ROD Stewart has just enjoyed the most creatively moribund yet commercially successful decade of his career to date.
It’s a big step for a performer who suffered a loss of songwriting confidence in the 1990s and ended up taking the path of least resistance in answer to the questions which any artist of a certain vintage should be asking about their next musical move.
However, after being cajoled into having a go at penning a new song by his songwriter buddy Jim Cregan, Stewart found that writing his autobiography unlocked a well – I won’t say wealth – of material, making Time a blatantly but breezily personal affair.
Stewart’s songwriting skills are understandably creaky through lack of exercise. He has always been more celebrated as a singer than a songwriter anyway and, by his own admission, he is not much of a lyricist, adopting a literal rather than poetical approach. But if he is not quite rejuvenated, he is at least jovial, offering up a succession of upbeat songs of thanksgiving, or the fondly nostalgic, as he looks back on key memories from his life.
Stewart immediately hits the familiar mandolin setting on She Makes Me Happy, a simplistic paean to finding the right woman. “I’m working out daily and I’m watching my waistline,” he sings, as if reciting from a blog entry. But he does indeed sound happy, revelling in those simple domestic pleasures (“when I get home there’s a hot bath waiting, glass of wine on the side”) and then sealing the cringeworthy deal with a cheesy Celtic instrumental break.
Both the positivity and the cheese spill over into Can’t Stop Me Now, which recalls his early days of knocking on doors with youthful conviction and budding talent in his back pocket, set to a catchy tune which One Direction might consider a bit mindless and which is compounded by a horrible synthesised bagpipe interlude in tribute to his father, whom he “thanks for the tartan pride”. It’s the kind of below par effort only a proud father could love.
There is more sentimental reminiscing on Brighton Beach, the song which opened the floodgates. At least here he keeps the arrangement unadorned, just an acoustic guitar and Rod capturing a sense of intimacy in his rheumy-eyed recollection of a teen love affair. The line “what a time it was, what a time to be alive” doesn’t need any embellishment but still he shoehorns in references to “Janis and Jimi, Kennedy and King” for that extra strong sepia tint.
Next, Rod rifles through the wedding photo album to a soundtrack of maudlin strings which smother any scrap of genuine emotion he might be trying to muster on It’s Over. He revisits an earlier theme on the rocky chug of Finest Woman, which is mightily overcooked with bluesy brass, gospelly backing vocals and a gurning guitar break, but he finally digs deeper on the title track which is firmly in his ragged old rhythm’n’blues comfort zone. It seems that the best we can hope for is a credible revisiting of well-worn old territory. Stewart sounds convincing in his torment and this time his vocal performance is complemented by the atmospheric southern soul backing.
He also adds to his catalogue of Tom Waits covers with Picture In A Frame, which is – sorry Rod – the best song on the album by some stretch, although not brilliantly served by the sterile arrangement, which will have you scurrying back to the organic original.
This attempt to convey vulnerability is followed by the mid-life crisis dance pop number Sexual Religion and the exhortation to Make Love To Me Tonight – “wear that sexy lingerie, turn the lights down low,” he instructs helpfully – which, rather disturbingly, uses the same chord pattern as the hymn I Got A Home In Gloryland.
But the best example of incorrigible old Rod turns out to be throwaway bonus track Legless, on which he proclaims “I’m in the mood to get shitfaced tonight” like a man who can afford not to fret. This is the part of the album where Rod loosens his tie and kicks back with the country blues standard Corrina Corrina and sounds at his sweetest on unadorned confessional Love Has No Pride. Perhaps Stewart will fare better if he continues to write like no one is looking.