The Rolling Stones - Steel Wheels
The Rolling Stones bounced back to form in 2023 with Hackney Diamonds. Way back in the 1980s, the album trail wasn’t looking so good for them. That may well be why this particular album, Steel Wheels, got more praise than it deserved when released in August 1989. It followed what was acknowledged to be a couple of poor albums, Undercover (1983) and Dirty Work (1986).
The other factor affecting the band significantly back then was the ongoing arguments and disagreements between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Part of the reason for those two disappointing albums. They eventually kissed and made up to a great extent, meeting up in Barbados with a focus on writing songs for Steel Wheels.
That worked in part, it was a decent range of new material for the album. The usual mix of up-tempo rock and slower-paced ballads. But when you look at the track listing as a whole it doesn’t quite stack up enough to be a great album. It's definitely front-loaded with the best songs early on and the quality tailing the further down you go.
Openers “Sad, Sad, Sad” and “Mixed Emotions” are the better tracks, with the latter of the two being the only one of four singles from the album to make the top ten in the US charts. Even then both songs have a very similar setup and arrangement. Other tracks follow a similar pattern. “Continental Drift” does stand out as quite different, a bit more experimental with a North African feel and instrumentation. Not necessarily different in a positive way though.
Steel Wheels was pretty successful, number 2 and gold in the UK, number three and double platinum in the US. Reviews on the whole were favourable, but after a couple of dud albums were the critics just pleased to see a more positive output? Perhaps some sympathy for the lead duo after their fallout. It’s nowhere near their best and probably low down on even a ranking of their average albums.