Sunday, October 22, 2023

Kat's Korner: Those new Rolling Stones' gems aren't zirconia

Kat:  18 years between albums?  And we though Sade was the musical equivalent of Halley's Comet.  Friday, HACKNEY DIAMONDS was released -- the first new studio album in 18 years for the Rolling Stones.  Is that a record for time between albums?


I just found out Ann-Margret released an album, BORN TO BE WILD, last April.  I'll try to review it before the end of the year..  It's her first studio album since 2011 (Grammy winner GOD IS LOVE: THE GOSPEL SESSIONS VOL. 2).  But PP Arnold went from 1968's studio album KAFUNTA to 2007's FIVE IN THE AFTERNOON which is 39 years between studio albums. (Former Ikette PP Arnold found more success in the UK than the US and she is known in England for hits like "The First Cut Is The Deepest," her Rolling Stones cover "As Time Goes By" and "Angel of the Morning," among others).  Another sixties stand out would by Mary Weiss.  The leader of the pack?  No, but the main vocalist of The Shangri-Las (who had hits with "The Leader of the Pack," "(Remember) Walking In The Sand." "Give Him A Great Big Kiss," "Give Us Your Blessings," "I Can Never Go Home" and "Long Live Our Love."  SHANGRI-LAS-65! was the group's last studio album (also only their second studio album) and Mary didn't release another studio album again until 2007's DANGEROUS GAME.  That's 42 years and, for rock era performers, that might be the record.  Besides, there's 2016 studio album of cover songs BLUE & LONESOME.

But A BIGGER BANG was the Stones' last studio album of original songs and I praised it in real time; however, as I've noted in the many years since (noted many times), I don't think I properly appreciated it.  Year after year, that 2005 album grew on me.  I now think its a classic Stones' album.

And this new one, HACKNEY DIAMONDS?

The late drummer Charlie Watts appears on two tracks -- there are 12.  That's the first thing to note. He's not the first Rolling Stone to die (that would be Brian Jones in 1969).  The official band is now down to three members: guitarist Ronnie Wood -- who joined the group in 1975 and became an official member in 1976 -- and original members Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.  Original member Bill Wyman left the group in 1993 but came back for two concerts at the end of 2012 and he comes back for one track on this album ("Live By You").  Otherwise it's session musicians not deemed worthy of being band members (not deemed worthy yet?) and guest stars. 

Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder join the band for "Sweet Sounds of Heaven."

Gaga and Stevie bring their energy to the song and there's no argument that it only benefits from it -- that said, the song's strong enough it would have been a band classic without any guest star.  It's the sort of deep dive Stones song that the Black Crows repeatedly tried to write but never really came close to capturing -- a rough, wild night turning into early morning relief and amazement (that you had a good time or that you had a great time and survived).  

No, I'm not, not goin' to Hell 
In some dusty motel 
And I'm not, not goin' down 
In the dirt 
Yes, yes, yes
 I'm gonna laugh, 
I'm gonna laugh, 
I'm gonna cry, 
I'm gonna cry 
Eat the bread, drink the wine 
'Cause I'm finally, finally quenchin' 
My thirst, yeah

It's the sort of song that feels lived in the way the group's early hits did.  That lived in experience was what Americans could most identify with in the group's early years, something a lot wilder and more relatable than what most of the British invasion was turning out.  The Kinks, the Who and others were good about taking you to that giddy high of the perfect night but really there for that moment of relief when the night's fading.

The Beatles could do that  That's why they and the Stones were the super groups of British sixties music.  They were a four member band, the Fab Four, that broke up in the sixties leading the Stones to trail blaze the seventies and Paul McCartney provides bass for "Bite My Head Off" which sounds like a photographic negative of The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog."  Makes you wonder what a 70s Beatles could have come up with?

Elton John provides piano on "Live By The Sword" which is a nice touch and on "Get Close" which is more than a nice touch.  Or maybe it's the other way around?  Elton seems to be part of the driving force on "Get Close" where he's more on an accent on "Live By The Sword."  Keith Richards and Ron Wood really cook up some steam on the latter and adding accents might be all anyone else on an instrument could contribute.

Everyone cooks on the last track as well, a cover of Muddy Waters' blues classic "Rollin' Stone Blues" -- the song that the group took their name from way back in 1962. (Before anyone e-mails, "Rollin' Stone Blues" is the song's title -- on HACKNEY DIAMONDS, the track listing adds a "g" to the title making it "Rolling Stone Blues.") And it works here due to the performance and also as a musical acknowledgement of how the band started.

"Tell Me Straight" is Keith's sing-along.  The guitarist takes the lead vocal.   It's a good song and it's a good performance.  Might even be able to chart -- "Happy" (from EXILE ON MAIN STREET) remains the only song with just Keith on lead vocal that's ever made the top forty. But it's a solid track and adds texture and dimension as album offering. 

There's not a dud on the album.  "Driving Me Too Hard" has a touch of "Tumbling Dice" to it -- or maybe it's a nod to "Tumbling Dice."

"Tumbling Dice" was a top forty hit in 1972.  HACKNEY DIAMONDS already has brought the group another top forty hit.

"Sweet Sounds of Heaven" is a hit on the rock charts.  Listening to the album, there are ten other songs that would be worthy of singles charts.  This really is a strong and assured album from the band and I don't think anyone was expecting this level of confidence or art from them.  But in a time when Bono's body's gone more bloated than his ego and 'super group' U2 is reduced to begging for audiences in Las Vegas, the Rolling Stones show up yet again to demonstrate what rock is really all about.