By Matthew Cheadle
Since 2002, Rod Stewart has released eight albums of songs by other people. Five âGreat American Songbooksâ, an album of rock classics, an album of soul classics, and aâŚer..ahemâŚChristmas album. So it is with much interest that he recently released âTimeâ, Rodâs first collection of original material in over a decade.
I have to say right from the outset that early Rod Stewart was fantastic: fact.
âThe Facesâ were a great band. Five eternally inebriated cheeky chaps playing with a twinkle in their eye and mischievous grins, but with more feel and soul than most of their contemporaries. The arrogant, youthful swagger and groove of âStay with meâ still makes me want to put on flares and pour myself a large brandy and coke.
His early solo material was every bit as good if not better. With a more subtle acoustic approach sprinkled with mandolins and fiddles, his first few albums bore classics like âMaggie Mayâ and âYou Wear It Wellâ. He somehow managed to blend Sam Cooke with Bob Dylan, all sung with a glorious, honey-soaked bluesy rasp.
Fast forward forty years.
âTimeâ opens up with the lead off single âShe Makes Me Happyâ, an upbeat gentle rocker in which Rod sings of blissfully settling into middle age (or is it old age..heâs only two years shy of seventy after all?).
Musically it hints at that classic Rod vibe of the early seventies, with its driving acoustic guitars. A few songs later, âLive the Lifeâ does it better, complete with weaving violin accompaniment and Ronnie Wood style guitar licks.
Lyrically it sets the tone for what seems to be a mostly autobiographical set of songs. âCanât Stop Me Nowâ is about a young man trying to make it as a singer, âItâs Overâ about divorce, and âBrighton Beachâ reminisces about life as a âscruffy, beat up, working class, teenage troubadourâ in love in the sixties.
Elsewhere on the album there are hints too at late seventies Rod as rocker-sex-god-parody, with âFinest Womanâ doing a vague impersonation of âHot Legsâ, and one or two tender moments with the string-laden ballad âPure Loveâ, and the only cover on the album, Tom Waitsâ âPicture in a Frameâ which brings to mind Stewartâs cover of Waitsâ âTom Traubertâs Bluesâ from 1993.
It has to be said that Rod is still in fine voice. All those years of singing standards have bought finesse to his customary rasp, and it is that voice that has lead him to sell over 100 million records. It is, however, the songs that ultimately let âTimeâ down. After a decade of singing songs written by the greatest songwriters of the twentieth century, it was always going to be a tough ask to follow in their footsteps, and unfortunately âTimeâ falls a little short. At times the lyrics are clumsy:
âIâm working out daily and Iâm watching my waistline,
No more burgers and fries,
When I get home thereâs a hot bath waiting,
Glass of wine on the side.âÂ
And whilst many of the tracks are pleasant enough, thereâs nothing that really stands up and smacks you in the face.
Itâs obvious that Rod is in a good place, there is a feel good nature to the album, exemplified by âBeautiful Morningâ, and the music feels comfortable and age-appropriate. Perhaps that is the problem, it all feels a little too safe and nice; no risk, no darker moments, nothing truly memorable.
However, with a few of those hints of flavors from his past, it did make me want to go back and revisit some of his former glories and that, in my opinion, can never be a bad thing.