The Rolling Stones' latest effort, "Hackney Diamonds," attempts to recapture their youthful energy without covering any new ground. The album comes across as a very polished bar band that has covered the classic rock genre for years, yet we all know it’s the Stones and fans are overjoyed to receive another installment from a long-time favorite. Produced by Andrew Watt, it seems that the album reflects a pursuit of commercial success rather than artistic evolution. Released strategically during peak consumer seasons, it seems tailor-made for holiday spending and the world of advertising.
The album's first half portrays Mick Jagger as a petulant figure, embodying arrogance rather than the rebellious spirit of their youth. The tracks, including "Angry" and "Bite My Head Off," struggle to connect with authenticity, sounding more like forced attempts at relevance than genuine expressions.
The latter portion of "Hackney Diamonds" feels like a collection of songs designed for lucrative advertising placements. While lacking the grit of prime Stones material, Jagger's distinctive voice, enhanced by technology, remains a marketing asset. Producer Watt, known for contemporary collaborations, pushes the band into an ill-fitting contemporary mold, resulting in a polished yet soulless sound.
The album's tight structure for the first nine songs gives way to a more authentic moment with "Tell Me Straight," led by Keith Richards, which offers a welcome reprieve from the exhausting pursuit of perfection evident across Hackney Diamonds. The closing track, "Sweet Sounds of Heaven," featuring Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder, delves into contemplation on nationalism, poverty, and mortality. It marks a rare moment of genuine emotion in contrast to the album's earlier attempts at youthful bravado.
Readers here are likely wondering about the Dolby Atmos version, which enhances clarity and detail and is a markable improvement over the hi-res 192kHz stereo versions that are also available. The Atmos soundstage is enlarged for all the instruments yet is weighted towards the front channels. There are improved dynamics and no brick walling, allowing for a clear mix and thankfully lacking the congestion of the stereo version. By turning up the volume, listeners can feel the impact of the recording, even when listening to the Atmos version as a stereo downmix. Naturally the Blu-ray benefits from a lossless encoding in Dolby TrueHD compared to the streaming version, bringing greater transparency and spatialization leading to a refinement in the rendering of instruments and vocals.
While focusing on the Blu-ray disc here, there are numerous versions of Hackney Diamonds, enough to make any marketing guru’s head spin around a few times. As a consumer, it feels overwhelming and excessive. Also, for the spatial audio enthusiast, one needs to buy into a deluxe package in order to get the Dolby Atmos version, a continual problem in the industry that feels more like a money grab than offering an alternate version of a product on a standalone Blu-ray disc.
If this marks the final Stones' album, it falls short of providing a fitting farewell to a band once synonymous with sex, danger, and bitter honesty in rock'n'roll. Only recommended for Sones completists and classic rock junkies.
Released October 20, 2023
CD + Blu-ray with Dolby Atmos and 2.0 Stereo 96kHz / 24-bit mixes. Also available on various colored vinyl editions, on CD, and as 192kHz / 24-bit stereo download, or via streaming, among other special formats..
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About the Author
Wesley is a lifelong music enthusiast. He started his career in the recording industry in New York City as an audio engineer, producer, and studio manager. Subsequently he toured across America as a guitarist with the short-lived band Land's Crossing. After many years in the technology sector and amassing a substantial vinyl and CD collection, he delved into immersive audio and created Hi-Res Edition to share with other listeners about the sound quality and discrete mixes available on many formats. He recently upgraded his system to 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos and continues to seek out and share about the best sounding releases.