I’ve been a Rod Stewart fan for a long time. Jeff Beck wasn’t exaggerating when, on their second and last album together “Beck-ola” he described Rod’s position in the band as “vocals extordinaire”. Like everybody, I became a fan during his early years when he was on the Mercury label. His albums, beginning with “The Rod Stewart Album” (his solo debut after leaving the Jeff Beck Group) through “Smiler” are some of the best of not only his career but in rock and roll as a whole. Of course during that period he was also lead singer of the criminally underrated band The Faces. He’d release a solo album and a Faces album every year, the first artist to juggle two careers at once.
When I was in college, Rod’s fourth album “Never A Dull Moment” was the de-facto sound track of our rented house. Many a night, after some serious college-style drinking, you could hear Rod’s version of Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ The Night Away” blasting through the walls. At least that is what the signed complaints to the landlord said. Neighbors, what are you gonna do? Rod was a great interpreter of other people’s songs, most notably Bob Dylan. I think Rod has covered at least 10 songs by Dylan. And, while I loved the covers Rod selected, I always loved his originals. He has a sense of humor and charm that comes through on record, especially in those early days.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been easy to be a Rod Stewart fan. After he left Mercury and moved to America and Warner Brother his career got a little shaky. “Blondes Have More Fun” found Rod embracing disco with “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”, which caused the entire punk and new wave movement, who had all worshiped the Faces, to completely abandon Rod. But I hung in there through the shaky 80’s. I thought “Out of Order” was a great record. His “Unplugged…and Seated” with Ronnie Wood for that MTV series was great as well, since it saw Rod revisiting the old catalog. But after the year 2000 Rod seemed to lose his way. He did a series of those awful “Songbook” albums, doing both Sinatra-era standards, a soul album and God-forbid, a Christmas album. I kept hoping Rod would return to rock and roll but it seemed that part of his career was dead. And, frankly, Rod was basically dead to me for about 12 years.
I was pleasantly surprised when I heard Rod was putting out a new album of rock songs that he’d actually written in 2013. Since I’d been calling for him to start writing his own songs, I felt I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t immediately buy 2013’s “Time”. I was very pleasantly surprised. Apparently inspired by writing his autobiography, Rod found an untapped vein of new material. I loved the title track. He has a great drinking song, “Legless” on that album. On one of the bonus tracks he covers the old blues standard “Corrina, Corrina”. The album wasn’t perfect – there were a few maudlin ballads and the production in certain places is a little too slick. “She Makes Me Happy” was so auto-tuned it sounded like Cher. But over-all I was pleasantly surprised with “Time”.
This year Rod has followed up that solid return to song-writing with “Another Country”. Again, I was thrilled about Rod writing his own songs again. Taken as a whole, I think you could describe Rod as a very happy guy. He reminds me of a drunken, happy Uncle who always hugs me and tells me he loves me as I leave the bar. We should all be as happy as Rod Stewart. I love that Rod is even expanding and experimenting with different styles. “Love and Be Loved” is a great reggae tune. He’s got that old Rod style Celtic sound down in great songs like “Hold the Line” and the first single “Love Is”. These are damn catchy songs. I really like the rocker “Please”.
But I can’t get away from the fact that this is a really mellow album. Rod used to rock! Some of the ballads here, “Friend for Life” and “Way Back Home” (which has a cringe-worthy excerpt from a Churchill speech) float by so lightly that they make almost no impression at all. “Batman Superman Spider” is the worst song he’s done since the “Motown Song”, it’s unlistenable. “The Drinking Song”, unlike “Legless” doesn’t celebrate Rod’s famous drinking, which we love here at BourbonAndVinyl, it’s almost regretful. I think the fundamental problem with Rod’s songwriting is his choice of writing partner. Most of these songs were cowritten by Kevin Savigar, a keyboard player. Rod’s best songs were always written with guitar players – Ronnie Wood, Jeff Beck, even Jim Cregan (who actually cowrote “Friends for Life” so maybe not all the guitarists are suited to write with Rod). It would have been nice to hear Rod yell, “play some sweet guitar” like he did on that hidden gem “Wild Horse” on “Out of Order”. I like that he’s writing his own material but in the old days he was always canny about slipping in a great cover song – maybe a Bob Dylan or Tom Waits tune on here would have been a nice addition.
I would still recommend this album despite it’s flaws. My hope is that with this expansion of his musical styles and the confidence he’s showing in his songwriting that this will be more of a transitional album for Rod and on the next outing we may hear him rock out a bit more. I have read he was superb at the Faces reunion concert. The show he did right after that in Hyde Park was apparently heavy on deep-tracks and light on hits. Maybe this is a sign that Rod is taking control of his music back from his money guys. Here’s to more self-written songs, and hopefully something a little more upbeat… And dare I say it, maybe a Faces reunion? If you’v read any of BourbonAndVinyl, you knew I had to ask.
Maybe tonight I’ll slip on “Never a Dull Moment” until the wife cuts the stereo off… It never hurts to try…