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The Rolling Stones burst back to life on Friday with “Hackney Diamonds”, their first album in 18 years, featuring megastar cameos from Elton John, Lady Gaga and even their old rival, Paul McCartney. Now in their seventh decade of making music together, the legendary British band is back with their 24th studio album. McCartney joins in for the first time, playing bass on the punky “Bite My Head Off”.

Back in their 1960s heyday, much was made of the rivalry between the Stones and the Beatles, but it was always more marketing than reality, with John Lennon singing on the Stones’ “We Love You” in 1967.

“Paul and I have always been friends,” Stones frontman Mick Jagger, 80, told France 2 this week. McCartney’s appearance was something of an accident, Keith Richards told Guitar Player magazine.

“He happened to be around and dropped by,” Richards said. “I don’t even think he intended to play bass on a track, but once he was in there, I just said, ‘Come on, you’re in. You ain’t leaving till you play.’”

While McCartney and Elton John’s contributions are somewhat hard to pick out, Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder make more of an impact on “Sweet Sounds of Heaven”, a blues-y ballad in the vein of classics such as “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

‘Hackneyed duds’

Reviews have been mostly polite rather than gushing. The Guardian gave it four stars, saying: “If this is the end, they’re going out with a bang”, while the LA Times called it “surprisingly spry, sparked by the deathless riffs”.

There has indeed been plenty of hype ahead of the release, with some saying it is their best piece of work since “Some Girls” in 1978. But others were deeply unimpressed by the sleek production from Andrew Watt, used to working with popstars like Justin Bieber and Dua Lipa.

“Hackney Diamonds” is old London slang for “broken glass”, but was used as a pun by Pitchfork, who called the album “a bunch of hackneyed duds, polished until the character has disappeared.”

No one is pretending it comes close to the legendary run between 1968 and 1972 that saw the release of “Beggars Banquet”, “Let It Bleed”, “Sticky Fingers” and “Exile on Main St.” in quick succession. Nor does it head in any new directions.

“The group seemed to concede years ago that, with such a legendary discography, new albums and attempts at new styles are almost superfluous,” wrote Variety. “(But) if there’s a better way to end the Rolling Stones 60-plus-year recording career, it’s hard to imagine what it could be,” it added. — AFP

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