It’s a running joke that every album released by the Rolling Stones is the band’s “best since X,” where X represents a random release from their extensive back catalogue. Unsurprisingly, Hackney Diamonds has already received similar plaudits and comparisons. But the Stones’ first full-length of original songs since 2005′s A Bigger Bang can’t really be compared to anything they’ve done before—namely because it’s the first Stones album recorded (for the most part) without drummer Charlie Watts, who died in 2021.
Watts does add his trademark crisp, jazzy swing to a pair of highlights: the strutting “Mess It Up” and swaggering boogie-rocker “Live by the Sword.” (On the latter, former bassist Bill Wyman also contributes a grimy low end and Elton John adds freewheeling piano.) Elsewhere on Hackney Diamonds, Watts’ hand-picked drumming replacement Steve Jordan anchors the rhythm section with his looser approach—a perfect match for big-sky rockers like the saxophone-augmented, funk-tinted “Get Close.”
But even with the lineup change, Hackney Diamonds feels like classic Stones—no asterisk needed. The album brims with familiar signifiers: fiery guitar interplay between Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood; an abundance of Jagger-Richards songwriting credits; and Jagger’s inimitable vocals, which veer between spitfire sleaze and tender balladeer. Musically, Hackney Diamonds also spans the entire Stones continuum. “Dreamy Skies” is the kind of laid-back country rocker the band excel at writing; the string-swept “Depending on You” occupies a more introspective space; and “Driving Me Too Hard” is 1970s-era honky-tonking. On “Tell Me Straight,” Richards even takes a turn on lead vocals.
So what’s the secret to Hackney Diamonds? Avowed Stones superfan Andrew Watt produced the album, which was an inspired choice: Watt pushes the Stones to play to their strengths and not rely on cliches. Hackney Diamonds’ guests are also a welcome presence. Paul McCartney contributes bass to the barnstorming “Bite My Head Off,” while the torchy power ballad centerpiece “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” includes keyboards and piano from Stevie Wonder and towering vocals from Lady Gaga.
Fittingly, Hackney Diamonds ends with a song that’s long featured into the Stones’ mythology: a cover of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone” (here called “Rolling Stone Blues”). The Stones’ performance is raw and unfiltered, with shuffling harmonica and unpolished Jagger vocals; it sounds more like a low-key jam session than a high-gloss studio work. “Rolling Stone Blues” also gets to the heart of why Hackney Diamonds works so well: On the album, the Stones aren’t trying to repeat themselves or recapture any past glories—but they are remembering their roots, and channelling the passion, ambition and musical chemistry that initially propelled them to superstardom.