Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Bite-sized Rod

These are most of Rod Stewart's studio albums, together with introductions from my longer reviews (which can be accessed here) :-

An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down (1969)

Rod Stewart's debut solo album was a ragged, raw-edged beauty. Taking rock songs and turning them into soulful folk songs, dominated by an aggressive acoustic guitar and punchy drum attack he came up with something quite unique. Something that seemed to complement his throaty, rasping vocal perfectly. A star was born, of that there was no doubt. This young guy certainly had something. The same applied to his guitar-playing mate on this record, Ronnie Wood.

Gasoline Alley (1970)

Rod Stewart's debut solo album, from the previous year, had been an eclectic, adventurous collection of cover versions of classic rock, folk and blues songs played in a largely "acoustic rock" style and some of his own songs written and played in the same style. It was very rough and ready, with an "almost live" energy that suited Stewart's blues-raised rasping vocal. This follow-up was more of the same, but it was slightly more polished, with Stewart sounding more confident, as if he was now convinced that the first experiment had been a successful one. The album is pretty low on electric guitar, apart mainly from Ronnie Wood's bluesy bottleneck, although there are other sporadic appearances, but the full-on acoustic attack rocks as hard as any axe and the drums are huge and powerful. Stewart treats rock 'n' roll songs as if they were folk songs - but incredibly rocking folk songs. The whole album has a loose, unbridled feel about it that is positively infectious.

Every Picture Tells A Story (1971)

Rod Stewart's first four albums were mixtures of rock, folk, country and blues with some Sam Cooke-style soul atmosphere thrown in in places. They were highly credible, atmospheric and enjoyable albums. All five members of the Faces appeared on this one, so it was, to all intents and purposes, a Faces album. The first two albums, An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down and Gasoline Alley were more folky than rocky, in comparison with this album and had just a few rough edges about them, particularly the first one. All such edges were ironed out here, though, and this was Rod Stewart's first real quality release. It all came together and, together with an iconic single release taken from the album, made Rod Stewart a household name.

Never A Dull Moment (1972)

Rod Stewart's fourth solo album follows the same excellent blues/folk/soul/rock path that was so successful on the previous year's Every Picture Tells A Story. Once again, members of The Faces make large contributions so the album is, once again, very much like a Faces album. Only four original tracks - True Blue, Lost Paraguayos, Italian Girls and You Wear It Well. No matter, the covers are of such a high quality that it still makes for a excellent album. The original 8-track cartridge release apparently included the country-rock hit single What Made Milwaukee Famous, which was ok, but somewhat lightweight and certainly is not missed here. Incidentally, I always thought Rod looked decidedly strange on the front cover.

Smiler (1974)

This was the last of the "credible" Rod Stewart solo albums, before he crossed the Atlantic and became a huge chart superstar, and consequently somewhat preposterous in image. This album still featured members of The Faces on many tracks and most of the other musicians from the previous four albums. It would be the last of those collaborations, though, which was a shame, but you could tell that something was going to give. The Faces had already virtually split, of course, with inter-band tensions all over the place. After releasing no solo album apart from the compilation Sing It Again, Rod for over two years, it was a watershed album for many reasons other than those already stated. It was simply not quite as good as the previous four and it had a feeling of "treading water" about it, with Stewart restless to have his shot at the big time, and his old mates, possibly, getting a bit cheesed off with his "Charlie big potatoes" posturings. It was also the first of his solo albums to take a critical battering, which is slightly unfair, because, as I said, it is not that bad. It has a certain loose, edgy charm to it.

Atlantic Crossing (1975)

Atlantic Crossing is a most enjoyable album, immaculately played by top session musicians including the legendary Steve Cropper, but it is the sort of album that, a while after listening to it, you can’t really remember much about it. Its not a classic, but neither is it bad. It was commercially huge, of course, so who am I to say it is ordinary? I do feel. However, that it just didn’t have that appealing folky blues vibe of Rod Stewart’s first five solo albums. Those acoustic guitars and mandolins were gone, replaced by a driving US rock sound. It marked the start of his transatlantic mega-stardom and much of that homely feel of those early albums was gone, forever. Rod Stewart albums would now be musically note-perfect, played by experienced musicians, but from now on they would just be a little soulless, which was a shame. That joie de vivre of those albums and the Faces work would never be repeated, unfortunately.

