The arrangements are stunning throughout...
Daryl Easlea 2007-04-17
Recorded between July 1967 and April 1968 at Atlantic Studios in New York and live at Winterland and Fillmore West, Wheels Of Fire is the apotheosis of Cream. With one disc live and the other in the studio, you gain unparalleled insight to their strengths – the ornate studio productions of Felix Pappalardi, which kept the band lean and focused; alongside the unedited grandstanding of their live performance.
On the studio set, although with their roots very strongly in the blues (their playing and sensibilities were steeped in it), this really was rock music. The power trio format is heard at its greatest on lead track, Jack Bruce and Pete Brown's "White Room". Never were the three players so perfectly harnessed – Eric Clapton's scorching lead over Bruce and Ginger Baker's watertight rhythm section. The arrangements are stunning throughout – from folk to metal with instrumentation such as cello and recorder. However, Ginger Baker's contributions range from the great – "Passing The Time" to the not so great – the Ian Dury presaging "Pressed Rat and Warthog."
There is no such focus on the live side – aside from the extraordinary, defining reading of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads", the lengthy cuts – including Baker's 16 minute drum solo, "Toad" – show just how excessive the group could be in demonstrating the players' very obvious virtuosity.
The album topped the charts in America and reached No.3 in the UK. Although 1967's Disraeli Gears may be more succinct appraisal of the group, Rolling Stone described the album as "the most representative slice of the Cream legacy," which is absolutely true.