LONDON — The Rolling Stones are back, and they've brought a few famous friends.
“Hackney Diamonds,” the band's first album of new songs in 18 years, features guest appearances from the likes of Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. Poignantly, it also features Charlie Watts, the stalwart Stones drummer who died in 2021 after almost six decades in the band. His drumming, recorded in 2019, features on two of the album's dozen tracks, with Steve Jordan playing on the rest.
Watts' absence lent a wistful note to the excitement of surviving Stones Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood when they came to east London’s Hackney district on Wednesday to unveil the new album and announce its release date: Oct. 20.
Of Watts, Richards said: “Of course he’s missed incredibly. But thanks to Charlie we have Steve Jordan, who was his recommendation if anything should happen to him.”
“It would have been a lot harder without Charlie’s blessing," he said.
The album reveal was executed with the swaggering showmanship the Stones are famous for. It followed a cryptic teaser campaign, in which a glittery, jagged version of the band’s iconic mouth and tongue logo was projected onto the façade of landmarks in cities around the world, including New York, London and Paris.
Hard-core fans lined up in a heatwave outside the Hackney Empire, where the band members were interviewed onstage by “The Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon in front of dozens of sweltering journalists and a global online audience.
Inside the ornate former Edwardian musical hall where Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel once performed, Jagger, 80, Richards, 79 and Wood, 76 gave details of the Stones’ first studio album of new songs since “A Bigger Bang” in 2005. The band released a set of blues covers, “Blue & Lonesome,” in 2016.
The lead single is called “Angry,” but Jagger said not all the songs are furious. The album also contains “love songs, ballads, country-type” sounds, he said.
Recorded in December and January at studios around the world, the album sees the Stones team up with Grammy-winning producer Andrew Watt, who helped assemble the starry guest list, which also includes former Stone Bill Wyman.
Jagger said Lady Gaga — who sings on "Sweet Sound of Heaven" — was recording in a next-door studio while the Stones were in Los Angeles and ended up on the album after she popped in to say hello.
“She walked in next to me and we started singing together,” Jagger told the Associated Press backstage. "She sang it live and then we went in and tidied it up a bit.”
The band screened the video for “Angry,” which has a classic mid-tempo crunchy Stones sound. The clip features “Euphoria” star Sydney Sweeney, shown cruising LA’s Sunset Boulevard in a red convertible, past billboards of the Stones from various eras.
As to why the band waited almost two decades between albums, Richards said the timing was largely down to Jagger.
“When you have a singer that wants to sing, you grab him and throw him in the studio,” Richards told the AP. He said when they did get in the studio, the songs tumbled out with “energy and urgency."
Jagger joked that the long gap between albums was due to laziness.
“I don’t want to be big-headed but we wouldn’t have put this album out if we hadn’t really liked it,” he said. “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.”
“Hackney Diamonds” is a slang term for shattered glass, and the band also teased fans with an ad in the local Hackney Gazette newspaper for a fictional glass repair business: “When you say gimme shelter, we’ll fix your shattered windows.”
Jagger said the phrase evoked “when you get your windscreen broken on Saturday night in Hackney and all the bits go on the street.”
Richards said the band hit upon the title after “flinging ideas around the table, and we went from ‘Hit and Run,' ‘Smash and Grab’ — and somehow between that we came up with 'Hackney Diamonds.'"
It was fitting, he said, because the Stones are a London band — though none of the members hails from Hackney.
Brazilian fan Taric Fioravanti, from Sao Paulo, was one of many who lined up to get a glimpse of the band.
“I love these guys,” he said. “Keith Richards is one of the biggest guitar heroes in the history of rock music.
”(And) they’re 80 years old. Most bands have stopped making new music” by that age, he said.
Founded in 1962, the Stones show no signs of planning to retire. The band played a 60th-anniversary tour of Europe in 2022, and Wood said they had an American tour “penciled in” for next year.
Wood said retirement would be “impossible.”
“You’ve got to keep playing," he said.