July 16, 2009
Stealers Wheel | Stealers Wheel
1972 | A&M
Once considered the British equivalent to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Stealers Wheel are, perhaps unfortunately, now known almost solely for their 1972 classic, “Stuck In The Middle.” The reboot of “cool” that song gained after its inclusion in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs didn’t extend to the band itself, the Scottish duo of Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan. But “Stuck in the Middle” belies the easy cool that overflows from their eponymous debut.
Stealers Wheel were formed in Paisley, Renfrewshire in 1972 by a street performer (Rafferty) and a session musician (Egan). Maybe it’s these former professions (both jobs require a broad spectrum of musical abilities) that’s at work in making Stealers Wheel such a charmingly eclectic album. Opener “Late Again” sounds like Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” after a bag of mushrooms, full of blissed-out major chords. “I wonder why I stay when everybody’s gone away/ There’s always something there that keeps me hanging on,” is a hell of a lot more positive an outlook than the bleak England portrayed in Floyd’s mid-70s output, though.
“Stuck In the Middle” sounds like the Sir Douglas Quintet hanging out on the porch, sharing songs with Gram Parsons. “Another Meaning” sounds like “Wild Horses” reinterpreted by Moby Grape’s Skip Spence. From there, Stealers Wheel dabble into “Lola”-era Kinks power pop (“I Get By”), grandiose Queen-style rockers (“Johnny’s Song”) and relaxed balladry (“Next To Me”). The whole thing is whimsical and psychedelic, as though you’re listening in a constantly mind-altered haze. It’s a feat that Egan and Rafferty were able to make an album that sounds like a compilation of ten different artists; as if each time they sat down to write a song, the duo just picked a genre out of a hat. Stealers Wheel is an unexpectedly lively and compelling listen, to be sure.
It’s too bad, though, that there’s just nothing else on Stealers Wheel quite as catchy and memorable as “Stuck In the Middle.” While it is cool that Egan and Rafferty never quite settle on a genre, them never finding a groove deters the album’s memorability. Even now, after just re-listening to the album, nothing except “Stuck In The Middle” feels ingrained into my memory, or could be something I’d eventually know by heart. I guess, I would give Stealers Wheel an A for the groovy fun and a C for memorability, averaging into a solid B. Not bad, but not something you want to tape to the fridge, either.
by Brook Pridemore