Tuesday, 31 July 2018

The Rolling Stones - Steel Wheels (1989)

The elephant's in the bedroom, throwing all his weight around....


Released August 1989

Recorded on Montserrat

Running time 53.03

Along with 1986's "Dirty Work", it is easy to dismiss this album as "execrable", as many, many journalists and fans have done over the subsequent years. Yes, it is has a synthesiser presence, as did work from many artists in the mid/late eighties, but, in my opinion, it is nowhere near as bad an album as so many have considered it to be. It is actually far superior to "Dirty Work".

The late eighties were, admittedly a dreadful, barren period for music, and this album suffers some of the drawbacks of coming from that era, but there is still some solid Stones rock on here.


1. Sad Sad Sad
2. Mixed Emotions
3. Terrifying
4. Hold On To Your Hat
5. Hearts For Sale
6. Blinded By Love
7. Rock And A Hard Place
8. Can't Be Seen
9. Almost Hear You Sigh
10. Continental Drift
11. Break The Spell
12. Slipping Away                                          

"Sad Sad Sad" is an excellent, riffy opener, while "Mixed Emotions" is a captivating rocker, some great backing riffs and, on the 2009 remaster, a big, throbbing bass sound. Conspiracy theorists claim the title is a subtle play on "Mick's demotion". Yeah, of course it is. Not. I love the line in "Sad Sad Sad" of "the elephant's in the bedroom, throwing all his weight about". Jagger is on revitalised vocal from on these tracks. He sounds totally rejuvenated. "Terrifying" has another killer bass line and a hypnotic intoxicating beat with one of those sleazy, menacing Jagger vocals, going on about "strange, strange desire...". Some nice brass at the end of it and some rhythmic drums from Charlie Watts. "Hold On To Your Hat" is a breakneck, slightly punky rocker that sounds a bit like it should have been on "Dirty Work". "Hearts For Sale" is a Jagger vocal-dominated mid-pace, intuitive rocker that I haven't heard for ages and I am quite enjoying discovering it again. Some excellent guitar and harmonica interplay comes in near the end. You know, this really isn't too bad an album.

A lilting, rich bass and fetching percussion introduce another Jagger, Latin/Elizabethan-style groove of a smoocher in "Blinded By Love", with him going all snake hips as he gavottes to it, no doubt. There are endearing country/acoustic twinges to the song too. One of the better, undiscovered tracks from the album. Songs like these are never played live, which is a shame. It is current trend, utilised by Bruce Springsteen a lot, to play old albums in their entirety. I reckon it would be good to hear The Stones do so with albums like this. A typical Stones grinding riff and rubber band bass give us the rocking "Rock And A Hard Place". This was a single and a good one it was too. Keith Richards' "Can't Be Seen" is a appealing, upbeat Keith song, it would have sounded great on "Talk Is Cheap", but it is ok here and considerably ballsier than some of his more wheezing ballads that cropped up with increasing regularity on latter-day Stones albums.

"Almost Hear You Sigh" was a leftover from Richards' "Talk Is Cheap" sessions, but here  is sung, and convincingly too, by Jagger. It does beg the question that all those "Keith songs" would have been better served by Jagger's vocals. Certainly the latter era ones. Not so much the earlier "I Got The Silver" blues ones. The song features some lovely acoustic guitar in the middle, Ronnie Wood, I think.

"Continental Drift" is the big surprise on the album - a lengthy song, with instrumental experimentation not heard in The Stones' material for many a year. Moroccan sub-Saharan musicians are used on the track, in true Brian Jones-inspired style. Many have said, rightly, that The Stones would have done a lot more stuff like this, had Jones lived. Best track on the album by a mile. The repeated line "love comes at the speed of light" would not have sounded out of place on "Satanic Majesties". "Break The Spell" is another revelatory track - a sort of grinding, upbeat, jazzy almost rockabilly meets the blues sort of thing - if that makes any sense whatsoever.  Either way, it is some speeded-up fun. Then we end, of course, with one of those Richards songs I mentioned earlier. Actually, despite that, I quite like "Slipping Away". It has a gentle tenderness to it. All in all, a much better, more enjoyable album than it is ever given credit for being.


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