Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Rolling Stones Steel Wheels (1989)


The music press must have been feeling pretty bad about spending the ’80s calling old rock bands dinosaurs, so they decided to make it up to them and dub 1989 as the year of the comeback. Thus, pretty much every album released that year by a middle-aged rock act was hailed as a return-to-form. I suppose some of those “comebacks” might have been legitimate, but I certainly wouldn’t put The Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels in that category.

Without a doubt, Steel Wheels is one the weakest albums they’ve ever released. Not that it makes a terrible listen; it’s definitely more consistent and enjoyable than Undercover and Dirty Work. On the other hand, this album sounds like it could have been released by pretty much anyone. I mean, how many ultra-polished retro hard-rock acts were out there in the late ’80s? Answer: Five billion.

I wouldn’t have particularly minded The Stones jumping on that bandwagon if only these songs were a little more distinctive. Unfortunately, these are some of the most toothless songs they’ve ever released. Take the album opener “Sad Sad Sad.” It certainly sounds nice with its well-mixed guitars, stadium drums, and boisterous lead vocals from Jagger, but where’s everything that made The Rolling Stones awesome? The riff is OK, but forgettable, and why does the chorus sound so much like any old clone from the radio? It makes a perfectly fine listen, but it’s terribly generic. I’ve accused The Rolling Stones of sucking in the past, but this is the first time I threw the term “generic” at them.

It gets even worse later on in the album. “Mixed Emotions” has such similar instrumentation to “Sad Sad Sad” that you’d might as well call them the same song. “Hearts For Sale” not only has a crappy song title, but it’s also sounds EXACTLY THE SAME. Do you remember that song by some teenaged girl’s dad sang that was called “Achy Breaky Heart?” These songs are better versions of that.

This is such a screwed up album that the album seems to get worse whenever they try to grit things up. “Hold Onto Your Hat” is a quick-paced blues rocker, but the fuzzier and squeakier guitars sound like crap, and Jagger’s ultra-guttural performance almost recalls his purposeful butchering of Dirty Work. Speaking of crappy guitars, I’m very disappointed at the lack of innovation in these solos. I mean, The Rolling Stones were still on top of the heap as far as their ability goes, but these solos sound like they were aimed directly at middle aged people wearing business suits who like to get drunk and pretend they’re rock ‘n’ roll fans. Blah.

Lucky, things get pretty good with “Terrifying,” which is not only an appealing hard-rock song, but it has a mightily toe-tapping bass groove to boot. The Rolling Stones’ instrumental performances throughout this album are boring and muzakish for the most part, but they came out of their comatose state to perform that one! My vote for the best song of the album is the Keith-Richards-led ballad “Slipping Away,” which has a tremendously sweet melody and an engaging atmosphere. Oh, if only they could have filled this album more with songs like that!

There’s a country ballad in here, too, called “Blinded By Love.” It’s better than 99 percent of country ballads you’ll hear on the radio (I know from experience), but that doesn’t excuse the fact that this is just a terribly dull experience. I have nothing else to say about that.

Interesting riffs are an unfortunate rarity in this album, but Keith finally comes up with a good one for “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” which comes very close to recapturing that old Rolling Stones glory. My main complaint about it, however, is, once again, it comes off too much like a toothless bar-rock song. Come on, guys! Stop pandering to people’s crappy tastes of 1989! That entire decade was a questionable idea to begin with! I’m also amused at their attempt to bring a little bit of Bollywood in their act with “Continental Drift.” That still manages to be a terribly sterile song, but at least it’s different. Hey, anything to get me away from the status quo!

March 23, 2013 - Posted by | The Rolling Stones Steel Wheels |

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