Daily Press (Sunday)


Sessions had come and gone. Unfinished songs stacked up. So Jagger set a deadline, resulting in a new album of Rolling Stones originals


and ever-improvisat­ory guitar interplay.

“You know, it goes like this — but maybe it could go like that,” Richards said. “Without improvisat­ion, it wouldn’t be anything in the first place. I mean, there are no rules to rock ’n’ roll. That’s the reason it’s there.”

In the band’s new songs, Jagger sings about frustratio­n, longing, escape, endurance and transcende­nce. “Angry,” the album’s opener, moves between conciliati­on and exasperati­on. The punky “Bite My Head Off ” — which has Paul McCartney playing a jabbing, distorted bass — barks back at someone’s attempts at control. And the wistful, countryish “Depending on You” bemoans a lost romance: “I was making love, but you had different plans,” Jagger sings.

The songs are unapologet­ically hand-played and organic, not quantized onto a computer grid; they speed up and slow down with a human pulse.

And the album honors the band’s elder-statesman status, drawing guest appearance­s from McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga and Elton John.

Jagger scoffed at the idea of the Rolling Stones as an institutio­n. “It’s only a band,” he said.

But Ronnie Wood, the guitarist who joined in 1975, cherishes the band’s six decades of continuity. “That has been my thing all these years, to keep my institutio­n going,” he said. “When Mick and Keith fell out, I’d do my best to get them together again — at least get them talking and start the engines roaring again.”

The album’s title comes from London slang. Hackney is a borough in East London that had long held a rough reputation, though it has lately gone more upscale. Wood explained that “Hackney diamonds” are bits of broken glass from car windshield­s after break-ins leave them, in a word, shattered.

“A lot of the tracks on the album have that explosion,” Wood said. “This is a really in-your-face album.”

Making the new LP, the band regained “a sense of urgency,” Jagger said. Of course, the longtime members of the Rolling Stones — Jagger, 80, Richards, 79, and Wood, 76 — weren’t getting any younger.

“I said to Keith, ‘If we don’t have a deadline, we’re never going to finish this record,’ ” Jagger said.

Even without new albums, the Stones kept touring in the 2010s and 2020s. The band had gone to studios occasional­ly to get started on songs, but never got around to finishing them. Meanwhile, Jagger and Richards had each amassed a backlog of new material in various stages, written separately but awaiting the band’s collaborat­ive touches.

Jagger also realized, he said, that “we need to get someone involved who can crack the whip.”

That was Andrew Watt, who won a Grammy as producer of the year in 2021. Watt, 32, has made pop hits with Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and revved up late-career albums by Ozzy Osbourne and Iggy Pop. Watt is also a guitarist and Rolling Stones fan who has studied every lick in the band’s catalog.

As a producer, he was “results-oriented,” Watt said. “I was the newcomer. So I didn’t have the baggage that comes with a band that’s been together for over 60 years. There’s a lot of history between all of the people in the room. So the only way I could think of how best to navigate those waters was moving quickly.”

After the years of inconclusi­ve sessions and self-conscious second-guessing, the Stones made “Hackney Diamonds” in what Richards called “a blitzkrieg” — a matter of months instead of years.

“We worked fast, but that was the idea,” he said, adding, with a cackle, “I’m still recovering.”

The tight recording schedule pushed aside second thoughts, Jagger said. “We do like four or five takes. ‘OK,’ and we move on,” he said. “So no one had time to really think, ‘Well, was this a good song? Should we be doing this song?’ Because I get introspect­ive, you know. Is this song as good as the other one? Is this song like another one I’ve done? You can figure that out later. Let’s keep moving.”

“I think we got along on this record really well,” Jagger continued. “Of course we have disagreeme­nts about how things should be, but I think that’s pretty normal. I sometimes feel that Keith thinks I like everything too fast. But I know how fast they should be, because I’m completely a groove person.”

So is Richards. “Rhythm is the most important thing in your … life,” Richards said. “A lot of what you hear ain’t what you hear — it’s what you feel. And that’s a matter of rhythm.”

The Stones groove got its foundation from Watts, who died at age 80. “There would have been a Rolling Stones without Charlie Watts, but without Charlie Watts there wouldn’t have been the Rolling Stones,” Richards said.

“He was one of the warmest guys I ever, ever met, just so tolerant of other people. He would actually stop me from murdering people. When I just thought his name, I started to weep. Thanks for bringing me to tears.”

Watts’ final full album with the band was “Blue & Lonesome,” a set of blues covers, in 2016. But Watts’ drumming, from sessions with the Stones’ previous producer Don Was, drives two songs on “Hackney Diamonds.”

One of them, “Live by the Sword,” also includes the Stones’ retired original bassist, Bill Wyman, and some two-fisted honky-tonk piano from John.

When Watts grew too frail to perform, the Rolling Stones continued touring with a new drummer: Steve Jordan, whom Watts had recommende­d to Richards in the 1980s when Richards started the X-Pensive Winos.

“Charlie was like a fireworks display, and Steve is like a train,” Wood said. “With the passing of Charlie and the baton handed over to Steve Jordan from Charlie, that was a very special moment. We were rehearsing in Boston when Charlie actually passed away. We were rehearsing when we heard the news, and we had one day off. And we thought, Charlie didn’t want us to sit around and mope and everything. We went straight back to the grindstone and carried on — kept the flame going.”

 ?? ?? The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, from left, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood are shown in New York in August.
The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, from left, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood are shown in New York in August.

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