Saturday, 2 June 2018

Cream - Wheels Of Fire (1968)

  

Released August 1968

Recorded in San Francisco

Released in 1968 as a double album, containing a studio album and a live album, this was Cream’s third outing. Like all their albums, it contains some copper-bottomed classic blues rock and also some base metal-bottomed indulgent dross.

The studio album kicks off with the powerful beast that is “White Room” and the quality powerful blues rock continues with “Sitting On Top Of The World”. “Passing The Time” starts well before morphing into a passage of string orchestrated (cello?) trippy reflective music before the heavy riffs kick in again. Finally the hippy passage returns for the end part. All good, but very representative of its time. Many people love “As You Said”, viewing it as an underrated Cream rarity. I can see why, it does have a appeal. I am sure Led Zeppelin “borrowed” parts of the acoustic riff for one of their tracks on “Led Zeppelin III”, although I can’t think which one. Got it. “Friends”. The cello is used again by Jack Bruce, as well as various guitars. There is a bit of a crackling noise still audible on the track, but it is still haunting and quite addictive, begging many listens.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. “Pressed Rat And Warthog” is drivel of the highest order. This is the dross on this album. Fortunately it ends there and the quality returns.

“Politician” is another excellent bluesy rocker, lyrically cynical and vocally menacing. The late sixties questioning of politicians and their motives are firmly expressed here. “Those Were The Days” is both heavy and light at times, both melodic and brutal. Conceptually interesting though. It does suffer from some uncorrectable sound dropouts in places though. “Born Under A Bad Sign” is a convincing blues cover with, as one would expect, some exhilarating guitar from Eric Clapton. “Deserted Cities Of The Heart” is a stirring piece of late 60s rock, strings, acoustic guitar, lead guitar and bass all merging together with some “dreamy” possibly pretentious lyrics to great effect. Clapton’s guitar at two minutes in with some ambient keyboards in the background is a great moment. The drums on this track are mesmerising too.

The live stuff is varying. “Crossroads” is great and “Spoonful” has its moments, but at 16 minutes it is way too long. “Traintime” is shorter but not as good, with a bit too much harmonica indulgence for my taste, (although it does grow on you) while “Toad” is 16 more minutes, this time of Ginger Baker’s drum solo (the curse of the late 60s/early 70s). I don’t care how good a drummer he is, this is an indulgent, tedious waste of time. The sound quality on it is excellent, though, particularly when listened to close up.

Overall, though, it is a more than acceptable album, but as I said before, very much of its time.

B-

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