29 Years Later, The Rolling Stones Have Turned Me Into My Dad
— BOB STRONG/AFP/Getty Images
When my late father was 42, The Rolling Stones were an old band. In the year 1994, the Stones had been around long enough (exactly thirty years) to be a parody of themselves, so much so, that a 13-year-old had been putting his hands on his hips, doing those over-the-top Mick Jagger impressions since before he could remember. That child was me, and in 1994, the single “Love Is Strong,” was released to promote the new Stones album Voodoo Lounge. Fast forward to October 2023, I’ve just turned 42, and the Stones have a catchy new single “Angry” which heralded their new album, Hackney Diamonds. Right now, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are 80 and 79 respectively, meaning they were both in their fifties in 1994. So, they were also older than my dad, then.
What the hell is happening. How are The Rolling Stones dropping yet another comeback album, with a lead single that is, quite literally, a remake of all of their existing songs ever? Have we all been engulfed in such a strong temporal spacetime paradox that The Rolling Stones are now transforming contemporary dads into our actual dads? In Back to the Future, Marty McFly loves the music of Chuck Berry, which is, arguably, cool music from his parents’ generation. Hilariously, though Marty plays “Johnny B. Goode” in 1955, three years before it actually came out. Marty is from the 80s, so this means that he creates a retro rock track that is both from the past and future simultaneously. But this Rolling Stones ouroboros is weirder.
The existence of a new Rolling Stones album in 2023 is an outrageous paradox that demands we start thinking about nostalgia differently. Are the Stones running on nostalgia fuel for their heyday in the ’60s and ‘70s, appealing to people who are grandfathers? Or is this album, actually, for people my age? And if so, I just want to say, I feel too young for Rolling Stones nostalgia bait! Marty and his parents liked some of the same music and some different music, but Rolling Stones comeback albums in 1994 and 2023, just feel like the visual joke where Doc doesn’t look any different from 1955 to 1985 to 2015. That’s what’s happened with The Stones. They’re just Doc, and they’re at every point in the timeline, acting exactly the same.
Anybody who owns more than 10 albums on vinyl will tell you that the thing about the Stones is that they never really evolved. They have different influences, but compared to say, the brief period that The Beatles made albums, the sonic goals of The Stones are essentially the same now as they were in 1964. But, what has slowly happened to The Stones over the years is that what were once legitimately edgy songs are now played in grocery stores and coffee shops. We’re all totally desensitized to the chorus of “Gimme Shelter” when we’re looking at organic fruit at the farmer’s market or whatever, and “Sympathy For the Devil,” is something I let my own 6-year-old listen to all the time. Hey it’s a history lesson, right?
So, when Mick Jagger uses the word “b*tich,” on the new track “Bite My Head Off,” it doesn’t really feel shocking. Or to put it another way, it feels a little shocking but not in the way Mick and the boys probably intend. The Rolling Stones trying to be edgy or hardcore, is perhaps, a bit aspirational for dads of a certain age, people who are now the same age as our own Stones-loving dads. Yes, I have driven around in my Subura blasting the new Stones lick “Angry,” and yes that is what this song is for: For dads to play and sort of imagine they have the same pirate-like moxie of Keith Richards. In fact, I’d argue that as a play-in-your-car while-driving-around-doing-errands-by-yourself-album, Hackney Diamonds is a “good” record. But, as critic Steven Hyden argues on Uproxx, it’s not really fair to say this is their best record since 1981’s Tattoo You, because that ignores a ton of decent late-period Stones records. (Including Voodoo Lounge!) And also, people are saying that because that’s a thing people say when the Stones have a new album out, which, apparently, is just at thing that’s been happening since before I was born.
So, despite many of the rave reviews that Hackney Diamonds is getting right now, most of that hype won’t match up with your experience of listening to the album back-to-front. Sure, “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” — which finds Lady Gaga dueting with Mick — is a good throwback track, and is solid enough to put on your deep-cut Stones playlists. But, you know, next year, the 2004 Mick Jagger/Dave Stewart song “Old Habits Die Hard,” will be twenty years old. That song — written for the remake of the movie Alfie starring Jude Law — won an Oscar. It’s not technically a Rolling Stones song, but Mick Jagger did sing it like a Stones song, and I think we can all agree that it’s both a great track and also kinda terrible in an obvious sell-outy kind of way.
This is what I’m thinking about when I’m listening to Hackney Diamonds. I’m wondering if “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” is better than the Jude Law Alfie song, and I think the answer is a qualified yes. But, I’m also wondering if “Angry” is really better than “Love Is Strong,” and I think the answer is a hard no. Both songs feature music videos that go very, very big. Literally. In the video for “Angry,” Sydney Sweeney is driving around the top of a car looking at massive AI-generated billboards featuring time-traveling versions of the Stones from the past, all larger-than-life. But, in 1994’s “Love Is Strong,” the Stones, and various hot people of all genders, are just literal giants, walking around New York City like human versions of Godzilla or King Kong. “Love Is Strong” is pretty f*cking good, almost thirty years later, and there’s a sly confidence to the track, even though in 1994 The Rolling Stones were total has-beens. If I have to pick my Stones comeback single that nobody really likes, I guess I’ll have to pick that one, because that was my generation’s washed-up late-era Stones track.
In 1994, the idea of The Rolling Stones was that they were giants, still wielding their ‘60s cred because we really loved the ‘60s in the ‘90s. But, now in 2023, the idea of The Rolling Stones is simply that they are immortal, which, as we all know, just means that at a certain point, the decades feel meaningless, and we’ve all been experiencing the same perpetual comeback as our fathers. Don’t get angry with the Stones for this. They’ll be here long after we’re gone.