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"I sincerely thought I was so complete - look how wrong you can be"

Class D

Main Category: Roots Rock
Also applicable: Soul Music, Singer-Songwriters,

Arena Rock, Dance Pop, Synth Pop
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Rod Stewart fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Rod Stewart fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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The first, and best, period in Rod Stewart's career (1969-72) was distinguishable in that it still passed under the sign of the lad's past in the Jeff Beck group. For one, the sound was quite a rockin' one, with gruff guitars all over the spot and delicate ballads that were nevertheless capable to raise emotion or pick up steam every once in a while. And secondly - who was it that provided the sound? Why, Rod's old pals - Ronnie Wood on guitars and Mick Waller on drums! The first of these also backed Rod in the Faces, together with good old rocker Ronnie Lane, and Rod's position as frontman in the band had a serious impact on his solo career as well. He was gritty and flashy, cool-sounding and sincere, and he had a great backing band. And if you lived through the early Seventies and were desperately searching for something that was not brilliant, but cold & twisted prog, dazzling but show-off-ey glam, flashy but boring blues rock, or desperate but much too dirty proto-punk, Rod Stewart was the perfect choice for you: easily accessible, unpretentious and tasteful rock music that could be equally enjoyable by housewives and advanced rock lovers. And that voice - hoarse, dark and sooo expressive, how could one forget it?

Trouble arrived later - when Rod finally managed to gain international fame and hit several # 1 albums that, let's admit it, really deserved it. Corporate greed and commercial fame chewed Rod and swallowed him out like a piece of bubble-gum - no sooner had he gone and dropped his trusty pals (the biggest artistic mistake of his career) than his style became softer, his ballads cheesier and his albums blander. Over the years, he's completely lost his gritty edge, and this is usually lamented over as one of the biggest failures in rock history. Truth is, one must be objective: the process of mellowing out wasn't (couldn't be, in fact) an immediate one, and most of Stewart's albums in the Seventies were decent - some worse, some better, but overall listenable. It's the Eighties that killed him off completely - but after all, Rod Stewart wasn't the only musician that was killed off by the Eighties, this worst enemy of quality rock music. Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Phil Collins, Bob Dylan, the Stones, the Who, Yes... nah, the list can be endless: the Killer Decade was really strong. So why should we hold a particular grudge against Rod Stewart? The good news, at least, is that his material has slightly improved in the Nineties - with Rod finally admitting that he got old and moving on to an ultra-professional level of adult contemporary which can be very moderately acceptable for people with good taste. It's nothing special, but at least albums like Spanner In The Works don't stink as horrendously as the so-called 'rock' crap he was pouring out in loads in the Eighties.

Even so, there are several redeeming qualities in Rod that one shouldn't forget about if one is prepared to judge Rod before the Lord. First of all, he's always been a fine singer - even some of his worst material can be rendered listenable by the sheer power of his voice, unlike, say, Phil Collins. Second, he's always been a composer - not just a talentless good-for-nothing whose only gift was his voice, like, say, Elvis; and the songs he used to write often blew away covers of classic old material. Third, he was never one to overabuse modern technologies: not all of his Eighties records are based on synths and drum machines, and his passion for guitar arrangements still remains and has even gotten progressively bigger recently. If anything, Rod is chosen as a particular 'victim' by the critics and music lovers simply because he goes so over-the-top with his schlocky pop style that he's never shy about it, and he never pretends to be serious - unlike, say, Elton John who often writes even worse crap but manages to make it so bloated and deadly serious that it's somehow uncomfortable to condemn him for it. So ladies and gentlemen, have mercy on poor Rod and his ugly face and remember that he at least started out as one of the best rock musicians on the planet - don't judge the genre by its worst, judge it by its best.

I originally planned to review his first four or five albums that he made together with Wood and Waller (ending with Smiler in 1974), but then it turned out so that I had the chance to buy a good handful of these 'two-in-one' CD's that had a very rational structure: one good album always paired with one bad album, or one great album paired with one horrendous album. Of course, when given the chance to buy two albums for the price of one, I just couldn't refuse, could I? Thus I found myself the possessor of a hefty chunk of Rod's albums, all of which will sooner or later appear on this page. Actually, like I said, not all of his post-Wood output is crap, and some of it is downright good. So don't count your chickens before they are reviewed, I say.

General Evaluation:



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Dirty, sloppy, drunk and showcasing one of the best voices in rock - a good-time paradise.


Track listing: 1) Street Fighting Man; 2) Man Of Constant Sorrow; 3) Blind Prayer; 4) Handbags & Gladrags; 5) An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down; 6) I Wouldn't Ever Change A Thing; 7) Cindy's Lament; 8) Dirty Old Town.

Listening to the album can be a bit confusing - it's very hard to tell what is so likable about it, and yet it's only a couple inches short of a Stewart masterpiece. Perhaps 'powerful' would be the best epithet that I could attribute to it - 'powerful', due to the magic combination of Rod's magnificent voice, Mick Waller's Gargantuan drumming, a thick, professional piano/organ sound (provided by Ian McLagan and, on a couple of tracks, even Keith Emerson!), and an even thicker layer of guitars, provided by Ron Wood - no, he wasn't skilled enough to ape Keith Richards completely at that moment, but he came damn close, having mastered the witty technology of acoustic/electric overdubs that made the contemporary Stones sound so specific. This combination works beautifully, and has so much impact on me that I don't even notice the overall sloppy playing - the songs often crash, stutter, with the instruments 'bumping' into each other, sometimes degenerating into a cacophonous mess, but what the hell? This is rock music that the band is pumping out, and it has the drive - what else is needed? And Rod's vocals beat the stuffing out of Robert Plant in any case, man - I don't want to seem biased or pretentious, but even Rod's annoying habit of repeating the introductory phrase 'now listen' before every second verse is far more endurable than Plant's constant lamentations about his lemon... ahem.

Funnily, this album has more Stewart originals on it than the following one - it's as if Rod was testing his abilities in all categories, from ballads to heavy blues to glammy rockers. And what's funnier still, they are generally better than the covers - there's but three of them, and only one ranks on the same level with the originals. Yeah, that's the trusty 'Street Fighting Man', of course (isn't this the first occasion of Ronnie playing a Stones tune?), a longish version which actually features two different arrangements. The song begins in an almost unrecognizable way (hell, when I first heard it and they hit those soft acoustic notes I was afraid I was given the wrong CD); then it becomes a guitar-lovers paradise, and then suddenly breaks off and goes into a more familiar melody, but already piano-based, and Stewart sings everything one more time. (You could almost hear Ronnie and Ian McLagan tear at each other's throats and trying to get each their own version, waiting for Rod to compromise and accept both. Huh?)

All the other rockers on the album are self-penned, and they're all good: 'An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down' (by the way, that was the original British title of the whole album, deemed inappropriate in the States for some unclear reasons) has essentially a countryish melody, so that you could really imagine Neil Young singing a stripped-down version, but the arrangement is a heavy one, and that makes the song both memorable and gritty. The even grittier 'Cindy's Lament', a fascinating story about Rod wanting to have sex with a girl with whom he'd already had it once but her parents don't know about it, gee, what a bummer, well, what about it? It has a monstruous riff and is really reminiscent of Rod's work in the Jeff Beck group. But of course, the definite highlight of the album is the bluesy 'Blind Prayer', a song where Rod is impersonating a poor miserable blind fellow whose girl gone broken 'is 'eart but 'e still loves 'er jes' da same. Is it really a blues, though? It begins more or less close, but then the structure becomes so twisted and the arrangement crashes down into the dust with such a big bang that it's just a mess - ooh, but what a mess! These thumping drums, wailing guitars, and above all, Rod's most angry and emotionally hitting vocal party on the whole record make this an unforgettable experience. I was in love with the song from the first time - and I'd never have expected that from a Rod Stewart album, dude!

Unfortunately, the softer material on the record isn't usually that great. Rod gets in one more self-pitying ballad ('Man Of Constant Sorrow') that's good, but rather generic, and wait, wasn't 'Man Of Constant Sorrow' an old folk song? Guess he ripped that one off, too... Then there's the album's big surprise, the weird, soul-ful 'I Wouldn't Ever Change A Thing' - that's the one song where Keith Emerson exercises his organ-playing skills, and yet it's still not that good, a lengthy nostalgic raving with producer Lou Reizner suddenly deciding to have a vocal duel with Rod to a zero effect.

Of course, the biggest hit was the worst song on the album - the cover of Mike D'Abo's 'Handbags & Gladrags'. I hardly know anything about Mike D'Abo except that he sang the part of King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar, but one thing's for sure: either he's a damn horrid composer or Rod's a damn horrid arranger. The song is just little more than a MOR ballad with some sappy strings, the kind of half-listenable half-crap that would often mar much of Rod's albums. Yet even so, Rod manages to make the last 'soft' song on the album, Ewan MacColl's 'Dirty Old Town', sound convincing and tasteful - after all, simple, underarranged folk tunes is one of his preferrable genres of work.

A good album. Skip the small percent of crap and you get a record every bit as good as the ones that came after it and are usually considered far superior. Certainly not 'far'. And it must also be mentioned that Rod has created a full-blown personal image right here in the very beginning. Basically, he's a blind son of a lawyer crawling around in his old raincoat that never lets him down, complaining about his lost friends and comrades and planning to wage war on that dirty old town where some shitty parents didn't even allow him to have sex with his girlfriend. In case you're wondering what I really meant by saying that last sentence, it's the image he's had ever since - even after his descent in soft-rock. Not very Dylanish, isn't it?



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Tighter, a little more memorable, a little less exciting, but very tasteful.


Track listing: 1) Gasoline Alley; 2) It's All Over Now; 3) Only A Hobo; 4) My Way Of Giving; 5) Country Comforts; 6) Cut Across Shorty; 7) Lady Day; 8) Jo's Lament; 9) You're My Girl.

Either Rod's shrink told him songwriting was bad for his health or he became convinced of the fact himself since The Rod Stewart Album didn't sell particularly well, but the amount of original songs has seriously decreased on his second album - he gets in just three of the nine numbers, and one of them is co-credited to Ronnie Wood. Ronnie is more prominent on the album in general - the sound has become much more guitar-based, and he revels in the sound of his slide and the grungy chops of the gritty rockers. Essentially, the record is in this way somewhat more consistent than the debut, and, while there are no particularly high points here like 'Blind Prayer', there are also no embarrassments like 'Handbags', which is why the album gets the highest rating. Gasoline Alley's certainly no serious artistic statement - The Album at least boldly announced Rod's entrance onto the British rock scene by the front door - but if you're not a hardcore Rod fan with specific tastes, you'll probably enjoy Gasoline Alley more, and I fully understand you, because there's nothing to complain about here.

On here, Rod is already becoming more sentimental - all of his three self-penned compositions are ballads, but luckily, all three have exclusively good-tasted arrangements, courtesy of producer Lou Reizner and Ronnie, of course. The title track, that again waxes nostalgic in the vein of 'I Wouldn't Ever Change A Thing', but better, is distinguished by a pretty melody that Ronnie plays on his slide alongside the main acoustic riff and becomes somewhat anthemic in the process; 'Lady Day' has more of that pretty slide and more of that suffering-'north-winds-have-made-my-face-a-little-older' mood - you'd really think Rod Stewart was only pretending to be a twenty-year old fashionable sucker desperately wanting to be a star! Why, isn't he a romantic old tramp with a bleeding heart? What a stupid question - of course he is! At least, it takes him no pain to convince you of the fact. And watch out for that beautiful fiddle/slide duet - this is the kind of country music that I'll be always ready to shed a tear to! Finally, 'Jo's Lament' can be seen as a sequel to 'Lady Day', only this time the country elements are replaced with folk ones. Again, slide guitar is featured prominently, and again, the song is utter pleasure to listen to - Bob Dylan would be proud of his disciple.

Of course, all these acoustic tracks about tramps and hobos can get down on your nerves if you're the type that runs away at the sight of Dylan's Bootleg Series - and, 'to make matters worse', Rod includes a cover of Dylan's own 'Only A Hobo' (yeah, right!!!) where he sounds exactly like Bob and, I'd even say, outbobs him (ooh, what a cool expression! I made it on the spot, mind you!)

