Surely a swansong, Hackney Diamonds is stuffed to the brim with collaborative efforts, engaged post-acclaim sounds and a sense of foreboding running through The Rolling Stones. Either an affinity for Gainsborough or a desire to tap into their London roots as their earliest works did, Mick Jagger and company are still reeling from the loss of their straight-man drummer Charlie Watts, and the material is worse off for it. Many of those blinkered problems appeared on Angry but were straightened out with follow-up single, the knockout Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder collaboration, Sweet Sounds of Heaven. Jagger, Keith Richards and friends find themselves in the latter camp more than the former, with a potential farewell album forming a great base for the band to bow out on.
Hopes of Angry being a distant one-off falls flat on Get Close, a meandering second track which has Jagger in vocal form but instrumental emptiness. Nothing exceptionally special comes through, and the saxophone jutting out the midsection is not a bold sign of screaming it all out, as Jagger demands in his writings here. The Elton John-featuring track, one of two alongside the equally shuffling and dire Live By The Sword, is a case of legends past the top of their game jamming out. Hearing this is great for the dedicated and faithful fans but detracts from what can be, at times, an intimate showcase. Depending On You is not quite the carbon copy of preceding track Get Close, though similar tones do not help the third track stand out all that much. Jagger carries it, and some lighter flourishes from Richards make it worth a listen. Classic Stones-like quality is blinkered here, but present.
Charmingly light is the frequent tone Hackney Diamonds takes. An easy-listening Stones album with sprinklings of acceptance of their legacy does a lot of heavy lifting to make this one a bit of fun. Bite My Head Off sounds remarkably neutered following on from the sappy strings which precede this song. Featuring Paul McCartney? Good luck hearing his influence on this rock standard. Perhaps these moves away from noticeable Stones material, the search for a new sound in their twilight years, is to fashion the band into something new after the passing of Watts. Either that or they are scraping the barrel and hoping their star-studded friends can fill in the gaps. Good fun, though, as is Dreamy Skies. Vaguely Blondie on Hanging on the Telephone style guitar work hits through on the build found on Whole Wide World, but it works with a slightly darker hook to it. Clunky and cliché Live By The Sword is a real downer considering how consistent Hackney Diamonds comes before it.
Vague optimism hits through with some not-so-charming wordplay. The Rolling Stones sign themselves out as the outsiders despite their very hands building the machine of rock and roll. Whole Wide World sees Jagger lament the disdain he experienced, though those days are long past for music fans. Richards’ guitar solos are stapled on but nicely executed by the legendary guitarist. He elevates the likes of saloon-humming Dreamy Skies to the next level. Slide guitar treats for the ears and a little tease of tambourine see the band wind it down for a moment, and there they are, that is where The Rolling Stones rekindle their fire after a slow start. It is the smartest song of the bunch and sees Jagger take a break from it all. They deserve it more than most. The Rolling Stones manage to keep themselves as timeless as ever with Mess It Up a nice contemporary spin on sharing stories and bringing tales to their natural end, as the band does with Hackney Diamonds. Or, at least, that is the impression album’s closer and strong finale Rolling Stone Blues gives.