A Night On The Town (1976)

Of the albums released after Rod Stewart "sold out" and became a somewhat preposterous, preening superstar, this is by far my favourite. I prefer it to the incredibly successful predecessor Atlantic Crossing. It is packed full of excellent, riffy rock songs and big rock ballads of the sort that Stewart did so well. In many ways this is a commercial album that gets critically-ignored, which is a shame as it has hidden depths. A quick half hour of this every now and again is good for you.

Footloose And Fancy Free (1977)

This was perhaps the last completely credible Rod Stewart album for many a year. The first five had been excellent, the two "American" ones - Atlantic Crossing and A Night On The Town were more than acceptable. This was another one recorded since he became a Transatlantic superstar and the quality was still pretty good, just about holding on in there. Critically, I have seen it regularly panned as a lazy, complacent offering. I have to beg to disagree here. The next album meets that description, but this one, in my opinion, still has a lot to offer.

Blondes Have More Fun (1978)

Having put out a surprisingly good album in 1977's Footloose And Fancy Free, Rod Stewart still a huge chart-topping artist, just about held on to his reputation with this album - just about. Released at the height of punk, it bore no relevance to the revolution that hung in the air, being a mixture of chugging, now typical guitar-driven rockers and somewhat corny romantic, often lecherous ballads. Stewart still knew how to pen a catchy tune, his muse had yet to desert him. Some have described the album, over the years, as his "disco album". Personally, I don't really get that. It is still very much a mainstream radio rock album for me, despite the layered disco synthesisers of its most famous track, the abomination that is Da Ya Think I'm Sexy. Even after all these years, I still have a fair amount of contempt for that song. I have to admit, however, that it is impossibly singalong, even for me. There can't be many men who haven't ironically sung it.

Foolish Behaviour (1980)

This an almost totally forgotten album from Rod Stewart, sandwiched in between the far more popular Blondes Have More Fun from 1978 and Tonight's The Night from 1981 and realised during the punk/new wave/ska period. In many ways, it was a complete irrelevance. There is some acceptable material on this album. It is certainly much better than 1983's Body Wishes or 1984's Camouflage. It suffers from having nothing really distinct on it, something that really sticks in the memory. The bonus track, a storming live version of I Just Want To Make Love To You shows that Stewart could still sing the blues. There is also an extended version of Passion which has Stewart in a Rolling Stones Fingerprint File vocal mode.

Tonight I'm Yours (1981)

This was a bit of a patchy album from Rod Stewart. We are now moving into the eighties - a decade blighted by "synth-pop" and drum programming. This album was not as bad as the next two would be - 1983's Body Wishes and the appalling Camouflage from 1984. This one has its moments and hangs on to critical credibility far more than those two did. Just as 1978's Blondes Have More Fun was supposedly Stewart's "disco album", this was claimed by some to be his "new wave album". I don't get either claim. They are both completely mainstream rock albums, really.

Body Wishes (1983)

They all put out dreadful albums in the 1980s - Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan...Rod Stewart was no different. Synthesisers were the name of the game, and drum machines. Good Lord what a awful period for music it was. This is one of a series of patchy Rod Stewart albums that saw his decent into being a somewhat of an increasingly irrelevant artist living on past glories, but still putting out material every year or so. The albums were increasingly becoming lazy, self-satisfied affairs and this is certainly that, in places. However, as this is Rod Stewart, there will always be one or two tracks that capture your attention.

Camouflage (1984)

Released in the middle of the barren period that was the mid-eighties for not only Rod Stewart, but many artists. Music was buried under a swathe of synthesisers ad programmed drums. For me, this album, despite the presence of Stewart's old blues mate Jeff Beck to add some searing guitar in places, is a worse one than its patchy predecessor, Body Wishes. There are only eight tracks on what was, for me, a total lazy indulgence.

Every Beat Of My Heart (1986)

Rod Stewart's albums in the musically-barren eighties had got progressively worse. 1983's Body Wishes and 1984's Camouflage were pretty much execrable, buried under mountains of synthesisers, and packed full of lyrically-wanting material. Overall, this was better than Camouflage but it still left a lot to be desired. The eighties were, on the whole, very poor for Rod Stewart. You could actually make a reasonable compilation out of the best from each album, however, so the flame had not gone out completely, it was just about flickering.

Out of Order (1988)

This was more like it Rod! After three pretty dreadful albums in Body Wishes, Camouflage and Every Beat Of My Heart, Rod Stewart dispensed with quite a lot of the synthesised backing and went back to what he did much better - full-on guitar-driven rock. This is a good rock album, on the whole. Yes, there are still some eighties-style keyboard-replicated imitation brass parts but basically there is a "proper" drum sound, some great riffs and Stewart on rasping vocal form.

