A Deep Dive Into The Rolling Stones 'Hackney Diamonds' - Noise11.com
Rolling Stones Hackney Diamonds

A Deep Dive Into The Rolling Stones ‘Hackney Diamonds’

by Paul Cashmere on October 19, 2023

in News

The first time I heard ‘Hackney Diamonds’ I loved it. The Stones finally had an album of new songs and they sounded great, instantly catchy and memorable. However, by the third listen it starts to feel like a Pop record by a Rock band.

Producer Andrew Watt (Justin Bieber, The Kid Laroi, Post Malone as well as Ozzy Osbourne, Elton John and Eddie Vedder) was an interesting choice for a band like The Stones. He has taken the band in a different direction and that is risky.

Country, Rock and Blues are the Stones secret ingredients, always have been. Watt waters down the secret sauce and makes it Country/Pop, Rock/Pop but luckily doesn’t mess with the blues on the last track.

I can see what Mick Jagger is aiming for. A relevant sounding 2020’s record in 2023 but Miley Cyrus fans don’t want a Stones record so why get her producer? It’s a shame Rick Rubin wasn’t around for this record. That would have been amazing.

I am a long-time Stones fan coming in at ‘Get Yer Ya Yas/ Sticky Fingers’ era as 11-year-old. My point of reference goes back 50+ years. Being an old fucker and a huge Stones fan, I think I have a lot of perspective on this.

Point: All of the songs are great. Point: It is the production that lets them down. ‘Hackney Diamonds’ sounds like it was made more for the radio than the fans.

This album would have sat alongside ‘Sticky’ and ‘Exile’ or ‘Some Girls’ and ‘Tattoo You’ with Rubin. Instead it is more ‘Bridges To Babylon’/’Voodoo Lounge’. It as close to Mick’s solo album ‘Wandering Spirit’ as it is to any Stones album. The songs are better than ‘A Bigger Bang’ but the production isn’t, pushing ‘A Bigger Bang’ slightly in front in my view.

Don’t get me wrong. Give me the worst Stones album over the best Bieber album any day. Song quality is not an issue and quite frankly that all will go out the window when the songs are performed live.

I know I have been extremely critical here. This is still a great Stones album. It’s definitely in the top half. (‘Dirty Work’ clearly sits at the bottom). Dan Was understood The Stones, but Andrew … watt the fuck?

Lets look at each song:

Angry

A great rock and roll intro to the album but lacks the power of ‘Rough Justice’ off the last album ‘A Bigger Bang’. The irony with ‘Angry’ is that new producer Andrew Watt has diluted the anger of a Stones rock song. He is also credited as a co-writer with Mick and Keith. There are hints of the power on this record. ‘Angry’ sounds like Watts made the song more for radio than the fanbase.

Get Close

Hints of ‘Black and Blue’, the sax brings up memories of Bobby Keyes and that blues fusion guitar has me reminiscing ‘Can You Hear Me Knocking’. It hints but it doesn’t get there. Elton John guests on this one but unless you were told you would never know. This is another Andrew Watt co-write with Mick and Keith.

Depending On You

A ‘Hackney Diamonds’ highlight. This is getting back to ‘Tattoo You’ meets ‘Let It Bleed’. It wants to conjure Gram Parsons. When The Stones layer themselves over the best of American Country Rock, alt-Rock, Americana (whatever they call it these days) they achieve greatness. They are “Too young to die and too old to loose”.

Bite My Head Off

Paul McCartney plays bass on this one. ‘Bite My Head Off’ is the album rocker and for Paul is closer to The Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’. This one should be played live. It is great hearing the Stones Rock out. The urgency is missing on the recording, but the ingredients are all there for a setlist potential.

Whole Wide World

Another pop/rocker and five tracks in the Andrew Watt effect, coupled with the absence of Charlie this is becoming obvious. Charlie gave this band a rhythm that is impossible for Steve Jordan to fill. So yes, this album will sound different. The Charlie Watts timing was impeccable. In Watch analogies we’ve gone from a Rolex to a Fossil. Still good, but it’s not a Rolex.

Dream Skies

I love this one. ‘Dream Skies’ takes us back to when everything The Stones did in the 60s suddenly clicked with tracks then like ‘No Expectations’ and ‘Salt of the Earth’, right at that point where The Stones went from a Singles to an Album band. That alt-Country feel where Keith was being influenced by Gram Parsons and that lineage of ‘Beggars Banquet’ to ‘Let It Bleed’ to Sticky Fingers’ to ‘Exile On Main Street’ happened in quick succession. This is vintage country Stones. Definitely an album highlight.

Mess It Up

‘Mess It Up’ is one of two songs featuring Charlie Watts. This is very Pop and I assume because of Charlie’s presence it was done with Don Was. There is a hint of Philly soul on this one, but it sounds more like a Mick solo song than a Stones song. (Is that the bass line from Rod Stewart’s Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? behind this?)

Live By The Sword

Another rocker as well as the other Charlie song ‘Mess It Up’. This is the one with Bill Wyman back on Bass. Bill was invited in because it featured Charlie song and Mick and Keith felt nostalgic wanting to honour the origins of the band.

Driving Me Too Hard

There’s a wonderful nod to ‘Tumbling Dice’ is the opening seconds of this song. One of the album’s best songs, with a Mick and Keith duelling vocal. Now this is The Rolling Stones we love. This one wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Tattoo You’.

Tell Me Straight

Confession – I love Keith’s Stones songs. They are all beauty and achieve simplicity. The secret of The Stones is that they have a Pop star (Mick) and a Rock star (Keith). Think about it … The Beatles, Pop star Paul, Rock star John. Queen, Pop star Freddie, Rock star, Brian. When the Rock star takes the spotlight, we get an X-Ray of what is going on in the band. ‘Tell Me Straight’ is beautiful. It is raw emotion wrapped in a song, like lots of Keith’s songs. Keith has traditionally been given two songs back to back in a Stones set. Hopefully this will pop up a few times live.

Sweet Sounds of Heaven

Lady Gaga has big shoes to fill on this one. The female voice for The Stones will always be Merry Clayton. ‘Gimme Shelter’, anyone? Say no more. Lisa Fischer on recent tours. Yes please. Gaga popped up occasionally, first in 2012 on ’50 and Counting’ to do the ‘Gimme Shelter’ vocal. Finally, they have consummated the collaboration in the studio with ‘Sweet Sounds of Heaven’, also featuring Stevie Wonder, who opened for The Stones in their 1972 tour.

Rolling Stone Blues

What a brilliant ending. This is like an extension to the Stones previous studio album ‘Blue and Lonesome’, their blues covers record. The song ‘Rolling Stone Blues’ is indeed special as it was the Muddy Waters song the Stones took their name from.

So, in summary, I love the songs but hate the production. Why the fuck they got Justin Bieber’s producer in for this, who was still a sperm when they made ‘Voodoo Lounge’, I’ll never know. He has layered Pop over most of it. The songs are great but the album will date very quickly. What a shame Rick Rubin wasn’t around. I want ‘Angry’ to be angry. Watt made it nice.

That said, there is another album coming, and also produced by Watt. Ronnie blabbed about it at the launch in London. We won’t expect any hidden treasures for the next record which chances are will be the last album. But we live in hope Rick Rubin will take Mick’s call for one last lap.

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