In this case, you're welcome to that 'arder-rockin' section - if the album closer, 'You're My Girl', with its neurotic bassline, paranoid grungey riff, funky beat and frantic vocals doesn't get your feet jigglin' and your hands jerkin' and your head bobbin', you're probably in a coma and just weren't aware of the fact. 'You're My Girl', however, is the only uncompromised piece of hard rock you'll find on the album - otherwise, the rockers are also heavily sedated with Ronnie's slide or a keyboard sound, but that don't make them less entertaining. 'Cut Across Shorty' selects the first way - through the whole song, as Rod tells his funny story about two guys who raced for a girl and one of them cheated, the fiddle and slide duel with the booming drums and heavy bassline, and especially with Rod's hoarse, metallic singing, and it's simply enthralling - the song's six minutes go down like one and a half. All right, two and a half - the ending might be a little too prolongated. But that all depends on whether you'll be wanting for the album to finish sooner or not. And in the case of Gasoline Alley, you probably won't. Oh, and there's 'It's All Over Now' here, too - remember that Bobby Womack cover version that earned the Stones their first hit single? Also mercilessly extended, it at least features an interesting gimmick - several false endings, where the band seems to land the song before suddenly taking up to the skies again and again... and anyway, how could such a talented dude as Rod Stewart ruin such a great song as 'It's All Over Now'?

My only complaints about the album are in the middle - 'My Way Of Giving' is a boring mid-tempo rocker, borrowed by Rod from his colleague Ronnie Lane's and his never-to-be-colleague Steve Marriott's Small Faces repertoire, and Elton John's 'Country Comforts'... well, nobody should ever cover an Elton John song, because it's one case where you'll never be able to beat the original. Not that it's a huge compliment to Elton, mind you: I'm just saying that Elton's songs are always made suitable for Elton and his voice and totally unsuitable for anybody else. Even so, Rod makes a strong effort not to ruin the song, and if you haven't heard the original (on Tumbleweed Connection), you can even like it.

So, anyway, even if the record is a little bit monotonous and hugely discriminated in the way of heavy rockers, it's all mighty compensated by Wood's magnificent guitarwork and Rod's sincere and careful singing; shows actually how much Rod was dependent on a suitable arrangement to make everything come across as sincere and authentic, and how much of a mistake he made when he parted ways with Woodie. Also, the playing is not as sloppy as on the previous record - guess they were spending a little more time in the studio at this point, and it shows. Although I do miss the good old mess a little bit...



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Solid all the way through, but alas, the melodies are not very strong. The personality is here all right, though.


Track listing: 1) Every Picture Tells A Story; 2) Seems Like A Long Time; 3) That's All Right; 4) Tomorrow Is A Long Time; 5) Maggie May; 6) Mandolin Wind; 7) (I Know) I'm Losing You; 8) (Find A) Reason To Believe.

The big breakthrough happened here, with the album easily reaching # 1 and the critics raving all over it - to this day, it is the album that's most beloved by musical press. Yea, truly and verily, it's quite good. But I've heard better! 'What?' will you ask. Why, Gasoline Alley, for instance!

Again, there are no particular highlights on the album, and no particular stinkers - and yet, the song quality is lower. In fact, this time around there's not even a single song here that I would be totally pleased about. The main reason probably lies in Stewart's misguided selection of covers for the album - his three compositions are certainly the best ones. Another reason is that the sound is a little thinner: that wonderful slide guitar of Ronnie's, for instance, is no more, and no tasty fiddles either. All right, there's a mandolin on one track, but it should have been there by all means, since the song's name is 'Mandolin Wind'; but a single mandolin doesn't help much. Yet another reason is that the album is frustratingly middle-ground - it doesn't exactly refuse to rock, but there's nothing even vaguely reminiscent of the gruff funk of 'You're My Girl', not to mention the brainstorm of 'Blind Prayer'. On the other hand, it has next to none of those delicious folk numbers that made Alley so distinctive - Dylan's 'Tomorrow Is A Long Time' is the only thing that comes close, and the song is not one of Bob's best (and certainly one of his least known - I never heard it, or of it, before. Just don't tell me that it was written specially for Rod).

What this record does have is a suspicious Motown scent, in the form of Whitfield-Holland's cover tune '(I Know) I'm Losing You'. As a total anti-fan of Motown, I don't find anything really attractive in it, except that it's the only track on the album where they go for a slightly heavier tone, plus Mick Waller's drum job on here is truly outstanding. Rod does a fine singing job, but it's not the kind of singing I'd like to hear from Stewart. And the anthemic, almost gospelish 'Seems Like A Long Time' also suggests worse things to come - Rod is clearly going for a more conventional, big-band sound to attract the public, which might have been fine in that it earned him the # 1, but it just doesn't work for me... Neither does the album closer, Tim Hardin's preachy 'Reason To Believe', that has nothing to redeem it but Rod's voice again.

Oh, wait, silly me. The number one was certainly awarded to him by 'Maggie May' - the best known Rod Stewart song of all time where he touches the problem of relationships between romantically attuned young men and elder women. It's good, but how come it received all that fame? Just listen to the melody and tell me if it has more than two chords! I admit that the lyrics are very good, and the singing is again outstanding, with Rod elevating to a quasi-sincere level again; the truth is, he'd done the same things more successfully in the past in songs that were more melodically interesting - 'Blind Prayer', 'Lady Day' and other songs are far better than 'Maggie May', damn it! This is the biggest wonder of my life, in fact - how could a song with such a primitive melodical hook (if one can actually call it a hook) become a bestseller? Well, then again America has always loved Bruce Springsteen, too, and he built his entire career on that style. Mind you, I'm not saying the song is bad: it is emotional and moving, but I could never for the life of me understand the reason of why it is chosen to 'represent' Rod instead of, say, 'Lady Day'. Only because it happened to be his only #1 single from the 'classic period', no doubt. Oh, and because of the lyrics - it's true, the picture he'd painted this time with his words is one of his best. Otherwise... ehhh...

The same fault - melodic primitivity - is appliable to the title track, a curious travelogue about Rod and his relations with women in various corners of the world (as if it all really happened, yeah). But it's at least rockin', and while it doesn't have the fidgety little organ that pounds at you in 'Maggie May' while you don't notice it in order to create the required mood, it has a fiery vocal part and a reckless, almost drunken drive that's missing everywhere else on the record.

So basically, this opening track and a funny cover of Arthur Crudup's 'That's All Right' (opening with some stupendous steel guitar licks, again courtesy of Ronnie) that becomes a good-hearted 'Amazing Grace' halfway through are the only tracks that I'd rate on the same level with the previous album. 'Mandolin Wind' is also pretty, but more reminiscent of the simpler ballads on the debut album, although do not forget to check the gorgeous mandolin part - 'played by the mandolin player in Lindsfarne', as the liner notes tell us. Is this really the start of decline, and if so, why does everybody love it more than anything else? These are the questions that only time will answer, my friend, and I hope time will bring justice, reinstating the better albums in the public's eyes. But anyway, I seem to have just been bitchin' and bitchin' - screw it, the album's really very, very good. Just not as hard or immediately hittin' as Gasoline Alley. And also, it all depends on taste - if, for instance, you hate folk but love Motown you'll certainly dig this record more than I. But I still retain my point that it's much more simplistic and pedestrian in the musical sense. That's a fact, folks! That's why it's his best known album, in fact!



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Indeed - these songs manage to grab your soul where the majority of numbers from 'Picture' couldn't...

Best song: TRUE BLUE

Track listing: 1) True Blue; 2) Lost Paraguayos; 3) Mama You Been On My Mind; 4) Italian Girls; 5) Angel; 6) Interludings; 7) You Wear It Well; 8) I'd Rather Go Blind; 9) Twistin' The Night Away.

Better. Almost definitely better. The lame Stax-Volt sound is almost completely gone, the selected covers are more high level (Hendrix's 'Angel'? Go figure - this is the only Hendrix cover in Rod's entire repertoire!!), and the originals aren't really different from last time around, which in this context means that none of them are any worse. Thus, the last album before the supposed slide into decline goes off as arguably Rod's greatest point - I still prefer Gasoline Alley for a more diverse and tasty listen, but this is probably the truest thing to represent the 'Rod spirit' - loud, chock-full of guitars, raunchy, and emotional. Ronnie Wood again showcases his guitar talents, and even the fiddle is back, making 'You Wear It Well' a worthy and arguably superior sequel to 'Maggie May'. And, just so as to remind you that this 'spirit' was still a young angry one, there are a couple of good-time heavy rockers thrown in - not as heavy as 'You're My Girl', of course, which still gotta rank as Rod's highest peak as a hard rock star, but quite traditional nevertheless.

The originals continue the well-trodden path of Rod's 'bad girls' songs' lyrically - 'Italian Girls' might even be called misogynistic. But the real highlight is 'True Blue', a raving, simplistic, almost punkish rocker where Rod again impersonates an outcast. One could make a good point about Never A Dull Moment actually reprising the entire structure of Every Picture, but on a higher level: 'True Blue' is shorter, sharper and more compact than 'Every Picture Tells A Story', not to mention more personal and less vague and obscene. If you can get away from the hypocrisy of the opening lines ('Never been a millionaire/And I tell you mama I don't care'; anyway, at least he wasn't a real millionaire yet), you're bound to be caught by the raw, defiant power of the song - an over-aggressive sequel to the quiet complaints of his self-deprecating Gasoline Alley complaints, and the short fast jam at the end of the song is probably the last great example of that jovial Faces' sloppiness that made even their worst efforts enjoyable. Because, yeah, it's the Faces, not the Wood-Walker section, that backs Rod on this song.

'Lost Paraguayos' further lifts up your spirits with its big-band jazzy parts and lyrics that seem to be about an old smuggler but mama I don't care, and the rockin' 'Italian Girls' that starts out almost Zeppelin-ish is in all senses just another re-write of 'Every Picture Tells A Story', but who cares? It's sped up, it gets an additional boogie-woogie piano part, a chuggin' heavy riff popping up on the choruses, and layers of beautiful acoustic guitars all over the place - it's superior.

The only original that I'll probably never be a definite fan of is 'You Wear It Well' - as I said, basically a sequel to 'Maggie May' and just as melodically simplistic. Even so, it has that cool fiddle part added to it, and Rod manages to sing it with enough conviction to raise the song, a sad letter written to Rod's old girlfriend, from an average to a nearly heart-breaking level. Well, it doesn't break my heart, but it might break yours - who knows?

What really strikes me about the record, though, is the selection of covers: four of them, and none are duffers. No more shitty pedestrian soul numbers - well, people usually complain about Foster-Jordan's 'I'd Rather Go Blind', and it sure might be the weakest of the four - a super-slow, almost crawling shuffle that has only two or three verses but seems to go on forever. Yet the song is great in that it showcases Stewart's vocals - with next to no guitars, just that quiet, ominous organ in the background, his singing is totally unhindered, and if there's one track on the album according to which you should judge the man's voice, it's certainly this one. On the other hand, Dylan's 'Mama You Been On My Mind' is a marvel - Rod manages to make the song his own; he gives it the same formulaic treatment, that is, sets it to a steady mid-tempo beat with simplistic rhythm guitars around, adds a retro-sounding accordeon part, and sings it with a warmth and romantic, nostalgic feeling that was somehow lacking in Dylan's original. Furthermore, he feels so confident in his forces that he even dares to take Hendrix's 'Angel', re-arrange it according to his tastes and deliver an unforgettable performance here as well. The congas start to get on my nerves after a couple of listens, but that's the only complaint about a cover version that I still argue is among Rod's best.

And what better way to end the record than with a raving, pounding version of Sam Cooke's 'Twistin' The Night Away'? Man, if only Rod would have been ten or fifteen years younger, there's just no doubt he'd have blown all competition on the Fifties' rock'n'roll scene away, or p'raps just 'twisted' it away... A fantastic, mind-blowing way to end a great album with one last definite PUNCH instead of letting it slowly cool down and slither away. (Outside question: does anybody else think that the line 'twisting to the rock'n'roll' is an oxymoron, and if not, how would you imagine the process going on? Aren't twist and rock'n'roll supposed to be two different numbers?)

