Cream: Wheels of fire
28/09/10 || Daemonomania
It appears that Klit-sty and I are on a two man mission to teach all of you young bucks from whence ze metal arose. Smalley chipped in a Hendrix review or two, and maybe someone else did something, at some point, but yeah. Just me and DronerBroner, for the most part. Hails to us for being awesome.
As part of that continuing effort I bring you one of the foundational boulders of hard rock, metal, and asskicking in general – “Wheels of fucken fire”. It was the first double album to ever go platinum (shortly followed by “Ready to die”) via the first real-deal supergroup, power-trio, balls-to-the-wall, catty-poof bunch of blues and jazz-loving white guys. Cream was a source of inspiration for Zeppelin and Sabbath. I need say no more.
8. Creamsoda have often been accused of writing “filler” amidst their hits, and I can see where that complaint comes from. Every album has a whimsical track or two that could be considered throw-aways if they weren’t so funny. On WoF “Pressed rat and warthog”, the woeful tale of two anthropomorphized shopowners, certainly fits the filler bill. Though I often skip it, the horn part in the background is catchy. But it brings down the songwriting score slightly. Also injuring the tally is the endless drum solo “Toad” on the live section of the double album. Can you really call improvisation songwriting? Maybe not, but listening to Ginger Baker pound away on his kit for close to 16 minutes straight is not my idea of a good time. The live version of “Spoonful” also tests my patience, and “Train time” isn’t winning any awards either. I’m not much of a concert performance on disc type of guy though, so your results may vary.
Back to the studio portion. There are three different kinds of songs here – your rolling blues number (like “Sitting on top of the world”), your druggie spack rock number (like “Passing the time”), and your interestingly progressive number (like “Those were the days”). These three varieties don’t necessarily blend and it doesn’t lend much continuity to WoF. But they’re all aeternal songs in their own special way.
9. A spiffy job done on the “studio” side, that’s for sure. As with most albums of aeons past, it has probably been remastered to fit my screen. Everything sounds very crisp, and since it is only three dudes the bass stands out bigtime. The grand crashing interludes in “White Room” are appropriately thunderous. The vocal effects in “As you said” sound lush and creepy. And the heavier songs like “Born under a bad sign” have the right amount of grit, swagger, and low end. On the live disc? Does the job I guess.
10. You may have heard of this guy. His name is Eric Clapton. Someone spray painted “Clapton is C.H.U.D.” in London somewhere in the 1430’s. People freaked the fuck out. Nonsense aside, before becoming a tame acoustic blueswuss the Clapster was changing the way we think about rock and roll guitar. When Hendrix seeks you out because HE’S a fan – sure sign you da man. His use of the wah pedal on WoF is rad – nothing quite comparable to “Tales of brave Ulysses” but still top shelf tits. In my list of all-time greatest solos, the barnburning rock-out capping off “White Room” comes out on top. Duder cooks like he’s got a grillfull of juicy meat products.
7.5. Jack Bruce has an odd voice. High pitched with a bit of a croon thing going on. Sometimes he sounds super. On the live disc he frequently sounds like complete shit. Is studio trickery involved? I listened to a Bruce solo album and he sounded crappy again. So maybe. Anyway his vocals are an acquired taste. Jack-O does a good job of conveying desperation in “Deserted cities…”, sneering corruption in “Politician”, and Celtic mysticism (eh?) in “As you said”. But the Queen will never favour him above Robert Plant. Curses!
Oh, and Clapton chips in some vox now and again, most notably on the live version of “Crossroads”. I’ve never been too enthralled with EC’s voice – best he ever did was lusting for someone else’s wife in “Bellbottom blues”.
9. Bruce may be a whiny biatch today, but the man sure could lay down a heavy fucking bassline. Just listen to “Born under a bad sign” or “Politician”. When there are only three fuzzy Englishmen in the band, you gotta hold yer own. He not only holds but also grabs at a new dimension of heavy. Next to the lighter guitars his bass sounds fat and mean. Fun fact: Did you know that in a previous band Ginger Baker kicked Jack Bruce out at knifepoint? Damn, Wikipedia can make anyone sound smart.
