Jimmy Fallon, the host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, says that on the day he interviewed Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, the two were waiting to walk on to the set when Richards lit up a cigarette. “You can’t smoke,” one of the security guards told him. “I know, it’s bad for my health,” Richards replied.
Fallon flew from New York to London Wednesday for the presentation of the first studio album the band has recorded in 18 years, Hackney Diamonds. The name comes from cockney slang of the 1960s, referring to glass strewn on the street after a car or shop window has been smashed by thieves. “Are you still smoking?” Fallon asked Richards. At 79, still behind the ever-present sunglasses, the guitarist’s hooligan grin is undisguisable. He no longer smokes, but the three surviving members of the band — Mick Jagger (80), Ronnie Wood (76) and Richards — still carry the rebellious and contagious air of artists who refuse to throw in the towel.
The new album, which contains 12 songs and will be released at the end of October, will be the 24th since the Stones started playing together, back in 1962. “I don’t want to be big headed but we wouldn’t have put this album out if we hadn’t really liked it. We said we had to make a record we really love ourselves. We are quite pleased with it, we are not big headed about it, but we hope you all like it,” Jagger told the audience at the Hackney Empire, consisting of the media and fans of the band who were lucky enough to have access.
The band got together to work on the songs last December and, a couple of months later, the album was ready to be prepared for release. Two of the songs were recorded in 2019 with Charlie Watts, who passed away just over two years ago, on the drums. For the rest of the tracks, the percussion is provided by Steve Jordan, who was anointed as Watts’ successor by the legendary drummer himself. “Ever since Charlie’s gone, it’s been different, he’s number four. Of course he’s missed,” Richards said. “It would have been a lot harder without Charlie’s blessing.”
The Stones know that they only have to ask for other global music stars to work with them. On Hackney Diamonds, Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder and even the band’s former bass player, Bill Wyman, contribute. The video for the first single released from the album, Angry, stars Euphoria actress Sydney Sweeney, who rides a red convertible down a Californian boulevard while mobile billboards featuring the young, mature, adult, and provocative Stones flash past. It is a song in the pure Rolling Stones style, with a chorus that immediately sticks in your head and an unmistakable guitar riff.
At the presentation, Jagger recalled his first press conference, in a London pub, more than 60 years earlier, to promote the Stones’ first album. It was just him and Richards. “We gave the album to the two journalists who showed up, and we said goodbye: ‘You’ll tell us what you think,’” he said with a laugh. “There were reviews for all tastes, but the album sold well.” It was far cry from the hype for the new album, which brought fans from all over the world hoping to catch a glimpse of the band. “I saw them for the first time in ‘82. Since then, I’ve been an unconditional fan,” said one who had been waiting outside the theater for hours.
The launch of the new album has been an ongoing game of hints and secrets. An advertisement published days ago, in the free local Hackney Gazette newspaper, talked about a glass repair store. The play on words in the text included several of the band’s most famous song titles, such as Satisfaction and Shattered. The telephone number included in the article led callers to an answering machine that provided clues to the surprise.
The Stones have maintained an intense touring rhythm in the 21st century and they continue to sell out stadiums worldwide. Immediately after the end of the coronavirus pandemic, and despite Watts’ death, the group resumed its No Filter U.S. tour in the fall of 2021, with Jordan on drums, and last year embarked on multiple performances across Europe with the Sixty tour, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the band’s formation.
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