So, to put it brief, Never A Dull Moment truly justifies its title - it is a shattering listening experience throughout, and the only thing that mars it is the standard Rod problem - some of the melodies tend to be pedestrian and wear thin on you rather quickly. Nevertheless, you still should go out and buy this today. Today, you hear me? If only this album would come packaged together with Gasoline Alley on a single CD, it would easily have been the best fun-listening record of the early Seventies!



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

A little overreaching - overrocking, in fact. But still no sign of commercial decline.


Track listing: 1) Sweet Little Rock'n'Roller; 2) Lochinvar; 3) Farewell Sailor; 4) Bring It On Home To Me/You Send Me; 5) Let Me Be Your Car; 6) (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Man; 7) Dixie Toot; 8) Hard Road; 9) Girl From The North Country; 10) Mine For Me.

Stewart went on a two-year rest after Moment, and it shows - Smiler is a considerably different album from everything he did before. It's also Rod's last full collaboration with Wood and other Faces, so if you've got an allergy on everything overly commercial or if you're only buying Stewart albums to hear more of Ronnie's guitar, this should naturally be your last buy. It might not be as bad as it is sometimes proclaimed, but things have certainly changed.

First of all, Rod obviously has problems with new material. He contributes only three numbers for the whole record, and all three are rather dull, both in the lyrical and melodical sense. There's a pretty, but senseless ballad ('Farewell') that could never hope to overthrow 'Mandolin Wind', and two thumpin', lumpin' rockers a la 'Every Picture Tells A Story': they thump and lump well, but they don't seem to head anywhere in particular, and dammit, what the hell is 'Dixie Toot' even about? Definite Stewart fanatics will fall on their heads over this, but if you listen to all five albums in a row, this just might seem to be somewhat excessive. Gimme a brand new riff or a brand new mood right now.

Elsewhere, there's a full bunch of covers that all seem to reflect Rod's last attempt to stabilize his career as a brawny rocker: taken together with his own contributions, these covers really give Smiler a hard-bashing, heavy-crashing edge that was missing on the previous two albums. And, frankly speaking, opening the album with Chuck Berry's 'Sweet Little Rock'n'Roller' is a move nothing short of brilliant: the song's deceptive intro, with dogs barking and Ronnie starting out with an alien riff that he suddenly leads into the actual introduction, Rod's top-heavy delivery of the song, the fantastic, uncompromised leads from Pete Sears (piano) and Ronnie, all this combine into making the song an ideal representative number for Rod and his band's Rock And Roll image.

However, this start is all too much deceptive by itself. Most of the rockin' stuff here is pretty predictable and dull - Vanda & Young's 'Hard Road', Elton John's 'Let Me Be Your Car' and the above-mentioned 'Sailor' and 'Dixie Toot' are all engaging when taken by themselves; but when they are crammed all together on one album, one just starts to get a wee bit tired, because the songs don't show that much diversity - one pounding, anthemic lump of boogie after another. It looks almost like Rod and the band were recording the album in a hurry, rushing it out for the market in order to make a few quick bucks. Even Elton's own presence as a guest (on 'Let Me Be Your Car', where he contributes some jolly good Jerry Lee Lewis-chops that he'd already completely abandoned by that time on his own records) doesn't cheer up the state of things. And the tasteless Motown covers are back again, in the face of the bland, utterly dispensable 'You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Man' (yeah, really). Plus, Paul McCartney contributes a strange ballad ('Mine For Me') that's certainly as far from being a good Paul song as possible. Gee, even Ringo was provided with less filler-looking material.

Some face is saved on a Sam Cooke and a Dylan cover - hey, isn't it funny how these guys always helped pulling Rod's ass out of the dirt when it was necessary? The problem is, he messes them up with some pretentious-sounding strings, and that's a bad sign: on his earlier records he never needed no strings to render his delivery of a ballad or a soulful number more sincere-sounding. 'Bring It On Home To Me' is almost ruined that way, in fact - I've heard so many far superior versions that I can't help shrugging my shoulders every time I hear this particular one. Nevertheless, as the perfect Dylan imitator, Rod feels no problems with covering 'Girl From The North Country'; again, I far prefer his stripped-down arrangement on 'Only A Hobo', but this one ain't bad, either, just a little overblown and grandiose where Dylan's version was quiet and humble.

All of these things really give an idea about why Rod was so quick and easy to part ways with Ronnie and Co. the next year. The formula that they worked out several years ago was fine, but one cannot overuse the same formula again and again - the well is bound to run dry sooner or later. Like I said, the album's not horrid by any means (and certainly incomparable with Rod's later work), but compared to the previous four it almost sounds like an uninspired parody - capturing the form and missing the essence. This might just as well be Ronnie's own fault: while he's a fine musician and a jolly good dude by himself, he's not that much of an imaginative person - and he certainly was not the right person that could steer Rod into new, unexplored directions, and Rod realized it himself. The bad thing is, the people he turned to for help in that matter were an even worse choice, and precipitated his decline into commercial pop machinery.



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Soulless, artificial rock'n'roll - the fun's still there, but the spirit is somewhere in the backyard...


Track listing: 1) Three Time Loser; 2) Alright For An Hour; 3) All In The Name Of Rock'n'Roll; 4) Drift Away; 5) Stone Cold Sober; 6) I Don't Want To Talk About It; 7) It's Not The Spotlight; 8) This Old Heart Of Mine; 9) Still Love You; 10) Sailing.

Ronnie Wood deserted Rod (a.k.a. got dumped by Rod) and quit the Faces to join the Stones, so little Stewart found himself at the bottom and had to start from the beginning. Well, regardless of the general statements I made in the previous review, time has proved that, although none of the further records he made were epochal, some of 'em were still darn good or, at least, pleasantly mediocre. On this ominously titled album, reflecting his re-orientation on the ultra-commercial American market, he was able to prove that he was still the good old screamin' Hot Rod we loved so much - and at the same time demonstrated the first signs of the tasteless corporate industry product he would become in three or four years. Deciding to bring his 'talents' to the mass audience at any cost, he called on producer Tom Dowd, most famous for producing Clapton's contemporary 'soft rock' records, and opened the studios wide for a swarm of musicians - the credit listing is endless, with innumerable swarms of guitarists, pianists, drummers and the whole Memphis Horns on, well, horns. It is to Rod's honour, though, that he wrote about half of the album himself, not letting corporate songwriting engulf him completely, and most of his compositions are quite entertaining.

There is one horrendous mistake, though, that is obvious on the album: namely, the fact that it was divided into a 'hard' and a 'soft' side. This leads to a very inadequate listening experience: the first side, composed of tight, gruff rockers with wonderful vocal workouts and solid Stax-Volt backing, is quite good, but the second, composed of sappy sweet, artificial ballads, is dang near unlistenable. There's one good song there, the cover of Danny Whitten's 'I Don't Want To Talk About It', delivered by Rod in a heart-breaking, moving tone that makes me forgive the tune's cheeziness; nobody but Stewart can do such wonders with his voice. And Goldberg & Goffin's 'It's Not The Spotlight' is listenable, too, probably because it's rather quiet and soothing. The other three songs, though, including Rod's own 'Still Love You', are worthless orchestrated garbage that predefine 'adult contemporary pop' and are completely and absolutely forgettable. He'd never tried this style before... but it would become the norm quite, quite soon.

So let's just forget this stuff and concentrate on the first side, the 'arder-rock'n' one. I may be dumb, but this is where I really get my kicks. Yeah, these songs all share one particular flaw: Rod has completely lost his 'spirit', the brand of authenticity, sincerity and genuine emotion that marked his work previously. But I don't really care, well, you gotta understand me, I do care, but after all, one needn't be authentic and sincere all the time, right? This material is just good crazy fun! 'Three Time Loser' has some annoying female backup vocals (aha - Rod Stewart as a glammy megastar! Yeah, right! At last!), but the song has some drive, some dirtiness and a good Southern rock groove. Then there's the reggaeish 'Alright For An Hour' that's just as misogynic as the first one (funny how he keeps bashing women on the first side and worshipping them on the second one), and the fast, gritty 'All In The Name Of Rock'n'Roll' - the closest thing to a sloppy, drunken, good-time Faces rocker on here. I have my little problems with the production - sometimes Rod's vocals just can't be heard behind the heavy riff and the vociferous brass section, but you get used to this sooner or later. If there is a| problem, it's that Rod's lyrics are going down the drain as he starts the long career of reinventing himself as "Sex Star No. 1", with endless lines like 'I'm jackin' off/Reading Playboy on a hot afternoon' and 'put her dirty hands in my pants' and hints at venereal diseases and stuff, etc., etc. And the references to the Stones' 'Fingerprint File' and McCartney's 'Band On The Run' on 'All In The Name Of Rock'n'Roll' are also kinda ehh... well, kinda obnoxious.

Mentor Williams' 'Drift Away', then, is the closest thing to a 'soulful epic' on here: that bit where the music dies down and Rod sings 'Give me the beat boys to soothe my soul/I wanna get lost in your rock'n'roll' almost accapella is pure musical ecstasy, and if it weren't for the fact that you know he's fakin' it (and he really is - can you imagine him singing this three or four years earlier), it'd be downright grandiose. And the side closes with 'Stone Cold Sober', another primitive rocker in the Faces' tradition. When I first heard it I almost mistook it for the Stones' 'Happy', because of the way Rod sings the opening lines ('Never get to bed before sunup/Always get caught in the rain' - cf. 'Never kept a dollar past sunset/Always burned a hole in my pants'), but it turns out to be different in the long run - not as fascinating melody-wise, but just as engaging in the sense of energy.

So yeah, yeah. The spirit is gone - or at least it's in the process of going, but the body's still here. Fans of Rod can't really go wrong with this one - and it's also distinguished by the first in a series of disgusting album covers. At least, the gigantic figure of Rod gives us the benefit of concealing his ugly mug, a favour he wouldn't allow himself to do to us anymore for the next twenty years.



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

Gee, there isn't so much as half of an original melody on here. But at least, he prefers to rip off the classics.


Track listing: 1) Tonight's The Night; 2) The First Cut Is The Deepest; 3) Fool For You; 4) The Killing Of Georgie; 5) The Balltrap; 6) Pretty Flamingo; 7) Big Bayou; 8) The Wild Side Of Life; 9) Trade Winds.

All right. You can safely count this album as the first definite Rod Stewart record you'll never need in your collection. Only a hardcore fan who was wild about Atlantic Crossing could probably get even higher about this one. Basically, this record repeats the latter's format, with one crucial difference: everything is a step down. Once again, the album is divided into a 'harder' and a 'softer' side, only this time the 'softer' side comes first and the 'harder' side still ends with a 'soft' song ('Trade Winds'). The psychological effect this produces is hard to underrate: Rod has finally metamorphosed into a sappy sludge singer, and throws in three or four rockers just like that, pro forma. Add to this that the rockers are just not as interesting as the ones on Crossing, while the balladeering is even less inspired and much more generic, with not a single truly creative idea in sight.

And yet, like a small child, I still fall under the charm of several tracks on the album - yes, I know there's a zero percent artistic value here, but a couple of tracks still recapture the old magic, and even some of the weaker numbers still come alive with the power of Rod's voice. To start with, I find almost no offensive material on the album - apart from the closing 'Trade Winds', that is, which is a generic 'soulful' ballad where Rod assumes the position of St Francis and sings about the unjustices of life, backed up by a choir of faithful females. It's murky, not to mention hypocritic and painfully cheap, and everybody who's at least vaguely intelligent will get a shudder out of this put-on, in fact, the worst Stewart song of the particular epoch. But have mercy on the criminal, it's just one number.

None of the other ballads are that unbearable. Okay, the hit 'Tonight's The Night' might be a bit hard to swallow, with its presumingly crass arrangement and all those cheesy strings and stuff. But essentially the song is little more than a pleasant, innocent country shuffle, with tasty acoustic guitars and, well, banal, but not unlistenable lyrics, and even if it should be totally despised form a cultural/social position as the typical material for mid-Seventies' hit singles (talk Carpenters again), in retrospect it even has a nice vibe about it - if you can stand cheesiness, you might even like it. The thing I hate about it the most, in fact, are the lyrics - it initiates a long string of Stewart's 'Foreplay Compositions', as he reinvents himself as an 'openly sexual lover', to use some mild words. Okay, so he'd been a sexual idol from the very beginning of his career, but starting from Night On The Town, he brings his sexuality to the forefront and often lets it overshadow everything else. Now doesn't that look kinda lame?