8. Baker was one crazy fucker. If I’m not mistaken he was the inspiration for the Animal character from the Muppets. While he’s not a double bass destruction unit, there’s no doubt the man has a lot of power. Imagine getting one of those irritating improv jazz drummer douches drunk as hell then peppering his wounded psyche with the best your mom jokes of all time. Of course he’s chained to the drum stool. The intoxicated douche begins to get angrier and angrier, setting forth his fury upon the kit and puking constantly. Just like that. There are times when Baker is content to lay down the backing beat. Yet for all of you drumnuts out there, the song “Toad” is one long unhinged Baker wankfest. Perhaps you will touch your privates to his prowess. For me: taxi.
8.5. I think some of the lyrical content came from a British poet guy named Pete Brown, who also helped with the songwriting. Could be wrong. Can’t award many points for singing someone else’s lyrics in the straight blues cover songs, but the words to “White room” make the sadsack event of getting dumped and running into the woman again later into an epic story. The image of yellow tigers crouching in jungles in a woman’s dark eyes is one I’ll always remember. “Passing the time” is already a weird track without lyrics about a woman staying at home waiting for somebody while drinking red wine and watching her kids. “Those were the days”, “As you said”, and “Deserted cities of the heart” are fantastical journeys into the center of your mind… mannnnnn. Already talked about “Pressed rat…”. “Politician” has some good lyrics too. It talks about slimy spineless government officials who divide their time between seducing women and changing their stance to fit the current popular mood. Much like me, minus the seduction part.
4. Some sort of cartoon cloud thing. Not very convincing, but maybe this is important or symbolic in some way. Got me. Looks pretty fucken dumb. A more representative album cover would have featured Mississippi John Hurt wearing armor and a shield emblazoned with a pressed rat. Marching toward a magic city while breaking up with a chick. That would have been grand indeed. Sadly, this cover won some sort of art award in 1969, not the cover I just made up. Is there no justice on this earth?
1. The most classic of classic bands weren’t really into the whole logo operation. Therefore the band name is part of the same cloud theme as the rest of the album cover. Again, pretty fucken dumb.
? I forget what’s in the booklet. It has been a long time. Maybe that alternate album cover of mine is illustrated in loving detail? Maybe a picture of Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker having a “Beat it” style 80’s knife fight while Clapton tries to pry them apart? Nah, then I would still have it somewhere. Most likely the booklet is just some boring trivia and track listings and shit.
Overall and ending rant
To know the future, you must know the past. Wax on, whack off. I Ching. For those who want to have a rounded, balanced metal collection that encompasses the genre’s roots as well as its present, you’re gonna need to pick up some stuff from the 60’s and 70’s. It won’t take intensive repeated listens to realize that the attitude and style were in place for evil music to be born long before Satan spawned upstream and birthed it. “Wheels of fire”, aside from being an sweet album, absolutely reeks of prenatal heaviness. Buy a copy and I guarantee you will rock out. Whether or not your cock springs out is up to you. And for the ladies, jamming out with your clam out is, again, optional. Those damn hippies were always getting naked, so exposing yourself while blasting Cream probably makes perfect sense. Do it. Do it now!
- Released: 1968
- Label: Atco
- Website: (This is so old the Internet is afraid of it)
- Jack Bruce: vocals, bass
- Eric Clapton: guitars
- Ginger Baker: drums
- 01. White room
- 02. Sitting on top of the world
- 03. Passing the time
- 04. As you said
- 05. Pressed rat and warthog
- 06. Politician
- 07. Those were the days
- 08. Born under a bad sign
- 09. Deserted cities of the heart
- 01. Crossroads
- 02. Spoonful
- 03. Traintime
- 04. Toad