Review: Reinvigorated Rolling Stones deliver a few gems with 'Hackney Diamonds'

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Oct. 20—A new Stones album used to be something of an event and then disappointingly turn out to be little more than an exercise in merchandising that did not call for multiple listens. So, after so many mostly forgettable LPs, did we really expect the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band to drop another record after drummer Charlie Watts died in 2021? Not only do they deliver 11 new songs (and one Muddy Waters blues cover) but "Hackney Diamonds" — their first album of new material since 2005 — contains several nuggets and warrants repeat plays.

Watts appears on two selections while Steve Jordan, who hits harder than his predecessor, handles drums on the other tunes. But the real news is how invigorated the Stones sound as Mick Jagger's bluesy drawl snarls and swaggers with ageless brio while the guitars of Keith Richards and Ron Wood crackle and cut with wizened expressiveness. The Stones also revisit their fascination with country and gospel music with organic elan.

"Diamonds" gets its rocks off on the opening, aptly named "Angry" (with its "Start Me Up" vigor), the blistering, New York Dolls-evoking "Bite My Head Off" (with a fuzz bass solo by guest Paul McCartney) and the hip-shaking, finger-wagging "Live by the Sword" (with its slashing guitars). There are shades of country on the waltz "Dreamy Skies" and the medium-tempo "Driving Me Too Hard." And, as is custom, Richards sings on one tune, the sparse "Tell Me Straight," a low-key winner.

Never wanting to sound obsolete, the Stones offer a modern pop song, "Mess It Up," which is given a contemporary sheen by producer Andrew Watt, 33, the 2021 Grammy winner for producer of the year, known for his work with Post Malone, Ozzy Osbourne, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber.

The crown jewel on "Diamonds" is the country-gospel "Sweet Sounds of Heaven." Musically evoking "Gimme Shelter" and "Sympathy for the Devil" at times, "Sweet Sounds" is a slowly surging seven-minute epic, a showstopper elevated when it goes to church with Lady Gaga soaring like heaven is just a shot away.

"Hackney Diamonds" has more grit than gloss, more keepsakes than dross. Perhaps Jagger, at age 80, best sums up the current state of the oft-dysfunctional but still kicking brotherhood that is the Stones when he sings, in "Depending on You," "Now I'm too young for dying and too old to lose."

Will Carpenter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's Arts and Entertainment/Features Reporter. He can be reached by email at wcarpenter@wyomingnews.com or by phone at 307-633-3135. Follow him on Twitter @will_carp_.