Rock Album Review: The Rolling Stones’ “Hackney Diamonds” — Closer to Zircons

By Matt Hanson

The group’s first record of new material in well over a decade, Hackney Diamonds isn’t quite a bad Rolling Stones record, but it’s decidedly not a good one.

Attending a Rolling Stones concert in London in 1976, Martin Amis remarked that “normally a token homogeneity obtains at the average rock concert: David Bowie fans all look and behave like David Bowie, Bryan Ferry fans look and behave like Bryan Ferry etc. But everyone is a Stones fan.” It’s still true; liking the Stones is pretty much taken for granted for pretty much everyone all these years later. So, news of a brand-new Stones record is occasion for ears to perk up, if not for celebration. It will certainly be enjoyable to see those octogenarians on stage, bumping and grinding, playing the hits in a tour sponsored by the AARP.

Their first record of new material in well over a decade, Hackney Diamonds — which is Londoner street slang for the aftermath of a jewelry store break-in — isn’t quite a bad record, but it’s decidedly not a good one. It’s got all the typical features of late-period Stones songs without any of the rawness or subtlety or swing that they brought to their best material. With a couple of exceptions, it’s essentially a color-by-numbers version of what a Stones record is supposed to sound like. It gives us what we’d expect, and that’s kind of the problem — it’s not really going anywhere new or interesting.

“Angry” has the massive multilayered guitar riff proper for an opening track, yet it’s a kissing cousin to “Start Me Up,” a fun song that came out back during Reagan’s first term. People have been saying that Hackney Diamonds is their best work since Tattoo You, which as a Some Girls devotee I can’t abide, but maybe this is what they meant.

Quite a few of the lyrics here seem to vaguely refer to sexual frustration, as with the lackluster second tune “Get Close,” which at this point isn’t a very convincing or interesting topic for Mick Jagger to sing about.The wry self-deprecation that gave some of the otherwise cocksure classics some charm (“Get Off My Cloud” being one example) doesn’t really register here. Instead, too many of Hackney Diamond’s rather cranky lyrics come off as sonic placeholders, very follow-the-bouncing-ball before we are thrown into the next epic singalong chorus. This isn’t necessarily the worst of rock and roll sins, but you need to bring something memorable to give those stadium sized crowds to shout. Otherwise, it’s as effective as laughing at your own joke.

Clichés abound. Here’s the entirety of the long-winded chorus to the insipid walk down memory lane in “Whole Wide World”: “When the whole wide world’s against you/ And you’re standing in the rain/ When all your friends have let you down/ And treat you with disdain/ When the whole wide world’s against you/ And that’s got you on the run/ And you think the party is over/ But it’s only just, only just begun.” Snooze. Apparently, it hasn’t even gotten started. Who hasn’t heard that kind of sentiment a million times before in pop music? There’s nothing different about this, nothing novel, nothing unique. It sounds like the kind of lyrics that a sentient karaoke machine would write.

I always dug how, for all their obvious (and fully paid) debt to the blues, the Stones have maintained an abiding love for country music. The brilliant, doomed Gram Parsons’s love of Lefty Frizzell and the Louvin Brothers inevitably infused itself into the sound of whatever band he was hanging out with at the time, to their benefit. “Dreamy Skies” wallows in that Americana mode, but all it ends up achieving is a sort of listlessness as we keep circling back to the desire to “get away from it all” which, again, isn’t a categorically bad thing to want to sing about but has already been expressed a million times.

As Elvis Costello once pointed out, all songs are essentially about the same five themes (“I love you. You don’t love me. I want you. You don’t want me. I believe in something.”) and that’s perfectly OK! The question is how one expresses their version of these sentiments in their own way. A hungrier, edgier band would have tried harder to find a new way to approach these perennial human issues, if this is all they wanted to say.

The finest moment in the record is “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” which is the next to last selection, perhaps for that very reason. Instead of overpowering us with massive walls of guitars, and rushing us headlong to the parts where we are expected to throw our hands up and shout along, it takes its time with a gospel-like slow burn, with Lady GaGa (who, say what you will about her, doesn’t do clichés) providing some expressive vocals that push Jagger’s to greater heights, which is exactly what someone ought to have been doing all along.

When the horn section starts to build toward the end, and those two raucous legends are wailing back and forth, egging each other on, it’s a demonstration of the power of that organic, intuitive trust in just letting the groove take over, taking us where it will. That sense of spontaneity is what gave the band such a sexy dark magic and got us dancing all those years ago. It’s a shame that Hackney Diamonds makes you sit through about a dozen songs of overkill filler to get there. Word is that The Stones have two more completed records on the shelf somewhere; let’s hope they have more inventiveness in them than this.

Amis left his Stones concert disappointed (during the ’70s era, no less!) and swore he would never return. When I first read that, I groaned. Who’d turn down a chance to see these legendary lads do their thing live? They’ve just started a new American tour, which is intriguing for sure. But, given the astronomical ticket prices, I have considerable doubts whether I’ll be one of the attendees. It might be easier, cheaper, and more fulfilling to just stay home, put on my headphones, and sink back into Sticky Fingers or Exile on Main Street for the hundredth time. Or, given the circumstances, I’ll happily settle for Tattoo You.

Matt Hanson is a contributing editor at the Arts Fuse whose work has also appeared in the American Interest, the Baffler, the Guardian, the Millions, the New Yorker, the Smart Set, and elsewhere. A longtime resident of Boston, he now lives in New Orleans.


  1. BeforeTheyMakeMeRun on December 4, 2023 at 8:07 pm

    You do realize that Some Girls predates Tattoo You by 3 years, right? Most real Stones fans know that off the top of their heads, plus a simple Google search could also show you their discography in order.

    • Blaine Campbell on December 4, 2023 at 10:03 pm

      I was puzzled at that as well does he think Some Girls came out after Tattoo You? That’s 78’ for Some Girls and 81’ for Tattoo You (which I’m sure you’re aware of looking at your comment). I do find Some Girls to be the last “great” Stones album. Tattoo You was mostly rehashed stuff going all the way back to 1971 in the case of “Waiting on a Friend” I think that the main difference was Some Girls was mostly newer material. Also their future was uncertain with Keith’s heroin bust, punk and disco etc etc.

      I didn’t expect much from this new album. There are some great tracks but the last great album was Some Girls which should be understood in its 1978 context with all the problems and changes especially if you are reviewing the body of work the band has put out. The circumstances they were under writing and recording Some Girls galvanized them to make an artistic last gasp album-wise. They are as we know them now a great live band with an amazing catalog of music and a huge impact on musical and pop culture that from time to time put out usually so so albums. “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” is the peak of the whole album as we all know. Who wants to knock them? Who else has put out that much great music for so many years and still do amazing live shows. That’s ok with me.

      • Matt Hanson on December 4, 2023 at 11:14 pm

        No question, Tattoo You came out after Some Girls, but that’s not what I’m trying to say. I’m saying that I think Some Girls is a better record than Tattoo You, which is the one people are comparing HD to. I realize the wording could be confusing.

  2. Gerald Peary on December 5, 2023 at 12:18 pm

    I don’t know if you are right or wrong on the new Stones album but it’s great always to be shaken up by such an articulate contrarian view. The Arts Fuse at its best.

  3. Matt Hanson on December 6, 2023 at 2:36 pm

    Thanks Gerry, and for the record I didn’t come to this review, or any review, with hatchet in hand. I adore the Stones, and I want to hear them make great music. Even Jagger nods…

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