Sunday, June 16, 2013

Album Review: Rod Stewart, "Time"

Rod Stewart, "Time"

Rod Stewart, 2013.
Rod Stewart’s latest album, “Time,” just came out in May. “Time” marks the return of Rod Stewart the songwriter. Of the 12 songs on the album, 11 are written by Rod. It’s the first time he’s written more than just a couple of songs on an album since 1991’s “Vagabond Heart,” which he wrote 6 songs for. Since the beginning of his career, Stewart has been a terrific interpreter of other people’s songs. In the past decade, as Rod’s songwriting muse deserted him, he has re-invented himself as an interpreter of classic songs from the Great American Songbook. Unlikely as it might have sounded at first, Stewart’s voice fit those songs very well, and his albums of those songs have sold millions of copies around the world, helping to revive his career.

Full disclosure: I really like Rod Stewart. I think he’s an amazing singer. He has a very unusual voice, but he can make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. (Exhibit A: “Reason to Believe.” Exhibit B: “I Don’t Want to Talk About It.”) I also think Rod’s much underrated as a songwriter. He has a gift in his best songs for picking out the little details that make the songs ring true. Regards of whether or not Rod actually experienced all of the events in his songs, it sure feels like he did. The songs feel true to life, and that’s no small accomplishment. Stewart’s brilliant early albums will always outshine what he’s done in the decades since the 1970’s, but he wrote some terrific songs during that decade.

The songs on “Time” might not reach the same heights as Rod’s 1970’s work, but they’re still very good songs, and it’s great that Stewart is finally writing again. The songs run the full range of the emotional spectrum, from songs like “She Makes Me Happy,” which speak of domestic bliss, to “It’s Over,” a portrait of a marriage that has fallen apart. 

“Can’t Stop Me Now” is a slice of autobiography, as Stewart sings of auditioning for record executives:

“We can’t sign you son ‘cause you don’t fit in the mold
With you hair and your nose and your clothes”

But of course, Rod takes it on the chin and keeps going, eventually finding success:

“I will climb this mountain with this God-given gift
If it’s the last thing that I do”

It’s wonderful to hear Rod Stewart singing great material again. I think there’s a real joy to the songs on “Time,” and it’s infectious.  “Beautiful Morning” and “Finest Woman” are two more upbeat songs about how wonderful life is. It wouldn’t be a Rod Stewart album without at least one song about the joys of sex, and “Sexual Religion” fits the bill nicely. Here’s how Rod describes his female partner:

“One night with you has messed up my head
The well-rehearsed tease and the things you said
The erotic suggestions and mixed metaphors
Made me want you more”

I love the line about mixed metaphors, that’s the kind of little detail that I really like in Stewart’s songwriting. The album closes with the lovely ballad “Pure Love,” an outpouring of love and affection from a father to a child. Stewart’s voice still sounds great, it still has that trademark grainy sound, but he really doesn’t sound that much different than he did on albums like “Gasoline Alley” and “Every Picture Tells a Story.” I think “Time” is a real return to form for Stewart, and hopefully he’ll continue writing. “Time” shows that his gifts are still there.

Below is a list of some of my favorite songs that Rod Stewart wrote from 1969-1983. There’s a lot of variety here, from knowingly trashy songs about one-night stands like “Stay With Me,” “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” “Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)” to beautiful and emotional love songs like “Mandolin Wind,” “You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim)” and “Still Love You.” “I Was Only Joking” is one of my favorite Rod Stewart songs, as Rod writes about his past and his present, all with humor and humility. The chorus of the song is:

“I was only joking, my dear
Looking for a way to hide my fear
What kind of fool was I?
I could never win”

Rod Stewart is a great songwriter, and here’s some of his best work.

The Best of Rod Stewart, Songwriter: 1969-1983
Cindy’s Lament
Gasoline Alley
Every Picture Tells a Story
Maggie May
Mandolin Wind
Stay With Me
True Blue
Lost Paraguayos
Italian Girls
You Wear it Well
Three Time Loser
Still Love You
Tonight’s the Night (Gonna be Alright)
The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II)
Hot Legs
You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim)
I Was Only Joking
Oh God, I Wish I Was Home Tonight
Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)
Young Turks
Baby Jane
What Am I Gonna Do (I’m So In Love With You)

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