The other two ballads, the self-penned 'Fool For You' and Cat Stevens' 'The First Cut Is The Deepest', are worse, but still, they are forgettable rather than atrocious. And, of course, there's the high point: 'The Killing Of Georgie'. Now that's one (and probably the only one) song I really, really like on the album and would consider an absolute Stewart classic. And it's not necessarily because of a quirky subject matter (it deals with the murder of one of Rod's gay friends and his lament over the fact), but because he almost sounds like Dylan again - quiet, but with that little flame and a sudden sincerity in his voice that wasn't really present on Atlantic Crossing at all. If you've been recently listening to Blood On The Tracks, you're more than sure to notice the similarities between this and songs like 'Simple Twist Of Fate' or 'You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go': in fact, 'Killing' is little more than a rip-off of either of these tunes, but how can you complain about this when it's a late Seventies Rod Stewart album we're speaking of? Really, I don't know whether the story he tells is true and whether he really cares, but he manages to get a little bit of his heart in the song, making it much more hard-hitting and memorable than all these other sappy ballads.

Now the 'rocking' side is really a big letdown. First of all, these four 'rockers' all sound the same - generic, unimaginative late-50's stylizations, all highly derivative of Smiler's 'Sweet Little Rock And Roller'. Now I admit that it's no big sin, because everybody needs a derivative rocker in one's life, and the ones offered on here are all pretty energetic, especially 'The Balltrap' and 'Big Bayou'. The guitars are also a great treat throughout, with terrific Berry-solos a la Keith Richards; I don't know who's playing them exactly - there's a swarm of guitarists all over the record. I only know that Joe Walsh is in there somewhere, but something tells me it's more probable to expect his presence on something like 'Tonight's The Night' rather than on a rock'n'roll solo. But when taken seriously and not just as a suitable reason for dancing, they all suck: there's not a single interesting riff in sight, not a single exciting gimmick or original stylization, just dull rehashes of old standards and re-writes of old classics. Even the rockin' stuff on Crossing sounds like Led Zeppelin in comparison, not to mention Rod's early, fresh material with the Faces.

So why do I give the record a 6? Why, because there was much worse to come, of course! Like I said, this is really the first Stewart album that has to be judged according to a new standard, that of commercial pop writer/performer, and when taken in the context of stuff like his Eighties crap, not his classic early Seventies' releases, it stands out, well, maybe not exactly 'loud and proud', but at least decently. 'The Killing Of Georgie' alone drags it up a significant bit.



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Somewhat more rockin' than the last one, at least, the rockers are more memorable, and that's a big advantage.


Track listing: 1) Hot Legs; 2) You're Insane; 3) You're In My Heart; 4) Born Loose; 5) You Keep Me Hangin' On; 6) (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want To Be Right; 7) You Got A Nerve; 8) I Was Only Joking.

This one initiates the series of albums with Rod's mug on every one and nothing else except it (well, Blondes Have More Fun had a chick there as well, but it was even worse). On here, though, he doesn't yet look like a complete sell-out pseudo-hip star - yet. And the songs are interesting, say what you will. Okay, this time there's no sign of anything like 'Killing Of Georgie', which means Rod had lost the last hopes of becoming an independent, raucous idol unbound by musical industry rules. The rockers on the first half of this record are wild, roarin' and tearin' with the usual arsenal of distortion, speed, booming drums and everything, but in 1977? Come on! The real music lovers were all in love with punk at the time! This probably explains Rod's wish to 'dirty it up' a little, but all he manages to come through with is a bunch of unconvincing cock rock songs, all carefully combed and smacked up so as not to set parents really worrying for their daughters. Not to mention that for every fun-filled cock rocker that you get, you also have to sit through a sappy, whiny love ballad, which only showcases the general level of hypocrisy. Sure - when you get a guy singing 'Hot legs wearing me out/Hot legs gonna scream and shout' in one song and 'You're ageless, timeless.../You are beauty and elegance' in the next one, well, the reaction is quite predictable.

But hey! I still like these songs! Again, Rod and his boys (this time some of them are really obscure - I don't recognize even a single surname in his swarm of guest guitarists) divide the record into a soft and hard side, each with a single exception ('You're In My Heart' on the hard side and 'You Keep Me Hangin' On' on the soft side), and the big improvement over A Night On The Town is that the hard side works. 'Hot Legs' may be heartless and commercial, and it may be overplayed on the air until you're sick, but don't you try to deny the catchiness and the energy. Rod's voice has never sounded better as he strains it to the extreme on the leaden, bombastic refrain, and the general atmosphere seems to be in favour of making this sound as close to his old, trusty Wood-era formula as possible. Of course, the dorky sexist lyrics and the unwipable sell-out smell successfully wipe out this illusion, but why not enjoy the results anyway? It still stands as one of the best pieces of beer-laden, unabashed boogie he'd managed to come up with since the 'classic days'. And the two other rockers, the mock-anti-hippie ('you been to Woodstock and all that trash') 'You're Insane' and the mock-pro-hippie 'Born Loose' ('Janis and Jimi, can't you hear me knockin' on heaven's door') are at least a definite step up from the simplistic Chuck Berry rip-offs of the previous album. 'Born Loose' even has that fabulous spot where the boozed-out rocker suddenly slows down and has an exciting change in tempo - speaking of creativity, are we? Whatever. Commercial, yes, but at least at this point Rod was still giving some thought to what he was doing.

And then there's the epic, seven-minute long Motown cover ('You Keep Me Hangin' On') that's normally as detestable as your average Motown thrown-up stuff (sorry all you Holland-Dozier-Holland fans out there), but at least it's a Motown cover, not a disco tune. Speaking of disco tunes - don't you find it interesting that none of Stewart's pre-1978 albums ever show even a single trace of disco? Huh? Perhaps he's not as bad as you think... Okay, back to 'Hangin'. The arrangement is very interesting, in fact, and the band manages to transform a pretty simple ditty into a multi-part symphony, replete with ominous synth feedback, church organ solos and speedy metallic guitar runs, with Rod's excellent singing on top. This is as close to a powerful epic as he ever got in those post-Wood days, and thanks to the fact that the year was 1977 and you could expect a mainstream artist to pump out some high quality product in those days, well... we actually got it.

Ooh yeah. The soft songs are much worse, of course: like I said, there's no equivalent to 'Killing Of Georgie' here, just your standard sappy orchestrated balladeering, most of which is completely forgettable. The cover of 'I Don't Want To Be Right' blows entirely, and the other three originals (two of them co-written with guitarist Gary Grainger) are, well, so-so. Come to think of it, the closing tune, 'I Was Only Joking', supposed to be autobiographic (but how the hell can you tell with Rod Stewart?), does own a lot to 'Killing Of Georgie', as, once again, it seems like a rip-off of some Blood On The Tracks tune, only this time much less intriguing. Nevertheless, it's harmless fun. The big hit 'You're In My Heart', however, does nothing to me, and ought to do nothing to you if you don't happen to accidentally be one of the public that sent this single into the Top 10 in 1977. In which case my apologies, but this site obviously is not designed for you, dear Sir (or Ma'am)! Rod has done it all before, and he has done it much, much better - actually, I enjoy his balladeering on Atlantic Crossing far, far more.

Still, I wouldn't want to pile all that trash on poor Rod, really. This is actually a decent album, and there's maybe just one or two songs truly offensive to good taste on the whole record, so, for a good time, you might even throw out a pair of bucks for it.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Yeah, it's product from beginning to end, but dammit to hell, it's a jolly well fashioned product!


Track listing: 1) Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?; 2) Dirty Weekend; 3) Ain't Love A Bitch; 4) The Best Days Of My Life; 5) Is That The Thanks I Get?; 6) Attractive Female Wanted; 7) Blondes (Have More Fun); 8) Last Summer; 9) Standin' In The Shadows Of Love; 10) Scarred And Scared.

Okay, I agree - if there was at least a bit of sparkling hope on the previous three records, it is gone here. This is the definite point where Rod embraces commerciality with all his stud might. Just look at the album cover and tell me it ain't atrocious. The funny thing, though, is that Rod is shown huggin' a brunette, not a blonde! Which evidently leads us to the conclusion that it is he, the blonde Rod the Mod, who really has all the fun, and that's what he does on the album: has a lot of fun. With disco, with rock'n'roll, with bland balladeering, with more and more modern production values - thank God, there are few synthesizers yet. But I'll be damned if so haven't I. This album is fun! After all, do not forget that the contemporary Some Girls was product just the same, but a great piece of product at that. So is Blondes Have More Fun. You may condemn it again and again, but keep in mind that the melodies are strong, sometimes even original; the experimentation is at an all-time high, since this is, contrary to rumours, the first time Rod flirts with disco, and he also flirts with reggae, Latin music and other stuff I'm not aware of. His voice is in perfect shape, the band is flawlessly professional as usual, and the lyrics are often interesting. In short, I don't care what anybody thinks: even despite the horror-inducing album sleeve, the record is Rod's best and most entertaining since, yes, since his better days in the early Seventies.

Of course, it has its share of stinkers, but even Rod's best albums have their share, so why complain? Just ignore all that filler, like the lifeless ballad 'The Best Days Of My Life', inherited directly from the 1976-77 fodder bag. Not that it's particularly bad: there's still the usual tasty acoustic guitar and all that stuff, and I give my two cents that, were a song like this composed by Neil Young and put on something like Comes A Time, everybody would just take off their hat and say, 'wow, there goes a really heartfelt ballad!' (In case you wonder, I'm knockin' Neil Young here, not complimenting Rod Stewart). The worst, in fact, comes near the end, since the next-to-last two songs are definitely tasteless. The Southern-American flavoured 'Last Time', with its nagging, annoying bass and that crappy, generic flute part, has no definite melody or structure that I'd be aware of; and the only cover on the record (yes, Rod really wrote all but one of the songs here himself, with help from some of his band members, and that's laudable), a dance-rhythmified cover of the Motown 'classic' 'Standin' In The Shadows Of Love' sucks, because Motown is bad, and a disco arrangement of Motown is double bad.

However, that's about it. I truly enjoy everything else, and sue me as much as you wish. Call me bad-tasted, whatever. I do not think that enjoying this record is a sign of bad taste. The only thing I can say is that commercial (which this record certainly is from head to toe) does not necessarily mean anti-artistic. After all, there is plenty of music made for the sake of music that's crappy, and plenty of music made for the sake of big bucks that's great; people who think that artistic value is incompatible with commercial value are obviously simplifying their approach to music so as not to spend time defining more complex (and more correct) criteria for what makes good and bad music. My statement is that a large percent of Blondes Have More Fun is, indeed, great fun, and not at all a 'guilty pleasure'.

Ever heard that opening track? Yeah, yeah, the one which Mike O'Hara put on his Worst Songs Ever List, aptly and brilliantly renaming it 'Do You Know I'm Fifty?' Back in 1978, though, Rod wasn't fifty at all, and, while all the possible charms of the number have been squeezed out of it by its constant and incessant airplay, it still remains as his best (and one of the few really worthwhile) disco experiments. Wilson & Alroy remarked that he stole the melody from some Brazilian disco tune, but who gives a damn? I doubt that the Brazilian original was able to provide these great vocals. While 'Miss You' still remains as the best disco number written by any rock 'dinosaur', this gotta be in the top ten too, and man, I love that rhythm track - after all, it ain't pure disco, it's a hybrid of disco and rock, and a good one. And it's guitar-driven! What else do you need?

