Speaking of Rod (as we were), his new album was released this week. It's his first record of "original" material since 1995's SPANNER IN THE WORKS and follows a series of standards interpretations that sold like crazy while eroding nearly all his remaining coolness and contemporary relevance, which is one reason his lively biography was such a fun surprise.
The new album, called TIME, dovetails with his book a little too snugly. There's an autobiographical career-spanning number called "Can't Stop Me Now," in which he meets Maggie May; and "Brighton Beach" reflects on paying his dues as an R&B singing sideman in the early 1960s. A sappy breakup song, "It's Over," covers his despair at the crumbling of a marriage (like his to Rachel Hunter); and several cuts make reference to his "happy ending" current marriage to Penny Lancaster and all the gross, sober, healthy habits she's inspired in him. There's also some icky sexytime Rod ("Sexual Religion" and "Make Love to Me Tonight") and obligatory covers of Tom Waits ("Picture in a Frame") and Bob Dylan ("Corrina Corrina.")
As a "comeback" rock album, this is still way too adult contemporary, with songs that recall the Rod of old without actually being quite as good as them. The production is loaded with strings. Rod's voice is still there but it's a gentle kind of gruff.
The thing about Rod in the old days was, he was such a terrific singer, other good musicians gravitated toward him. Jeff Beck, for example, was deathly serious about assembling a kickass group and probably chose his singer too well: He'd be humiliated when American audiences and critics mistook Rod for the group's namesake.
These artists (guitarists including Beck, Ron Wood, and Gary Grainger; drummers Mickey Waller and Carmine Appice, among many others) provided the background that brought Rod's emotional voice to life. Today, you've got longtime Stewart collaborator Jim Cregan, drummer Kenny Aronoff, and a billion cello players on TIME but the magic isn't quite there. Here's Rod then and now.