I know, I know….but I assure you, it’s not going to be that bad. Of course, we must begin by addressing this very issue which makes actual music fans (read: people who didn’t buy any volumes of The Great American Songbook) retch in a Pavlovian manner whenever they hear about Rod the Mod.
Like many artists, Rod Stewart has gone through many “periods.” Much like Picasso had his Cubist and Blue periods, Dylan had his Electric and Christian periods, and Woody Allen had periods highly influenced by the Marx Brothers and Ingmar Bergman, so has Rod had multiple periods: specifically Awesome (pre-1976), Okay (1976-1981), and Crap (post-1981). This series will be panning the later of these periods, like a miner in rugged, rocky terrain, looking for those few choice nuggets that can actually be listened to repeatedly and cause the Rod fan to experience a unique combination of pleasure at the recording, and anger at the wasted talent.
As you can tell from the distinctly defined periods, this progression from legend to loser was not an immediate fall off a cliff. Rather, it was a constant breakdown, fueled by a combination of laziness, and the excesses of too much quality booze and too much easy, young blonde pussy. The simple fact is, once Rod had made it, and saw that he didn’t need to give it his all to keep making money (and getting young blonde pussy), why bother?
Thus, the sad fact is almost everything after 1981’s Blondes Have More Fun album is created with an “aw fuck it” attitude. Gone is the yearning of the young, white soul singer, having been replaced with singing by the numbers that merely tries to replicate the yearning of the young man. In this later period, Rod’s vocals almost always take the form of a type of singing I like to call “Whisper-Scream,” where there are but two basic levels to his performance: a soft, gravelly “I’m going to sing you something very personal….shhh!,” soon followed by a bombastic “This is EMOTION, baby!! ROCK WITH THE ROD!!! AAAH!” Sometimes it will go in reverse order, but usually it doesn’t waver much between these two poles.
Perhaps the most egregious example, at least from his singles over the past 25 years, takes place in 1991’s The Motown Song. Click here for the very entertaining video. The “Whisper-Scream” is in play here big time, with the soft portions falling beneath the sound levels of the background vocals, and the hard parts…..damn. That’s literally all I can say. And it’s a shame, because it’s a good enough song to overcome the slick production and Rod’s paint by numbers vocal approach. Imagine if Rod gave a damn, and his producer actually tried to make a song about Motown sound a bit more like…oh, I don’t know….Motown?
So what conclusions should be taken from this little intro rant? Like most lists, this upcoming one has three parts:
- Rod’s put out some really, REALLY, bad music over the last quarter-century.
- The old Rod, the one who guys like us who write these blogs know and love? He’s never coming back. Never. At least not for a whole album. Not as long as he can still put out lazy covers and keep having both the finest single malt, and the ability to trade in his 31-year old blonde wife every ten years for a new, 21-year old model.
- Even with these two facts, if you (dare) go through his catalog, you can find some gems that occasionally spring forth from his Crap period.
Therefore, it is with a sound mind and a fortified stomach that I have taken it upon myself to venture forward through the forests of dross, finding the small bits of Rod post-1981 that go beyond “Hey, that’s not too bad”–but crank your mental amps up to “Hey, this is actually good!” I know, it seems shocking, but now that you’ve read this far, you are tantalized about what you might hear next, aren’t you?
How long will this series go on? Who knows: as long as there are good late-period Rod Stewart songs waiting to be discovered, I shall continue to seek them….In other words, probably somewhere between five and ten posts.
So, join me again soon for the first musical example in my attempt to try “Redeeming Rod.”