Vagabond Heart (1991)

The eighties had been a pretty barren period for Rod Stewart, with some pretty poor synthesiser-dominated eighties pop albums doing nothing to restore his diminishing reputation. Some synthesised backing still swirls around this album, unfortunately, giving it a slightly tinny sound in places, but it is still undoubtedly such better album than some of its predecessors, notably 1983's Body Wishes, 1984's Camouflage or 1986's Every Beat Of My Heart. 1988's comparatively impressive Out Of Order got him back on track, however.

Spanner In The Works (1995)

This is an often-ignored album from Rod Stewart, yet it is not a bad one at all. It contains a mixture of cover versions and original Stewart songs. The awful synthesised backing that blighted the eighties was thankfully long gone and he is backed by a proper rock sound. His vocals have that late seventies lilt to them that is always so fetching. Admittedly, this album isn't ground-breaking or relevant to the musical culture of 1995 in any way, but it is a lovely blast from the past.

When We Were The New Boys (1998)

After a good album in 1995's Spanner In The Works, Rod Stewart continued the good work with a solid album of cover versions of some contemporary songs, among others, that showed he could still cut it. Rather than revisiting music from his youth as he had previously liked to do, here was taking off some music of the time. This is a really good album - one of Rod Stewart's best latter-day efforts and comparatively little-mentioned ones.

Human (2001)

This has traditionally been lambasted by critics as a clumsy, ill-considered attempt by Rod Stewart to "go contemporary" and embrace current programmed r 'n' b stylings (r 'n' b as in polished contemporary soul). It is true that he tried to do that, but in my opinion it was actually quite successful and listenable, the album being nowhere near as bad as many would have you believe. It is far superior to some of the lifeless, synthesised "disco/dance" experiments in the mid eighties, for example. Yes, I understand that recording some typical Rod Stewart songs but giving them a 2001-style chart backing was maybe not the best idea, and he should have stuck with what he does best, but listening to it with an open mind I find that I actually I don't mind it, and I'm not one one for new millennium chart music in any way.

Time (2013)

Rod Stewart's songwriting mojo had deserted him, apparently, for the best part of twenty years, apart from some collaborations here and there that appeared on his various albums in that time. There had still been some good ones, on A Spanner In The Works and When We Were The New Boys, but most of the time had been taken up with seemingly endless volumes of The Great American Songbook, an album of rock covers and one of soul covers (oh and a Christmas one). What he seemed to have lost was the ability he once had to pen a shamelessly nostalgic look back at the good old days of his past, something he previously excelled in. However, writing his autobiography brought all those memories flooding back and he says he suddenly got the desire to write songs again.  This album was the result. There is certainly some good stuff on it, but it is, like many contemporary albums, a little sprawling and disconnected, contains more than a little syrupy schmaltz than my taste is happy with. It was hailed, predictably, as a "return to form" (cliché alert), but I have always found it just a bit patchy. It was great to have Stewart the storytelling songwriter back but there are parts of the album that veer too close to cheesy for my liking.

Another Country (2015)

After the success of 2013's Time, Rod Stewart returned with more singalong fare with some harks to his past, many of the songs dressed up in a lilting Celtic-style backing, with fiddle and acoustic  guitars used generously throughout the album. His knack for a nostalgic anthem and a syrupy love song are still with him and the album features quite a few of those. As a fan of Rod Stewart since I heard Maggie May, aged twelve, it is good to still hear him putting out quality material, but it is starting to sound just a tiny bit hackneyed, despite Stewart's clear enthusiasm in his delivery that belies his septuagenarian age. There are many albums in his vast collection that I turn to before this one, though. Maybe that's a bit unfair, for a 70 year-old it is a damn good effort.

Blood Red Roses (2018)

The question I ask myself, as a Rod Stewart fan since I first heard Maggie May in 1971 aged twelve, is do I need another Rod Stewart album? Yes, on balance I probably do. Just. The last two have been pretty good, since Stewart re-discovered his songwriting muse with the writing of his autobiography, but they have not been ones I have particularly revisited. I suspect this one may be the same, but fair play to him for still putting out vibrant, muscular rock albums, which is what this one mostly is. As you would expect, though, it is crammed full of nostalgia.

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