Coming full circle
MUSIC | The new Rolling Stones album is fresh if not original
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If the new Rolling Stones album, Hackney Diamonds (Polydor/Rolling Stones), were lacking in freshness or originality, critics could dismiss it as Hackneyed Diamonds and get back to pondering Taylor Swift.
But though there isn’t much originality (how many new tricks should old rock ’n’ roll dogs be expected to learn anyhow?), there’s freshness in the way Mick Jagger wields his trademark vocal mannerisms and in the crossfire generated by Keith Richards’ and Ron Wood’s guitars. If you didn’t know better, you might think that these tracks had been cut 30 years ago and a fair chunk of them composed earlier still.
In the songs “Angry” and the F-bomb-laden “Bite My Head Off,” for example, Jagger works himself into a lather worthy of Some Girls’ more acid-tongued tracks over finding himself the object of someone’s lost temper, something that between the five women with whom he has fathered eight children and his well-documented feuds with Richards he has no doubt often been.
But surely those days are gone. If anyone inspires deference in today’s culture, it’s a multimillionaire capable of rewarding toadyism with largesse. Not for nothing does Jagger imagine himself “dancing on diamonds” on the wistful “Dreamy Skies,” a song that with its got-to-take-a-break-from-it-all motif is the Stones’ equivalent of John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels.” It’s also one of several cuts on which Jagger acts his age (he turned 80 in July) and sounds comfortable doing so.
Three of the others open the vinyl edition’s second side: “Mess It Up,” “Live by the Sword,” and “Driving Me Too Hard.” Two of them include the drumming of the late Charlie Watts. One includes both Watts and, on bass, the still-living ex-Stone Bill Wyman. For as long as they last, it’s as if time really is on the Stones’ side.
The biggest attention getter, though, is the Jagger–Lady Gaga duet “Sweet Sounds of Heaven,” a bona fide gospel song that with lines such as “Bless the Father, bless the Son” and “I’m gonna … eat the bread, drink the wine / ’cause I’m finally, finally quenchin’ my thirst” comes off more credible as an expression of faith than Sticky Fingers’ “You Gotta Move” or Exile on Main Street’s “I Just Want To See His Face.” Of course, coming from the singer responsible for the aforementioned “Bite My Head Off,” it requires some suspension of disbelief.
Will Hackney Diamonds be the last Rolling Stones album? (Or, as Richards sings in “Tell Me Straight,” “Is my future all in the past?”) Probably not—there’s another album’s worth of finished tracks from the sessions in the can. But by going out on a spectral cover of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone,” the song from which they took their name, the Stones are clearly coming to terms with having come full circle.
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