The real Rod turns back time on first de­cent al­bum in yonks

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION -

In a damn­ing in­dict­ment, Greil Mar­cus once fa­mously wrote: “Rarely has a singer had as full and unique a tal­ent as Rod Ste­wart; rarely has any­one be­trayed their tal­ent so com­pletely.” It’s some mea­sure of Ste­wart’s char­ac­ter – he’s one of the most like­able rock per­son­ages you could ever hope to meet – that he found him­self con­cur­ring with Mar­cus’s as­sess­ment.

There are two Rod Ste­warts, one a ge­nius, one a clown. The for­mer is one of the great male vo­cal­ists of all time, rock’s an­swer to Frank Si­na­tra. Take one lis­ten to the still cor­us­cat­ing Ev­ery Pic­ture Tells a Story al­bum (very few can in­ter­pret a song as well as Ste­wart) and pause also to con­sider his song­writ­ing tal­ents. This is the man who wrote Mag­gie May, Stay With Me, The Killing of Ge­orgie and You Wear It Well.

But there’s also the “Elvis goes to Vegas” Rod Ste­wart, the skin-tight leopard-skin wear­ing, tar­tan-scar­fwav­ing, per­ox­ide cabaret cartoon who moved to LA and only emerged from his Jacuzzi to record dross such as Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?.

That Rod is still with us. In lat­ter years he’s squan­dered his tal­ent by yawn­ing his way through a se­ries of “Amer­i­can Song­book” al­bums and do­ing what only Michael Bublé should do – record­ing an al­bum of sickly Christ­mas songs.

But, af­ter decades of be­ing Miss­ing in Ac­tion, Pre­sumed Dead, the Rod of The Jeff Beck Group and The Faces is peek­ing out at us again. This week Ste­wart scored his first No 1 al­bum in 34 years and the song­writer in him is back. He has co-writ­ten all of the songs on his cur­rent Time al­bum.

But where was this Rod for the past close on 40 years? It can’t have taken that long to re­alise that: once you’re over 60, it’s per­haps time to hang up the skin-tight leopard-skin leg­gings; that record­ing songs that Right Said Fred would turn down on the ba­sis of lyri­cal inanity isn’t good for one’s artis­tic legacy; and that there’s only so many “lushly or­ches­trated” cov­ers of other peo­ple’s songs be­fore you’ve turned into bad din­ner-party back­ing mu­sic.

Granted, Time is no Ev­ery Pic­ture Tells a Story, but it’s a wel­come act of re­pen­tance. Ste­wart dredges up his painful past on Brighton Beach. The au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal song is about get­ting his girl­friend preg­nant when she was 17 and the heart­break of giv­ing up his first daugh­ter for adop­tion and try­ing to re­build a re­la­tion­ship with her when she had grown up.

On It’s Over, Ste­wart pleads for com­pas­sion from a wife who is in­tent on di­vorc­ing him. The song is based on his sec­ond mar­riage to Rachel Hunter. Though he found their di­vorce dev­as­tat­ing, he still loved her: “All the plans we had to­gether, up in smoke and gone for­ever, poi­soned by the lawyer’s let­ter . . . don’t for­get our chil­dren’s fu­ture.”

Re­mark­ably, for some­one who al­ways ap­pears to be on the bold and brash side of over-con­fi­dent, Ste­wart stopped writ­ing songs for decades be­cause an ex­ec­u­tive at his record label (who had never writ­ten any­thing in his life) told him his new tunes “were shit”.

You for­get some­times how brit­tle truly great mu­si­cians can be, how eas­ily their con­fi­dence can be knocked and how they just slink away to record cov­ers of songs that have al­ready been hits as a com­mer­cial safety net.

It’s great to have the old Rod back. But what we re­ally need now is a Faces re­union.

bboyd@irish­times.com

Ev­ery pic­ture tells a story: a fine line be­tween ge­nius . . . and clown

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.