All right. Maybe you hate disco. But in that case, what could you possibly have against the dumbest and silliest piece of hard, flashy rock'n'roll in existence, the utterly smutty and cock-tailed 'Dirty Weekend' where Rod goes even so far as to insert the word 'pussy'? (Yeah, yeah, it is spectacle, it is pose, I know, he ain't no punk, he ain't even no Mick Jagger, but as a comedy number, it's unsurpassed, as 'Hot Legs Vol. 2'). And you also get an even better rocker in the fabulous title track, Rod's well-played take on the Stones' 'Rip This Joint'. Namely, take 'Rip This Joint', slow it down just a teeny-weeny bit, substitute Jagger's gritty vocals for even grittier Rod vocals, add more lyrics (the best on the whole record, in fact), some flashy guitar solos, and you get your typical late-period Stewart rocker: not just a cheap Chuck Berry imitation, but something entirely else. Inessential, of course, but if you're looking for essential music, don't look back to 1978.

Apart from that, the grand prizes would be (a) the best ballad in years, the moving, and quite possibly sincere and, for once, really emotional 'Ain't Love A Bitch', Rod's reflections on his women problems, and (b) a curious reggae-rock concoction ('Attractive Female Wanted') with a strange, erratic melody highlighted by Rod's wailings on how he hates reading Penthouse and prefers an attractive female instead. C'mon, Rod! Don't be so shy! And the record ends in a mighty pleasant way, too, actually, it ends in a way that Rod always preferred: with a bit of pseudo-autobiographic preachiness. This time, though, it isn't the soul atrocities of 'Trade Winds', or the pedestrian shuffle of 'I Was Only Joking': it's a pleasant country stylization (the opening harmonica lines even recall memories of 'Oh Suzannah') where Rod paints a picture of himself as a young criminal and of his sufferings and toils. Not very convincing, but very nice, and the band does a superb job - not an instrument sounds out of place, not a note wasted. Superb.

Go buy this album, all you snobs and 'anti-commercialists'. This is the record that marks Stewart's transition into a new phase - the phase of the definite Mod Popster, but it is not yet an Eighties album. It's Stewart at his not-very-cheesy, but it's also Stewart at his trying-to-find-a-new-style, with intriguing and often thoroughly enjoyable results. It's unpredictable (even the sides are no longer divided into 'hard' and 'soft'), and professional. It deserves to be in your record collection, trust me. And if you find you're still alergic, well, just cover that album sleeve with a black bag...



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 6

Aha! Finally, we start pumping out some prime garbage...


Track listing: 1) Better Off Dead; 2) Passion; 3) Foolish Behaviour; 4) So Soon We Change; 5) Oh God I Wish I Was Home Tonight; 6) Gi'me Wings; 7) My Girl; 8) She Won't Dance With Me; 9) Somebody Special; 10) Say It Ain't True.

Heh, heh. How do you like that modified album cover? Just by saving a bit on the image size, we get a 'psychedelic' cover instead of the usual Rod Mug! Actually, this album is so badly out of print and inaccessible that it was nearly impossible to find a cover in the Net. Still, I insist that the way it looks here is better.

Anyway, this is where Rod steps into the Killer Decade and becomes arguably the first 'rock dinosaur' to be completely eaten by it. Not that the record is terribly different from the previous efforts, no, it pretty much follows the same formula: overemphasized, deceptive 'rockers', 'passionate' disco numbers, and sappy, over orchestrated ballads with a dreadfully high level of saccharine. Unfortunately, this album relates to the fare superior Blondes more or less in the same way as Smiler relates to the early greatness: the formula is preserved exclusively for the formula's own sake, which means that it's the same in form, but severely different in content. Everything on this album is a significant step down. The lyrics aren't interesting any more, just ranging from trite to atrocious (especially on the title track). The experimentation with song structure and rhythm patterns (however primitive it was earlier) is gone, and replaced by generic, rudimentary disco beats or plain rip-offs. The hits are mostly dreadful, and the minor successful numbers are pointless. Again, this is not his worst effort at all - even deeper humiliations were still ahead - but one could make a good point that from now on, it's hard enough to find enough Eighties' Stewart more or less acceptable material to fill up 45 minutes of tape. Truly and verily, but, anyway, let's still be honest and unbiased and see what we can squeeze out of here.

Frankly, when I heard the first track off here, I thought that this could have easily been Blondes Vol. 2. 'Better Off Dead' suffers from banality and sleaziness, of course, but how can one resist that furious beat and the rock'n'roll drive that's actually there - the song's yet another modernized, updated take on the Stones' 'Rip This Joint', and Rod's guitarists do a fine job of reproducing every Chuck Berry lick in existence. All doubts aside, this is just a fun, energetic retro-meets nineteen-eighty rockabilly number, and arguably the best song on the record. But is the mark sustained throughout? No, no and no! The other three rockers on here are faceless and confusing: 'Give Me Wings' somehow defines 'redneck' for me, 'She Won't Dance With Me' sounds utterly stupid jammed in between two sappy ballads, and, of course, the biggest offender is the title track, a disco rocker where Rod sings about how he's going to do in his lifemate. Now the epoch has certainly changed: poor Eric Clapton was recently slammed for putting just one line about 'blowing your brains out' in his self-penned song, with everybody forgetting that the line is nothing more than a blues cliche. Rod sang the lines 'should I string her up or strangle her in bed/Suffocate that little venomous head' to general applause. Not that I'm offended or anything - this is all just a big put-on, of course, a lame, poorly marketed attempt to sound 'rebellious', but the lyrics are just incredibly dorky. Taken together with a mean-nothing, go-nowhere disco un-melody, this makes up for one of his worst atrocities ever, and demands one or two points off the record.

Of course, if even the rockers are so lame, what can you expect from the pure disco numbers? The hit here was 'Passion', and it's about a million times worse than 'Da Ya Think I'm Sexy', so if you can't tolerate that one, better stay clear from this unfortunate ode to late-night bursts of emotion and sexual energy (berk). What a great number for teenybopping dance clubs. And I could care less about the disco-reggae mix of 'So Soon We Change' - again, it doesn't hold a candle to 'Attractive Female Wanted', which had hilarious lyrics set to a weird, interesting rhythm; this is just your usual nostalgia banality with a pretentious feel to it that only makes matters worse.

Out of the ballads, there's only one that's a standout (well, Rod was always sure to include a half-convincing rip-off of some early number of his, just so as to make sure his older fans wouldn't be that much disappointed), the slightly moving, listenable 'Oh God I Wish I Was Home Tonight', and that's because it steals the melody of 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue' as covered by the Byrds. It could have been laughed off earlier; here, in comparison with dreck like 'My Girl' (self-penned, nothing to do with the Smokey Robinson number), or the 'soulful', I-wanna-show-every-teenybopper-that-I-got-a-heart 'Say It Ain't True', it sounds fantastic. Aw shucks, anything at least mildly decent would have sounded great here. I give the record a 4 because, as I said, the worst was yet to come, but, indeed, apart from 'Better Off Dead' and 'I Wish I Was Home', there's nothing at all to praise here. And the album seems to be out of print in the States! Imagine that! What's that, a display of good taste from the side of the record companies?



Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 5

Retro crap meets disco poop. What more do I need to say? Rodney, you're dead meat!

Best song: TEAR IT UP

Track listing: 1) Tonight I'm Yours (Don't Hurt Me); 2) How Long; 3) Tora Tora Tora (Out With The Boys); 4) Tear It Up; 5) Only A Boy; 6) Just Like A Woman; 7) Jealous; 8) Sonny; 9) Young Turks; 10) Never Give Up On A Dream.

Shamelessly continuing our Long and Troubled Journey To The Depths of Shit, this album's even worse than its predecessor and one of Stewart's lowest points. I don't care that the All-Music Guide for some reason gave this a 'best-of-artist' rating, when even Blondes only got a 'good' one. This crap stinks! First of all, Rod seems to have fired nearly all of his trusty late Seventies' band (Bogart, Appice, Chen, Grainger, etc.), replacing them with totally unknown, faceless studio automatons. They do look cute in their sailor outfits on the back cover of the album, but maybe they should stick to sailing for the rest of their life? Instrumentation on the album also hits an all-time low. Second, there's just about one or two songs on this album that can actually hope to surpass the 'decent' grade, while the others are simply unlistenable. Synthesizers and drum machines are in, guitars and last drops of good taste are on their way out...

On a couple of tracks, Rod still tries to prove to us that he can rock (on a couple, hear that? there's but two rockers on the album!) But if you think he'd bothered to compose them, well then, don't fool yourself. 'Tora Tora Tora (Out With The Boys)' (what a hideous title) is, quite predictably, Rod's obligatory take on 'Rip This Joint', you can sing it to the same beat as 'Better Off Dead', only it lacks the latter's energy and fury and is therefore quite forgettable. Slightly better is Rod's cover of the Burnettes' 'Tear It Up', a retro Fifties-style number with some nice pumpin' bass and ear-pleasing guitar solos a la Scotty Moore; short, catchy and interesting, but kinda unnecessary, and seems also completely out of place on this synth-happy album. Then again, it can be vice versa: all of this synth-happiness seems completely out of place when put next to the two songs that at least display a few signs of life.

The record is also notorious for the fact that, for the first time in quite a long while, Rod turns back to his trusty way of covering Dylan, this time selecting 'Just Like A Woman'. Well, you've been all waiting for that, haven't you? Can he still pull it off? Can he? Well... no, he cannot. Not any more. No, the voice is still okay - he roars out the verses like there was no tomorrow (forgetting the fact that 'Just Like A Woman' is not your average opera air). But the arrangement, with all the disgusting, sappy synth strings and the trademark early Eighties pomp, blows, and the song doesn't come even close to anything resembling sincerity or genuine emotion. Don't expect 'Only A Hobo' or 'Girl From The North Country' here; what you get is prime shit. I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be that exact cover that turned the real Bob away from Christianity and back onto the path of making good music... And don't you get the impression that as time goes by, Rod stays further and further away from the microphone? On songs like 'Only A Hobo' or 'Mama You've Been On My Mind' he sounded warm and humane, as if speaking directly to the listener; here, he's completely detached and formulaic.

The main 'hit' off this record was 'Young Turks' - a song that's actually not about turks at all, but about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as directed against the younger generation (thank you, Uncle Rodney, for turning your blessed attention to us the pupsters). While its being hit-oriented is quite understandable, its musical value is under serious question... actually, it seems non-existent to me, a melodyless dance number of the kind that was probably being pumped out in thousands all over the planet at the time. The fact that so many Rod fans speak out loudly in favour of the tune as Rod's successful mastering of the synth-pop genre only goes to show their limitations - for good synth-pop, look up... look up Depeche Mode, or Duran Duran, or the Pet Shop Boys for Chrissake. Oh, and the same "compliments" go for the title track (I have a hard time trying to distinguish one from another).

The rest might not necessarily be that horrible, but problem is, the rest is mostly ballads, and you know how I feel about ninety percent of Rod's ballads after 1974. If you love him exclusively for his voice, it might be all right, because his voice here is in perfect form: on songs like Paul Carrack's 'How Long' or the closing anthemic 'Never Give Up On A Dream' he gives it his all. But that's just a technical delivery, after all. I prefer to hear Rod singing over a great melody, and, guess what, there are no great, good or even decent melodies here. 'Jealous'? 'Sonny'? I think I did listen to this stuff, but God help me, I don't even remember what it sounds like. On 'Sonny' Rod did try to sound convincing, but he never convinced me, not with all the "heavenly" adult-pop synths spoiling the air around. And 'Only A Boy' is yet another take on his 'nostalgic', auto-biographic formula, but the formula hardly worked before and certainly does not work now.

In all, this is an album that I would hardly recommend even to the most diehard fan - a profanation of that once proud name that Rodney (or, hey, let's call him properly: Roderick) used to wear. 'Young Turks', really! Git on wid' ya!



Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 2
Overall rating = 4

Disco poop meets... big whoop. A good record to sleep to, or to replace a shooting disc.


Track listing: 1) Dancin' Alone; 2) Baby Jane; 3) Move Me; 4) Body Wishes; 5) Sweet Surrender; 6) What Am I Gonna Do; 7) Ghetto Blaster; 8) Ready Now; 9) Strangers Again; 10) Satisfied.

Tee-hee. You thought Tonight I'm Yours was bad, didncha? Well this one's worse. And, taken the fact that I've bought both coupled on one CD, this makes for arguably the most hideous, the most GOD DAMN DARN BLEARIEST HORRIBLEST piece of trash plastic in my collection. I wouldn't part with it for a hundred dollars, of course, because I'm that crazy, but that's another story.

