Miracles do happen, even in the land of the Stones. The boys managed to patch things up, record an album and embark on an ambitious, expensive tour. Some concessions were obviously made: Keith would call the shots for the music, while Mick could handle the promotion. This arrangement was set in place on Steel Wheels.
Right away it’s an improvement over the last couple of albums. “Sad Sad Sad” opens with a blast of guitar, and doesn’t let up on “Mick’s Emotions” (sorry, “Mixed Emotions”), an excellent choice for the first single. They get a little funky without embarrassing themselves on “Terrifying”, but turn it up again on the blazing “Hold On To Your Hat”. “Hearts For Sale” isn’t very memorable, but “Blinded By Love” stands out despite the stupid history lesson, thanks to its gentler sound, reminiscent of their country experiments.
More social commentary appears on “Rock And A Hard Place”, which at least has plenty of guitars but also spawned about 25 dance remixes. “Can’t Be Seen” begins with one of the least Keith-like intros in their catalog, but at least he gets to yell his heart out fresh off his solo tour. Speaking of which, the co-writing credit for Steve Jordan on “Almost Hear You Sigh” suggests that it was a leftover from Talk Is Cheap. Whatever its history, it’s still an excellent slow jam in line with “Beast Of Burden”. A belated nod to Brian Jones comes on “Continental Drift”, a “world music” track where the boys are accompanied by the Master Musicians of Jajouka. It’s an ambitious experiment, and luckily “Break The Spell” does just that with a Chicago blues beat. Once again Keith gets the last word on “Slipping Away”, another in a long series of classics in the spirit of “All About You”, “Coming Down Again” and “Sleep Tonight”.
The excitement over Steel Wheels didn’t last past the tour, but at least they were trying. The album didn’t stink, and doesn’t sound ‘80s-dated two decades on. For that alone, fans could breath a sigh of relief while selling their kidneys to cover the cost of concert seats.
Rolling Stones Steel Wheels (1989)—3