Rock and a Hard Place (9/9/89) #23 US, #63 UK, #1 AR
Sad, Sad, Sad (9/9/89) #14 AR
Terrifying (9/23/89) #8 AR
Almost Hear You Sigh (1/20/90) #50 US, #31 UK, #1 AR
The Rolling Stones
“The Stones, or more accurately the relationship between Mick and Keith, imploded shortly after Dirty Work, resulting in Mick delivering a nearly unbearably mannered, ambitious solo effort that stiffed and Keith knocking out the greatest Stones album since Tattoo You, something that satisfied the cult but wasn't a hit. Clearly, they were worth more together than they were apart, so it was time for the reunion, and that's what Steel Wheels is -- a self-styled, reunion album. It often feels as if they sat down and decided exactly what their audience wanted from a Stones album, and they deliver a record that gives the people what they want, whether it's Tattoo You-styled rockers, ballads in the vein of "Fool to Cry," even a touch of old-fashioned experimentalism with "Continental Drift." Being professionals, in the business for over two-and-a-half decades, and being a band that always favored calculation, they wear all this well, even if this lacks the vigor and menace that fuels the best singles; after all, the rocking singles ("Sad Sad Sad," "Rock and a Hard Place," "Mixed Emotions") wind up being smoked by such throwaways as "Hold on to Your Hat." Even though it's just 12 songs, the record feels a little long, largely due to its lack of surprises and unabashed calculation (the jams are slicked up so much they don't have the visceral power of the jam record, Black and Blue). Still, the Stones sound good, and Mick and Keith both get off a killer ballad apiece with "Almost Hear You Sigh" and "Slipping Away," respectively. It doesn't make for a great Stones album, but it's not bad, and it feels like a comeback -- which it was supposed to, after all” (Erlewine).
“20-plus years after "Satisfaction" the Rolling Stones were still at it, pumping out gritty rock and roll and playing to huge, adoring crowds. Later records sound fuller, the production a bit cleaner, but the Stones still sound like the Stones. Steel Wheels, released in 1989, was the first studio album by the band since 1986's Dirty Work. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had put out solo records in 1987 and 1988 respectively, and the reformed band got back into the studio for a record they would launch a massive world tour to support. It was the last studio effort upon which original bassist Bill Wyman would play. The album yielded two strong singles, "Mixed Emotions," which is buoyed by one of the stronger choruses of late-era Stones, and the nasty rocker "Rock and a Hard Place." Beginning with the line "The fields of Eden are full of trash," the song seems a genuine gesture of empathy for victims of a callous world. "Continental Drift" is the album's most unusual track, a powerful, Middle-Eastern-tinged number with "African instruments" played by the legendary Master Musicians of Jajouka. On the country-flavored "Blinded By Love," the Stones' show their long-standing appreciation for rootsy American music” (CdUniverse.com).
“Nothing reinvigorates Sixties icons like having something to prove. In the past few years the reverence typically shown…the Rolling Stones…has worn perilously thin. The Stones' last two albums, Undercover and Dirty Work – not to mention Mick Jagger's solo recordings – ranged from bad to ordinary, and Keith Richards's bitter public baiting of Jagger suggested that this particular twain might never again productively meet” (DeCurtis).
“Now, in the summit of love of the past, the Stones…have weighed in with albums that signal renewed conviction and reactivated sense of purpose. Steel Wheels rocks with a fervor that renders the Stones' North American tour an enticing prospect indeed…The Stones have made [a] vital album of, for and about their time” (DeCurtis).
“It's not hard to read "Mixed Emotions," the most assured Stones single since "Start Me Up," as Jagger's measured, characteristically pragmatic – and guardedly conciliatory – reply to the verbal pounding he took in the round of interviews Richards gave after the guitarist released his solo album, Talk Is Cheap, last year. "Button your lip baby," counsels Jagger over a swinging guitar groove in the song's opening line, before offering to "bury the hatchet/Wipe out the past." In a bid for some understanding from his band mate, Jagger sings, "You're not the only one/With mixed emotions/You're not the only one/That's feeling lonesome” (DeCurtis).
“The feral rocker "Hold On to Your Hat" seems to sketch some of the problems of excess that threatened to drive Jagger out of the Stones. "We'll never make it," Jagger sings angrily, as Richards unleashes a flamethrower riff. "Don't you fake it/You're getting loaded/I'm getting goaded." Never to be outdone, Richards ends the album on a lovely, elegiac note with his ballad "Slipping Away," about his own brand of mixed emotions. "All I want is ecstasy/But I ain't getting much/Just getting off on misery," the Glimmer Twins harmonize on the song's chorus, and then Richards returns to sing the concluding verse. "Well it's just another song," he sings. "But it's slipping away” (DeCurtis).
“Jagger's and Richards's conflicting emotions fuel full-tilt rock & roll on "Sad Sad Sad" and "Rock and a Hard Place," while "Continental Drift," with its north-African feel, and the elegant "Blinded by Love" extend the Stones' musical reach further than it has gone in some time. Jagger miraculously avoids camp posturing in his singing, and the rest of the band – Richards, Ron Wood, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts, augmented by keyboardists Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford, a horn section and backup singers – plays with an ensemble flair more redolent of the stage than the studio. Jagger, Richards and their coproducer, Chris Kimsey, strike an appropriate balance between upto-date recording sheen and the Stones' inspired sloppiness” (DeCurtis).
“All the ambivalence, recriminations, attempted rapprochement and psychological one-upmanship evident on Steel Wheels testify that the Stones are right in the element that has historically spawned their best music – a murky, dangerously charged environment in which nothing is merely what it seems. Against all odds, and at this late date, the Stones have once again generated an album that will have the world dancing to deeply troubling, unresolved emotions.
The Rolling Stones… carry the burden of their own history; the question of how a rock & roll band can carry its music into adulthood is part of the struggle that nearly broke the band up” (DeCurtis).
“But fans have a right to their desires, too, and frequently an artist's defensiveness about the narrowness of audience taste is really a response to work even the artist fears is second-rate. The best defense of exacting audience demands is the straightforward fact that these great expectations derive from the artist's own work. Another is that those demands are sometimes met by work that is both challenging and satisfying – as [this] splendid new album proves” (DeCurtis).