So what's this big deal with Body Wishes? Well, for starters, you know you're in a trouble when the record begins with a mid-tempo, catchy but absolutely pointless 'rocker' ('Dancin' Alone') with atrocious lyrics and not even an ounce of energy that made songs like 'Better Off Dead' more or less enjoyable. You know there's a special brand of rockers when everything is very loud and screechy and pompous but nothing is memorable because there's not even a single substantial hook? Like Eric Clapton's 'Superman Inside'? Or like 50% of Kiss songs? Well, this one is of the same breed. And you know you're in far, far bigger trouble when it turns out to be one of the best songs on the whole album. Somehow, Rod seems to have forgotten everything about his past and how he'd used to do those mind-swirling Chuck Berry rockers; there's not a single one on here, and this is also the first time you're not even going to be rewarded with yet one more 'Rip This Joint' rip-off.

Moreover, there's not even a single example or even a slightest trace of creativity. While once again all of the songs are credited to Stewart, with co-authorship courtesy of his friendly studio robots whose names I won't even bother mentioning, most are simply re-writes of past successes or limit themselves to a grand total of one chord endlessly played with a very pompous feel... aw, what the heck, I guess you all know everything about your average Eighties pop. This is a typical bad Eighties pop record, which means one word: abysmal.

In fact, this record produces such a depressing effect on me that I suddenly catch myself wishing for something I usually despise. I miss the sound of drum machines and hi-tech synths - hey, maybe they should have hired Phil Collins? All these generic guitars and tedious brass passages just wears down on me like a smelly wall of shit. I miss the lack of ballads: yeah, I know that most of Stewart's post-Wood records were saved by rockers while ballads mostly dragged them down, but here, it's just the opposite. Out of the three or four ballads here, at least one is tolerable, the substanceless but somewhat pretty 'Sweet Surrender': with its light drum shuffle, mostly fresh sweet acoustic guitars and generic, but at least tasteful slide, it sounds like one of Stewart's more convincing retro excursions. The two other ballads that come towards the end are quite pathetic, though, in the usual Grandiose Asshole style: 'Satisfied' is a tuneless, but veeery 'majestic' (my ass) mess, and 'Strangers Again' is as tasteless as could be.

So, as usual, I was left hoping for the rockers, and what do I find? Apart from the dubious entertainment values of 'Dancin' Alone', everything else is rote, rote down to the core. Electronic beats, generic Eighties guitars, stupid cock rock/erotic philosophy/social criticism lyrics, and above it, a voice that'd already started to deteriorate. Perhaps the worst offender is 'Ghetto Blaster', a horrendous, awful, nightmarish 'protest song' where Rod sings about poor Ethiopian children and the arms race, every now and then warning us that 'I'm not preaching, I'm only singing'. Oh yeah, and I'm only the King of the Solomon Islands. Gotta be an absolute nadir for poor Roderick. But he comes close with the title track, a contemporary update on the lyrical matter of 'Passion'; suffice it to say that Roderick's main problem this time is with subduing, well, his body wishes. How well does this tie in with the arms race and world hunger, I don't really understand, but perhaps you ask Rodney? Hey Rod, how's it going in Ethiopia?

'Move Me' for some reason reminds me of an AC/DC song with the guitars taken out and replaced by synthesizers. How can that be? I don't know, but I do really get that impression. The two moderate hits here were 'Baby Jane' and 'What Am I Gonna Do'; they're definitely not as vomit-inducing as the two previously mentioned horrors, possibly because they're, after all, simply love songs without any crappy 'philosophy' meshed in. Still, I can only envision 'Baby Jane' in a half-star movie soundtrack with an obligatory participation of Whitney Houston and Bryan Adams, and 'What Am I Gonna Do' reminds me of some ABBA song it's been probably ripped off of. Some good song, of course - it was up to Stewart to screw it and churn out yet another banal poppy piece of schlock. Yeeouw. Can you imagine what kind of a decade the Eighties were when this was your average quality of a record? Glad I don't do much of that shit on this here site... I gotta go wash my hands now. If you hate somebody, buy him Body Wishes. But prepare to get slapped.



Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 1
Overall rating = 3

Oh yeah, the great joys of exploring the dreariest spots of Eighties' dance muzak!

Best song: it's been a long long time since Rod wrote a good one, let alone best...

Track listing: 1) Infatuation; 2) All Right Now; 3) Some Guys Have All The Luck; 4) Can We Still Be Friends; 5) Bad For You; 6) Heart Is On The Line; 7) Camouflage; 8) Trouble.

No, no, no, if you hate somebody, buy him Camouflage! What was I thinking? This is the absolute nadir of Rod Stewart's career, er, I mean, the absolute nadir of Pop Music as a whole. Do you realize that the overall rating of this record is a three? The lowest of my ratings so far has been four! Ooh, this is the perversion of perversions, the Lucifer of Nasty Schlock, the Beelzebul of Adult Cheese, the... I'm at a loss for words. I've heard much garbage in my life, and you know, Body Wishes can make the milk turn sour, but the very idea of putting this record on again for the third time (I've only managed two) brings me to the brink of a heart attack. Even the album cover has something utterly disgusting about it - Rod's snout has never looked so ugly.

There are eight lengthy proto-technofests etched in on this record, murky to the point of absolute loathing. I mean, I'm sorry for the abundance of this kind of epithets, but what can I do? I suffered enough trying to sit through this mess, now let me at least have my go! All right. Calm down, George, take some tranquilisers, and get serious. There are next to no ballads here at all, if you don't count the tuneless sissiness of 'Trouble' tackled there onto the end (I won't make any comments about it because I fall to sleep in the midst of the previous track - the only way to prevent incurable schizophrenia). Most of the songs have an ultra-modern disco or hip-hop or even break beat to them, so that most of the time you can't even distinguish one from another. If you cut away 'Trouble' which, I repeat, I just hadn't had the forces to really, er, enjoy, the album starts and ends in two of the most bloodcurdling pieces of muck Rod has ever churned out. Add to this the fact that the first one of those, 'Infatuation', was a Top Ten hit, and you pretty much got yourself the state of public tastes in the mid-Eighties. Basically, it's yet another lyrical re-write of 'Passion/Body Wishes', only descending to new levels of lameness. And just imagine that none other but Rod's old trusty master, Jeff Beck, was brought in to play the solo on this one - a gesture which is more or less the equal of painting your axe in pretty colours before chopping off the head.

However, even 'Infatuation' pales before the monstruosity of the robotic break dance number 'Camouflage' that drags on for five minutes and subtracts you one year of life for every minute. Such a track alone can cost even a masterpiece of an album three or four points at the least; in fact, when I put this album on for the second time I had to put on my headphones because I couldn't let any of my relatives hear these atrocious drum beats. Which, of course, made me a permanent hearing invalid for life, but I guess that goes without saying.

And you really know you're in trouble when the best (best? it's still shitty as hell!) song on the album gotta be a cover (bing!) of the famous Free song (bing!) 'All Right Now' (bing!) arranged as a disco number (triple, quadruple bing!). I mean, I have nothing against the original, as gruesomely overrated as it is; but putting it on this record, amidst lame hi-tech synth arrangements and paranoid drum machines, was a totally stupid move. Then again, maybe not - like I said, it's the best thing on the album. Actually, I kinda appreciate Rod's singing here - clearly, if only he'd gotten to perform this around 1970, he would have blown Paul Rodgers' ass off the stage. But that was way back when, you know. Now, he just sounds like a dumb old fart pretending to be cool.

Which is, indeed, the very essence of this record - "old fart pretending to be cool". A typical mid-life crisis record, made worse by the fact that Rod actually started to lose his taste for good music much earlier. What a pity that all of those famous rock stars reached middle age just at the time when corporate producers reached a whole new level of controlling the music industry and at the time when electronic pseudo-musical substitutes became so trendy. Anyway, if you wanna have obvious proof of the Eighties being the worst decade in rock, the only thing you have to do is find an old video of 'Camouflage' - some MTV flick or something, or just visualise a picture of guys and girls groovin' to its poisonous beat in some cheap disco club. Man, I think I'd prefer Britney Spears. At least, Britney Spears lacks the horrid pretentions of Camouflage-era Stewart.

There are a few moments - yeah, moments, not songs - on this album, to be entirely honest, which are still able to draw my attention. For instance, 'Some Guys Have All The Luck' comes close to having a catchy, interesting melody, but is definitely overarranged and butchered by the corny synths and, of course, horrendous lyrics. And then there's some more Jeff Beck 'round the corner, as he adds flashy leads to the presumably 'rockin'' (still crap, prime crap) 'Bad For You' and, more important, plays a really tasty, pleasant acoustic solo on 'Can We Still Be Friends'. Bad luck indeed - fate had it so that Jeff happened to add his much needed help when it was too late, much too late. (Ironically, next year Stewart returned the favour for one of Beck's worst albums). But, in any case, these are just moments, tiny little moments that account for this record's one point. If not for Beck, I would seriously consider giving this a zero.



Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 6

Whew, he's letting go a little. It's still crap, but at least it's hopeful crap...

Best song: WHO'S GONNA TAKE ME HOME. Maybe not. Who cares?

Track listing: 1) Here To Eternity; 2) Another Heartache; 3) A Night Like This; 4) Who's Gonna Take Me Home; 5) Red Hot In Black; 6) Love Touch; 7) In My Own Crazy Way; 8) Every Beat Of My Heart; 9) Ten Days Of Rain; 10) In My Life.

A huge improvement over Camouflage (it's hard to think of something that wouldn't be one, though). It's certainly not a comeback or anything, and the songwriting is nearly as rotten as always, but at least the songs aren't particularly offensive. Practically none of these ten numbers don't even come close to the murky robotic dance stuff of Camouflage, and in general it does begin to seem that Rod was getting tired of technophilic gadgets and all that programmed stuff. More probable is the fact that he was painfully trying to improve his reputation: any respect that he had from the 'serious' public he'd already lost long before, and in addition to that, his albums weren't selling! I mean, yeah, Camouflage did go gold (o tempora! o mores!), but Body Wishes, for instance, didn't, and the fact that the direction he'd taken was a dead end was simply much too evident.

Therefore, while this album is still mostly synth-pop, the synthesizers are used far more lightly, and drum machines are practically non-existent on this album. Mostly, he takes a step back to the days of Tonight I'm Yours; the sole exception is that there still are no more retro rockers - the only hole through which he still got some creativity and real excitement up to the early Eighties. Actually, there are rather few rockers on the record in all: and that's a good thing, because as much as his sappy ballad stuff from the Seventies/early Eighties tended to suck, it never even marginally approached the vomit-inducing level of Rod the Synth Rocker.

But: nevertheless, the rockers that did make it onto this record are okay, not the horrendous, pretentious machismo or braindead electronic stuff of the previous album, but hearkening a bit more to the days of 1978-80. Even the lyrics have improved a teeny bit. My favourite on here is 'Who's Gonna Take Me Home (The Rise And Fall Of A Budding Gigolo)' - because the lyrics are funny and stupid, and there's some real powerful riffage on here. Hey now, don't condemn me, I ain't never said the song is good - it's simply tolerable. Dorky, jerky (the synth pattern underlying the song is actually the Eighties at their most generic), but tolerable, like a slightly revved-up version of some potential Phil Collins hit single. Then there's another interesting song, the disco rocker 'Here To Eternity', actually, it's the first case lyricswise when Rod steps away from the overfamiliar topic of 'if there's a God in heaven what's he waiting for' and discusses a concrete case of an unjustly repressed guy and his girlfriend, kinda like his own version of Dylan's 'Hurricane' or, well, any of the million songs of the type. I mean, he's really trying on here: it's banal, but it kinda works... and he sings it well, too. 'Ten Days Of Rain', I guess, is somewhat acceptable, too, as its nostalgic aura seems to be an inch above the title track. Hmm, then again, maybe not. Maybe I'm just suffering from lack of taste again. You decide for yourself, if you ever get your hands on this record (presumably you won't, as it's out of print together with Foolish Behaviour).

