The Rolling Stones have announced details of their first album of new songs in nearly two decades, entitled Hackney Diamonds.
Featuring a constellation of guest stars including Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder and former Stones bassist Bill Wyman, it also contains the final recordings with the band by late drummer Charlie Watts, who appears on two tracks.
Hackney Diamonds – east London slang referring to broken window glass outside a robbery – has the still-thrilling sight of “Jagger-Richards” mentioned throughout the songwriting credits. It’s the first time Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have written an album of new music since A Bigger Bang in 2005, and the first studio album of any kind since 2016’s collection of blues covers, Blue & Lonesome.
Chipping in as co-writer on three songs is the album’s producer Andrew Watt, known for helming an array of recent hit albums by artists as varied as Elton John, Justin Bieber, Iggy Pop, Post Malone and Miley Cyrus.
The first single and opening track, Angry, has been released alongside the album announcement: powered by a classic Stones riff and strutting rhythm, Jagger is in uproarious form as he mopes about a lovers’ tiff. “It hasn’t rained in a month, the river’s run dry / we haven’t made love and I wanna know why,” the 80-year-old singer complains, eventually going off in a huff in the coda: “I’m still taking the pills / and I’m off to Brazil.”
Reviews of the album are currently embargoed ahead of its 20 October release date – and further A-list guests are to be announced – but the Guardian was given an early listen. The energy is often high, with one blisteringly paced rock’n’roll song joined by plenty of others with that typical high-tempo Stones strut, including one with a disco bassline. There are also pared-back blues numbers, bucolic country-rockers and lighters-aloft pop-rock ballads.
Having teased their appearance with an advert in local newspaper the Hackney Gazette, Jagger, Richards and Ronnie Wood announced the album in a press conference at the Hackney Empire theatre, east London, in conversation with US talkshow host – and frequent Jagger impersonator – Jimmy Fallon. “I don’t want to be big headed,” Jagger said, surrounded by smashed chandeliers and a glitter strewn tongue logo cut into shards, “but we wouldn’t have put this record out if we hadn’t really liked it.”
It was a poignant sight without Watts, who died aged 80 in August 2021 having played with the group since just after their inception, joining in 1963. Steve Jordan now plays drums with the group, appearing on their 60th anniversary tour in 2022 and on nine of Hackney Diamonds’ songs.
“Ever since Charlie’s gone it’s different – he’s number four, he’s missing,” Richards, now 79, said. “Of course he’s missed, incredibly. But thanks to Charlie Watts we have Steve Jordan – his recommendation, that if anything should happen to him, he’s your man.”
The cause of Watts’ death was not announced but last year Richards implied he had died of cancer, saying: “I think he’d been trying to keep it under the wraps for a while last year, so [his death] came as quite a shock. He had had a round with cancer a year or two before. And he beat that one. He just got hit with a double-whammy, bless his soul.”
The trio were in great comic form on stage though, Jagger sprightly in a black brocade bomber jacket as he jumped up from his chair to introduce the record. “We were maybe a bit too lazy,” he said of the 18-year wait. “Suddenly we said, let’s put a deadline … We did it pretty quick. There were a lot of ideas floating about and we gathered them together just before Christmas.” By Valentine’s Day the album was recorded and mixed, Watt having “kicked us up the arse”, according to Jagger.
There were flashes of classic Stones lasciviousness, the 76-year-old Wood saying of playing with Van Morrison and others in between tours: “You’ve got to keep your fingers moving when you get to our age – keep everything moving.” When asked if he ever married someone who came to a Stones gig, Richards replied: “I could marry them all, maaaan!”
Richards sings one of the album’s 12 songs, Tell Me Straight, telling the audience to rounds of laughter: “I can tell you straight that I have no idea what’s it’s about. Mick tried to steal it so you know it’s good.”
Sydney Sweeney, the US actor best known for roles in The White Lotus and Euphoria, appears in the Angry video and was in the Hackney Empire’s front row. “I freaked out, called my family and brought my mum,” she said of getting the call to appear. “This is the biggest thing ever.”
With throngs of onlookers outside and swathes of international media inside, it was a grander occasion than the first ever Stones press conference, Jagger said. “Keith and I were in a pub in Denmark Street [in central London], and there were two journalists from NME and Melody Maker. We bought them a pint of beer and said: here’s our album.”