurring theme throughout the album) .."I---I---I want to get close to you" however a welcome sax break (more "Slave" & Tattoo You comparisons, but alas nowhere near Sonny Rollins) provides more colour. Things seem to getting better ..


3.Depending on You


The gently strummed major 7th type electric guitar riff to start this off and Jagger's plaintive delivery puts us back into the 70's , specifically Goats Head Soup, the last album where Jagger showed vulnerability throughout rather than parody or exaggeration as his default MO. Great slide playing by Ronnie & string arrangement courtesy of producer Andrew Watt. This is a real keeper.


4.Bite My Head Off (feat Paul McCartney )


The upwards trajectory continues and ,least when we expect it, 80 year old Jagger goes punk (this is where the critics Some Girls comparisons are starting to surface) and gets away with it!!. A combination of "Lies" from Some Girls meets "Hold Onto Your Hat" from Steel Wheels the moss is shaken loose from the album thus far and finally delivers. Not even a dreaded star cameo from Sir Thumbs Aloft himself , one Paul McCartney ("come on Paul play that bass" yells Jagger unnecessarily just to remind us) can derail this and from nowhere Ronnie Wood delivers probably his most aggressive guitar solo to grace a Stones studio album . Rocks Off indeed.



5. Whole Wide World


The great let down, what a misstep after the great 3 mins previously Jagger goes in solo Jagger territory with an awful faux cockney accent and tries to do a Ray Davies about a London in a far off time . For one always looking forward, this is a great step back. Quite frankly terrible.


6.Dreamy Skies


The pastoral sounds of Ronnie's former band The Faces (think "Sweet Lady Mary" & Ronnie Lane's "Richmond") courtesy of some superb dobro playing. (Ronnie is emerging as the MVP across the album by far). Jagger steals the melody & even some lyrics from It's Only Rock n Roll album track "Short and Curlies" (doesn't he have people who can tell him this?) but doesn't derail it . Things seem back on track.


7. Mess It Up


We have finally got to the "Charlie" tracks and here is a real highlight of Hackney Diamonds. Jagger is back to having a sense of humour ...


"You stole my numbers, you stole my codes

You took my keys and then you nicked my phone

Seduced my landlord, broke in my home

Don't get excited, why don't you leave me alone"


Critics again are going Some Girls thinking this is "Miss You" Part II but it more closely resembles Ronnie's old bandmate Rod Stewart specifically "Do You Think I'm Sexy?" courtesy of a great octave leaping bass line that one suspects is Ronnie again (Darryl Jones is absent from the wole album and shares Bass duties with Keith and Producer Watt) . With great backing vocals , guitar riffs and of course Charlie it can't miss.


8. Live By the Sword (feat Elton John)


Apparently Andrew Watt suggested Bill be contacted to lay some Bass down alongside Charlie. Great idea pity about the song. It's a curious riff that revolves around and around and as for Elton John, not sure it adds anything either. Another leaden chorus .(at times like this you forget the Glimmer Twins once wrote Ruby Tuesday , Wild Horses Shine A Light , songs with huge choruses that could land a 747).


9. Driving Me Hard


You wonder how many times the Stones have played Tumbling Dice over the years. Always a go to in any setlist it probably makes sense that the riff is recycled eventually but what a result . It is surely Keith driving this on guitar (for one of the only times on the album) and it shows as it is all groove - the "roll" vs the "rock" of his Glimmer Twin. Ronnie contributes B-string bender type country riffs as a further reference to the Stones particular style of country music. Over such a great track, Jagger & Watt cannot mess it up (no pun intended).


10. Sweet Sounds of Heaven


Ever since the release of Exile, the Stones seem to have moved away from a gospel influenced soul groove, something they were very good at during the purple patch Beggars Banquet through Exile. Critics have seized on this track implying they still have "got it" Alas no, appalling lyrics by Jagger and a faceless groove with Lady Gaga going completely over the top , enough to bring on a headache or at the least skip the track altogether. Sounds like an outtake from "Wandering Spirit "the Jagger album produced by Rick Rubin meets "Saint of Me" from Bridges to Babylon , 90's Stones , not much better than the 80's.



11. Tell Me Straight


As a listening exercise I went back to Emotional Rescue from 1980 , regarded as the weakest of the Stones albums in the 70's merging 80's golden run ( up to Tattoo You at least). Recorded in the Bahamas , Chris Blackwell mentions how great it was to have the Stones use his studio. (outlined in his superb book reviewed here) . This was a time when Mick and Keith were not getting on, yet it still sounds fresh with great grooves & feel , powered by the always inventive Charlie (" Emotional Rescue" , "Dance Part 1", "Send it to Me") and Keith with the clipped MXR delay pedal riffs ( "Summer Romance", "Let Me Go ", "She's So Cold"). Jagger sounds part of the band rather than above and outside it which is what I hear too often on Hackney Diamonds. Keith closes out Emotional Rescue with the aching piano ballad "All About You" and after this it was commonplace that he would have a song near the end of each Stones album. " Tell Me Straight" is not as memorable as "All About You", "Coming Down Again" or even the more recent "Slipping Away". Echoes again of 90's Stones , in particular "Through & Through" , it at least has Jagger to give it some harmony vocal and a key change to try and add some colour but the impression overall is ...surprise , surprise...unmemorable.


12. Rollin Stone Blues


The last time a traditional blues number closed a Stones album was the snippet of "Key to the Highway" as a memorial to the great Ian Stewart (original 6th Stone , later their road manager) who died too young in the mid 80's . There was a real poignancy about Stu's passing and you are left with part of the same feeling here . Whether this is the intension, closing an album with the Muddy Waters tune which gave the band their name has an "end to it all" feeling. Jagger says they are two thirds through a follow up album.....hmm Time Waits for No One...



What are we left with then?


Is this the best thing since the Chris Kimsey co produced Some Girls from 1978? No, not by a long shot but it is likely the best album since Steel Wheels from 1989 (the last album Kimsey had anything to do with). To be honest this isn't saying much as from here it was no Bill Wyman and Don Was was in the producer chair for a quarter of a century (over only 3 albums) and unlike Kimsey he seemed to be completely awe struck to be in the Stones presence (Kimsey did a great interview about his years with the Stones below). New producer Andrew Watt reportedly wore a different Stones T Shirt to each day of recording . If so, it suggests he has more in common with Don Was rather than Kimsey but to his credit he has fashioned a sound that is contemporary and has elements (at times ) of signature Stones. However there were too few for my liking and it seems to be the Mick with Ronnie show now.


Stonesworthy

Mick n Keith Soloworthy Only

Quite frankly ..Garbage

Depending On You

Rollin Stone Blues

Angry

Bite My Head Off

Sweet Sounds of Heaven

Whole Wide World

Mess It Up

Get Close

Live By The Sword

Driving Me Hard

Dreamy Skies

Tell Me Straight




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