Of course, none of the other songs can be recommendable at all. The culmination of Rod's newly-found idiocy is found at the very end of this album, represented by the cover of the Beatles' 'In My Life' - a slow, sweet, sappy, over-orchestrated version. Again, though: it's a slow, sweet, sappy, over-orchestrated version! Have you realised that it's a nostalgic kick-back into the days of the mid-Seventies! For reference: Rod's last cover of a 'classic' was the fully-automatic version of 'All Right Now'... Then there's the 'hit' - this time, it was 'Love Touch', a somewhat indifferent ballad that's nowhere near as annoying as 'Passion', but probably even less memorable. And the title track, a 'power ballad' that's supposed to represent Rod at his most pathetic and nostalgic, is a bit in the vein of 'Tonight's The Night', that is, unconvincing and overblown. Most of the other stuff is just your standard mid-tempo rockers, ranging from dull to... dull. I, however, got quite a good laugh at the lyrics in 'A Night Like This': 'There's one thing I'm lacking/It's sexual experience/So I'm asking you my sweetheart/Save me from this wilderness'. We all know, of course, that Roderick was quite used to lying in his songs since the days of 'Never been a millionnaire...', but this is simply rude, not to mention that it's far too offensive in respect to all of Rod's famous blondes. Well, seems like he still had a long way to go...

Nevertheless, it all makes for more or less acceptable background music, in case you're not too worried about your guests. Why the All-Music Guide gave it a one out of five stars is, once again, totally beyond me. Where Camouflage made me lose several years of my precious life, this one simply passes by blankly, and that's it; Rod slowly 'cools it down', starting - I suppose - to realize that his young reckless 'stud' days are over and he's not gonna make it big with flashing synth-rockers any more, because all they did was present him as a cheap forty-year old pervert who'd completely forgotten how it feels to be a twenty-year old geezer but went ahead and tried emulating it anyway. On Every Beat, he just acts as a synth-pop balladeer with very restrained elements of rock'n'roll - a pretty generic and forgettable synth-pop balladeer, in fact, but not as utterly disgusting any more. Some catchy moments here, too. And no drum machines! The ground was thus layed for Rod's 'big artistic comeback' with the next album.



Year Of Release: 1988
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 7

Rod gets a little more stripped down, and the arrangements don't wanna make me go to the bathroom. At least.


Track listing: 1) Lost In You; 2) The Wild Horse; 3) Lethal Dose Of Love; 4) Forever Young; 5) My Heart Can't Tell Me No; 6) Dynamite; 7) Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out; 8) Crazy About Her; 9) Try A Little Tenderness; 10) When I Was Your Man; 11) Almost Illegal.

Ah! Better. That's not to say that the songs aren't mostly just a bunch of forgettable, useless crap, pretty much like on every single one of his previous five studio albums. But see, everything should be taken in comparison. The end of the Eighties caught Rod trying to shake off the corporate chains and, if not clean up, at least a little improve his dissolved reputation. Out Of Order is, in fact, the first record in a very, very long period of time, where the man starts using his head, not just his lungs. First, it should be noted that eight out of eleven numbers are penned by Rod himself, mostly in collaboration with guitarist Andy Taylor; this is not necessarily a benefit, as we all know, but the very fact gives some hope. Second, the sound is very different from most of his Eighties' output. The hi-tech synthesizers are nearly gone, and, while the production is still echoey and slick and the drums are still electronic, the record is clearly more guitar-oriented than ever before. Third, there are but two or three tracks of vomit-inducing potential - and this, perhaps, is the biggest revolution: at long least, Stewart has switched from producing atrocious albums to producing albums that are just bad. The cover of 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out' is one of these tracks, continuing the strange line of 'Patented Stewart Crappy Rearrangements Of Old Classics', the infamous ragbag already containing 'Just Like A Woman', 'All Right Now', etc. Here, he takes the soulful, tragic blues of Jimmy Cox and transforms it into a robotic, metallic technofest that sounds not an ounce like the original and echoes back to the days of that garbage classic, Camouflage: a tragic misstep that costs the album at least half a point. Whammo! A couple of ballads here stink, too, like the Phil Collins-ey moody, sweet-sacchariney 'Try A Little Tenderness', with its generic saxophone solo and lyrics that truly make me sick. But that's about it: no more atrocities.

On the 'simply bad' side, the record is, as usual, divided into loud, 'kick-ass' rockers, and softer ballads that run the gamut from okayish to passable (which is not a very huge gamut, of course, but hey, what do you expect from Rod the Mod at the tail end of the Eighties?) There ain't a single classic on here, of course, but what was the last time you ever had a classic from Rod? 'Passion'? (Tee, hee, hee).

'Lost In You' opens the album on a decent note, a friendly, upbeat stomper with elements of orchestration and a very warm, welcome refrain - the best start for a Rod Stewart album in years. The only thing that really bugs me about it, and most of the rest of the record, are the guitar solos: these haven't changed even a single bit and are every bit as stereotyped and routine as ever. 'The Wild Horse' has nothing to do with the Stones' 'Wild Horses'; instead, it's a bombastic power ballad that features a terrific vocal delivery from Rod, but that's about it - the song itself is deadly, deadly dull, typical of the soul fodder Rod was pushing on us since the mid-Seventies. Yet, 'dull' doesn't mean unlistenable: it works fine as background music, and the corny female backup vocals are easily compensated by such gimmicks as the subtle ring of mandolins. Yup, you heard right - Rod's beloved instrument is back, and it's gonna stay forever now, as far as I understand. 'Lethal Dose Of Love' is a near-stinker: its generic metal chords, borrowed off Led Zep's 'Wanton Song', never sound sincere enough, yet somehow Rod pulls it off by spinning out yet another swirling vocal thunderstorm, culminating in these groovy 'lethal dose of looooooo-uuuaaaave' screams that, want it or no, are pure Rod and nobody else. 'Forever Young' is a shameless rip-off of Dylan: no, it's not a cover, it's more or less an 'original', but Rod uses exactly the same lyrical cliches as Dylan does in his song ('be courageous and be brave, and in my heart you'll always stay forever young'), and the message and mood are identic. You probably know the song - it was something like his latest greatest hit, right? Well, it's typical Eighties pablum, not better or worse than anything else. Hmm. Might have easily fit onto a Phil Collins solo album, I think.

Same goes for 'My Heart Can't Tell Me No', a totally substance-less ballad that has no melody I'm aware of, or the Latino-influenced 'Crazy About Her' whose nostalgic saxes, melancholic lyrics and tired harmonica blasts are probably supposed to bring the casual listener to tears. But we the experienced listeners, we've heard it all before, and moreover, the game's totally up when Rod has the bad idea to include the stupid rap passages right in the middle of the number. What a jerk. For my money, 'When I Was Your Man' is the best ballad on here, as it recalls me of 'Tonight's The Night': the same lightweight, shuffling, nonchalant mood, with Rod's patented 'tear-bringing' intonations and a really heartfelt refrain. Most probably, though, I feel attracted towards the song since it has the most easy-going arrangement on here: it has real, not electronic, drums, very live-sounding guitars and a nice-sounding organ part instead of cheesy synths. Even the sax feels in its place. A much more worthy contender for a hit than 'Forever Young', of course, but how could we decide that? Bah...

The best, though, is saved for last. 'Almost Illegal'. A rocker! And a good one! I mean, it's a bit too much based on generic metal chords, too, but it's at the least funny and adventurous. If you ever found the force or the will to enjoy all those suspicious rockers on Blondes Have More Fun, you'll get your kicks out of this one, too. For your comfort, it has lyrics that really range among Rod's most funny, plus it's adorned by real harmonica solos. Believe me! The guitar solos suck all sorts of arse, though. Geez, poor unfortunate Rod; he hasn't had a suitable guitar player for almost fifteen years now.

Aye, the 'five' rating is indeed deserved. The first album in quite a long time, in fact, when I didn't have to really force myself to listen. I even know people, in fact, who claim this record to be one of Rod's finest ever - but that's an exaggeration, of course. Just because he tosses out the synths and writes most of the songs himself doesn't mean a doggone thing. But it's a big step up from the days of Camouflage, and if you're a great Rod fan, a must for you.



Year Of Release: 1991
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

This is where Rod finally becomes an Old Fart. And that's good - how many years can you stay hip?


Track listing: 1) Rhythm Of My Heart; 2) Rebel Heart; 3) Broken Arrow; 4) It Takes Two; 5) When A Man's In Love; 6) You Are Everything; 7) The Motown Song; 8) Go Out Dancing; 9) No Holding Back; 10) Have I Told You Lately; 11) Moment Of Glory; 12) Downtown Train; 13) If Only.

Steadily moving up, is he? That's not to say that this is a good album; nay, not at all. But one thing's for sure - this is listenable practically all the way through. Yeah, I know an eight is not a particularly big overall rating, but for a late Rod Stewart album to get an eight, wow... Okay. That's good.

The biggest news is that Vagabond Heart is completely stylistically different from everything that preceded it. Namely, Rod finally settled into old age: with the coming of the Nineties, he finally understood that staying hip forever, especially if you have to sacrifice your artistic integrity in favour of that 'hipness', would be virtually impossible. And so, he takes the easy way out - plunging into soft, inoffensive, forgettable Adult Contemporary. But it's not the worst offer you can find - hey, it sounds infinitely better than Phil Collins' No Jacket Required, and that's telling a lot. The melodies on here may be cheesy and generic, but many of them are quite catchy and upbeat, and the grooves don't make you vomit like they did in the Eighties. Finally, you're able to say, 'oh, he sounds just like an average MTV pop star', and you're right, because that's what he is.

He's not on a nostalgia trip, either: apart from the groovy, slightly retro-ish 'The Motown Song' that's not particularly impressive but at least remorselessly danceable, you couldn't really say that he's trying to recapture the past: unabashed nostalgia and yearning for the Rod of old wouldn't set in until the next record. That's not a particularly cheerful fact, because Spanner In The Works would soon demonstrate that nostalgia was the only means for Rod to deliver something truly worthwhile; but on the other hand, it makes Vagabond Heart a truly unique record in Stewart's catalog - for good or for bad.

As you can see, I have mixed feelings towards the record. I suppose it goes without saying that if you're judging this according to the man's past merits, it sucks as much anything; but if you put it on after enduring all these blood-curdling Eighties' pieces of trash, it sure comes off as a pleasant surprise. So pardon me, I'll sink a bit to the bottom and praise some of the material on here. 'Rhythm Of My Heart' opens the record on a deceptive note, as if it were going to be a harmonica dominated countryish shuffle, then degenerates into a synth-dominated popper instead, but hey, there's something so uplifting in the charming anthemic refrain of the song that I can't help liking it: for the first time in God knows when Rod truly sounds sincere - maybe because he's not overdoing that vocal trick, but putting exactly the needed amount of force and conviction in his voice. Definitely one of his best 'anthems', far less pretentious than stuff like 'People Get Ready', at least.

The record never quite reaches the standard after that, but there's quite a few eyebrow-lifting tracks indeed. 'Rebel Heart' is an okayish rocker, not too remarkable, but it has hooks - quite unlike anything on, say, Camouflage. The cover of Robbie Robertson's 'Broken Arrow' may sound a bit sappy, but hey, it's Mr Robertson (the Band! ever heard of these?), don't you know? Mr Robertson wrote quite a few sappy songs in his time, bless his soul, but they used to have melodies, and this one has one too.

Then there's the steamy duet with Tina Turner on 'It Takes Two'. They don't quite rock the walls off the floor with that one, like Tina once did with Eric Clapton on 'Tearing Us Apart', but the voices blend together well enough; what a shame that the song's melody is so frustratingly primitive. 'Go Out Dancing' is more cheesy synth-pop, but built on an interesting synth riff - yeah, I am able to recognize a good synth-pop song when I hear one. This one's a good synth-pop song (note: one 'good synth-pop song' approximately corresponds to one fifth of a 'good rocker', so make your little calculations out there). Likewise, 'Downtown Train' has also got hooks - well, it should have, it was a Tom Waits song, wasn't it?

So, actually, there's just a very, very small percent of atrocious filler on this one. As usual, the sap is disgusting ('You Are Everything'; 'If Only' may be sincere and emotional to the brim, but I could care less); the Van Morrison cover is banally executed and was never all that great in the first place; and the disco crap 'When A Man's In Love' is, well, disco crap. Disco crap will always be disco crap.

