The Rolling Stones – Steel Wheels

Steel Wheels (1989)


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


Woof. If this is a comeback album, then Jesus came back on that dude’s toast. Yeah, I guess it technically counts as the return of the Stones after the mid-80s period of turmoil dubbed “World War III” by Keith. The Dirty Work-era squabbling effectively broke up the band for a couple of years, during which time the individual Stones worked on solo material – some good (Keith’s Talk Is Cheap album), some among the most comically awful music in the history of earth (keep skipping down that highway, Mick! And maybe by the time you get to the end of it, some of your obscene wealth will have trickled down to all those lazy welfare queens! Oh shit, did that little girl just get hit by a car?). But fences were mended, hatchets were buried, and in 1989, Mick and Keith gathered the now well-wrinkled troops just in time to hit the studio for a few weeks to give them a decent excuse to launch a glitzy mega tour and make a bajillion dollars. One might’ve certainly hoped that the dawning of a new chapter in their careers might’ve inspired the Glimmer Twins to recharge their creative batteries, but, alas, they sound less inspired than ever. Yes, in terms of competence and effort, Steel Wheels is veritable miles above the shit-filled valley that is Dirty Work. But, filled to the brim—52 freaking minutes worth—with soulless, slick corporate arena rock, Wheels is hardly anything to get excited about.

I barely even want to talk about this album at all. It’s boring, it goes on forever, and nearly every song is an inferior rehash of something the Stones used to kick ass at. I suppose a shallow Stones fan might be comforted by this stuff if superficial familiarity is all he or she or it craves… like, if you really love “Miss You,” when “Terrifying” comes on you might be like, “Hey, the Stones doing another sexy disco song! Neat!” But then five minutes pass and you realize the song was based on about half an idea, goes absolutely nowhere, and the only reason you might be fooled into thinking it’s worthy of the Stones’ late-70s dance tracks is because Mick Jagger is singing. The other attempts at genre hopping are even worse… “Blinded By Love” is a limp-dicked, vaguely country ballad, and don’t even get me started on “Continental Drift.” The Stones do world music! And sound completely ridiculous doing it! There is a bit of back-story to it… in 1967, Brian Jones traveled to Morocco and recorded a bunch of indigenous musicians there. So 20 years later, the Stones decided to pay a long overdue homage to their felled blonde bandmate by gathering up those same Moroccans and having them play on the song. Who knows – maybe Brian could’ve improved it with a well-placed sitar line. Or they could’ve just not written it. Satanic Majesties, this album is not.

Indeed, Wheels is about as generic as it gets for the Stones. If you want anything that will stick in your head for more than five minutes, you have no choice but to turn to the singles. “Almost Hear You Sigh,” a soulful “Beast Of Burden”-esque ballad, has that unmistakable overproduced, adult-friendly late 80s sheen to it, but at least it feels like it’s coming from a place of honest emotion rather than a StonesTron89 robot programmed to come up with generic Rolling Stones songs. Lead single “Mixed Emotions” is a pretty decent melodic rocker, even though it doesn’t have a riff (man, does Keith play a single memorable riff on this entire fucking thing? Did he just focus all his energy on his quite nice closing ballad “Slipping Away” and let Mick write the entire rest of the album?). The second single was “Rock And A Hard Place,” which is as least catchy, but in a more annoying than enjoyable way like “Emotions”… and again, it goes on for way too goddamned long. Why the hell does it have to be five and a half minutes long? All these songs just go on forever and go absolutely nowhere… pretty much the only track that that gets in, does its business and gets out in a legitimately economical manner is the exceedingly generic, but catchy, rocker “Sad Sad Sad,” which probably wouldn’t have cracked the tracklist of Undercover but here is a highlight.

Man, I don’t know. This is one bummer of an album. It’s so relentlessly professional that it’s rarely outright offensive, and there isn’t anything (aside from “Continental Drift”) that comes close to being a suck job on the level of Dirty Work. But let’s imagine Stones albums as burgers – if Dirty Work was a moldy, maggot-infested slob of month-old meat you found in a dumpster, Steel Wheels is a freshly made Whopper from Burger King. At first it might seem like a refreshing reprieve from the slime you had previously ingested, but by the time you’ve taken a few bites you start to realize just how disgusting it is. How it’s just a pale imitation of a real burger. Steel Wheels is a pale imitation of the real Rolling Stones. A useless entry into their catalog.

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