But somehow I don't really notice all these flaws on the album - I mean, I'm incredibly glad for Rod that, thirteen years after he started descending the treacherous path of fake soulless idolatry with Blondes Have More Fun (and yes, I still think of that one as a good album - just like I think of Black Sabbath as a good heavy metal band that served as primary inspiration for all the awful heavy metal bands), he finally got his head out of his you-know-what and at least tried writing and producing something acceptable. Something that doesn't necessarily makes you cringe and your musical taste evaporate into the background. And mind you, you're reading things written by a person who actively hates Adult Contemporary. That's just to show you how much this album is an improvement over Rod's previous output - arguably some of the worst music ever written and put to tape, not to mention charting, of course.

The amazing thing is that Rod would top this record in a few years - just one last time...



Year Of Release: 1995
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

The big comeback - Rod finally makes a nostalgia-drenched album that older fans might appreciate.

Best song: SOOTHE ME

Track listing: 1) Windy Town; 2) The Downtown Lights; 3) Leave Virginia Alone; 4) Sweetheart Like You; 5) This; 6) Lady Luck; 7) You're The Star; 8) Muddy Sam And Otis; 9) Hang On St Christopher; 10) Delicious; 11) Soothe Me; 12) Purple Heather.

You may love or hate all the endless 'unplugged' sessions, but there's no denying at least one thing: most of these actions invigorated the 'dinosaur rockers' to finally go out in the studio and make something that would stand out among their gray, tired, and often shitty catalog of the Eighties. Paul McCartney played his set and released Off The Ground, his biggest 'comeback' in years; Clapton played his set and released From The Cradle, a record I still insist is one of his best; even Bob Dylan followed his set with Time Out Of Mind. Well, Rod was no exception: after his 1993 affair with MTV, he put out this little record which, while far from 'great', is still undeniably the best effort since Blondes, and in many ways can even be deemed superior. Frankly speaking, I had little hope when I picked it up - something was stirring up my heart, though, telling me that it was yet too early to put a big fat full stop to the Mod's career. And oh how happy I was! Yeah, this ain't exactly the 'great' comeback fans were probably secretly hoping for since the mid-Seventies, but it's the closest thing to a 'satisfying' Rod Stewart album we've seen in years. No more generic robotic rockers on here. Very few Phil Collins-style atmospheric ballads. No atrocious experiments with setting old songs to break dance rhythms or anything like that. The production is quite clever - with just a slight touch of synth backing, lots of acoustic guitars, cute little bass lines, restrained backing vocals and acceptable lead guitar passages. Oh, by the way, Rod produced half of the album himself, and Trevor Horn (of Buggles and Yes fame, remember that?) is responsible for the other half. My only gripe is that after collaborating once again with Ronnie Wood on Unplugged, the natural move would be to lure him into the studio - but somehow Rod failed to make this decision, so the backing band mostly consists of the same thugs like Kevin Savigar and Robin LeMesurier that so effectively butchered everything on Rod's Eighties' albums. Here, though, they are much more restrained.

A couple of tracks should still be thrown into the wastebin that's already overflowing with his previous garbage. The 'R'n'B heroes tribute' 'Muddy, Sam And Otis' is downright embarrassing: I would expect that he'd at least make it a blues tune or a heartfelt rocker, instead, he goes for the same pathetic, adult-pop sound that was used for songs like 'Here To Eternity'. The lyrics are actually quite moving: after all, it's always nice to hear a talented dude sing a hymn of appraisal to his reverend teachers. Unfortunately, the feel of sincerity and genuine emotion isn't quite achieved; everybody knows that it's the same 'corporate Rod' that sang 'Young Turks' not so long ago, rather than the young innocent Rod who sang 'Blind Prayer' or 'Maggie May', and everything sounds phoney, apart from, maybe, the lines 'thank you Sam thank you Otis thank you Muddy'. And there are some pretty shitty ballads, too, like 'The Downtown Lights' and 'You're The Star', where he reproduces the standard Sludge Rock formula that bored us to death for decades.

The rest is tolerable, hey, it's sometimes exciting! On most of the tracks, the aim was clearly to emulate the Stewart of old, not the rutty Stewart of the Eighties. So the album is like an unabashed nostalgia trip, but hey, what on earth was wrong with the word 'nostalgia' in the first place? Tom Petty's 'Leave Virginia Alone' is given the same treatment as all the 'Maggie May'-type stuff, with the same steady rhythm, self-assured acoustic guitars, and moving, heartfelt vocals. So what if it's a cover? By the way, there's just four originals on the entire album, and somehow Wilson & Alroy put this as a serious flaw of the record, accusing Rod of shedding all signs of creativity (for some odd reason, they seem to have forgotten that Every Picture, their favourite of his entire catalog, had but three originals). Fine, says I, perhaps it's indeed better that he's choosing other songwriters - after all, do we really need a couple more clones of 'Muddy Sam And Otis'? As it is, we have the pleasure of hearing Rod sing another Dylan cover, and he doesn't butcher it! 'Sweetheart Like You' is a definite highlight of the album, just like the upbeat, inspiring cover of Sam Cooke's 'Soothe Me', with tasty organs and one of the greatest vocal deliveries in years. These two songs really make you cry out 'Rod's back' loud and proud: both of them wouldn't feel out of place on any of his better early period records. Yeah, it's all nostalgia, but you gotta give the guy some credit - you gotta, you really gotta! Time hasn't really washed him up, it has just covered him with slime and fat, some of which he's been able to successfully shake off on this record.

And it ain't true that all the originals are bad, either. 'Delicious' is an okayish rocker, with enough distortion and raunchiness from the guitars to not seem much too soft, but with enough restraint and too few 'posing' to seem overblown and caricatured. And 'Lady Luck' has its subtle charms as well: yet another 'Maggie May' clone, it's typical 'harmless' Stewart, with acceptable production values and an unremarkable, but inoffensive melody graced by a modest, not too obtrusive, but emotional vocal delivery. Perhaps the only 'loss of face' happens when Stewart retitles 'Wild Mountain Thyme' as 'Purple Heather' and credits it to himself, for reasons unknown. Maybe the record company thought there were so many covers it would have a fortune to lose in royalties, or maybe they didn't quite figure out the author of this beautiful folk tune, so it was decided that the copyright was lost in the years. But it's good, anyway.

To conclude. I HEAVILY recommend this record to anybody who's wooed over Rod's great stuff; in fact, once you've acquired all of his Ron Wood period records, this is the natural next step. On the other hand, please do so only if you're desperate for more 'similar' product, because on an objective level, Spanner adds nothing to the Rod legacy besides proving that the man is still able to sound exactly the same way he used to sound twenty-five years ago. Nevertheless, after sorting out the dreck (which is quite limited this time around), the rest is solid, enjoyable and quite acceptable even for a person with an exceptionally 'refined' taste.



Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

Rodney - you don't fool me! Better stay away from trying to be hip by imitating your imitators...

Best song: OOH LA LA

Track listing: 1) Cigarettes And Alcohol; 2) Ooh La La; 3) Rocks; 4) Superstar; 5) Secret Heart; 6) Hotel Chambermaid; 7) Shelly My Love; 8) When We Were The New Boys; 9) Weak; 10) What Do You Want Me To Do.

Once upon a time you were the greatest Rod Stewart fan in the world. You had the largest collection of footballs he'd thrown in the audience, forever treasured the man's autograph on Gasoline Alley and seriously considered naming your daughter 'Maggie'. Then it all changed, and after an unsuccessful attempt at lopping of the man's head with your brand new sharpened copy of Camouflage you'd spent fourteen years in jail. One sunny day in the year 1998, you're finally released and as you walk out on the street, you hear that same familiar voice coming out of a radio set from an open window. But instead of recoiling and plugging your ears... you find out that you LIKE the song! He's singing 'Ooh La La', an old Faces classic, originally written, recorded and sung by old bandmate Ronnie Lane (R.I.P.), and, what's even more fascinating, he does a great job with it - actually embellishing the song with beautiful mandolin and flute parts, and his unshaking, old and wisened delivery beats the hell out of poor Ronnie who - let's admit it - couldn't really sing worth a broken tuppence. 'Ooh la la', you think, 'I'm back in time! Rodney's back as well! My life is full of meaning and sense (and well-spoilt blondes) again!' So you sneak into the nearest store and immediately grab a copy of the album - it's called When We Were The New Boys, it's obviously nostalgic, and it only features half of Roderick's traditional mug. With all the excitement and emotion, you don't even notice that numerous copies of this album occupy about half of the used bins' space - you can't wait until you're home to put it on...

AND? WHAT THE HELL IS THAT GIMME BACK MY GUN! Rod Stewart singing 'Cigarettes And Alcohol'? By Oasis? OASIS? FUCKIN' OASIS? (I'm sorry - I'm impersonatin'.) Who needs that? What the hell?

Yup. The whole album, with just one exception - the above-described 'Ooh La La', which is actually quite heartfelt and solid - is just one big, one enormous put-on. I actually concocted that whole story because partially, it's the truth: many people heard the new version of 'Ooh La La' on the radio, were oh so glad and rushed off to buy the album only to remain disappointed and feel themselves cheated and deceived. All right, first the good news: the album feels quite live, it relies heavily on guitars and live drums and a real brass section and so continues the tradition of Spanner. Rod's voice is in perfect form: in fact, I can't remember the last time he felt so powerful on a record, maybe never since Never A Dull Moment. Also, he produced the record himself, without any robotic thugs to mar the songs with generic Nineties' arrangements (well, most of the ballads still feature these rotten 'heavenly' synthesizers, but I guess that's an evil we'll all have to cope with).

All of these things would be all right, if not for one - the songs mostly don't go anywhere, and quite often, they go down the drain. Rod himself contributes only one composition, the record's second radio hit - it's the title track, and it's pretty miserable, though many people seem to have fallen for it. I can understand them, though: Rod really rides high on the 'nostalgia comeback', and, after all, it's hard to deny a fifty-year old man the right to wax nostalgic about the ruthless days of youth. But I'd rather prefer a stripped-down ballad than a meandering dance track with no clear melody and about two acoustic guitar chords' worth of musical wealth. This is quite poorly executed nostalgia, even if I don't have the right to doubt its authenticity.

All the other songs are - here comes the big one - covers of selected acts from the Nineties and other decades. Yes, he does Oasis, and while his delivery of 'Cigarettes And Alcohol' is quite invigorated, the song was never a big something in the first place. But at least, when he does rockers, he really rocks, like on Primal Scream's 'Rocks' and on Graham Parker's 'Hotel Chambermaid'. Of course, both are completely generic, recycled bash-a-thons with elements of sexism, but it's always pleasant to see Rod go ahead and rock out when you're used to the fact that he never rocks out any more.

The problem is, there aren't that many rockers on here, and the ballads are - ALL AND WITHOUT ONE SINGLE TEENY-WEENY EXCEPTION - atrocious. Nick Lowe's 'Shelly My Love' is the worst of the lot, guaranteed to give you sugar diabetes for life with just a couple of listens, but the others are just bad, bad, bad. Everything is reduced to a standard late-Seventies' Stewart formula, only with worse melodies and more stinkingly 'passionate' vocal deliveries. This time, Rod has swapped his youthful loving intonations for loving intonations of an old man, and often ends up sounding quite pedophilic. (Really!) Even the last song on the album, the totally acoustic 'What Do You Want Me To Do?', with just an embellishing touch of harmonica and piano, simply cashes in on past acoustic glories.

All too bad. It seems like these days Rod simply does not know where to go. Apparently, he thought such a move would be the best thing to do and the perfect way to re-establish his reputation in 'serious' circles, but it looks like the years finally gave in on him and he simply has forgotten how to produce a good record. I had high hopes with Spanner, but this album just shows that the line between genius and banality has totally escaped poor Rodney. Please find that version of 'Ooh La La' somewhere and tape it off - it's an ideal way to put a final touch on your Stewart collection. Otherwise, don't bother. There were much better records put out in the year 1998. Brian Burks can probably tell you everything about that.


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