Redeeming Rod: The Faces Reunion

Written by Music, Redeeming Rod

As you may have heard by now, Rod Stewart confirmed last week that all the surviving members of his old band, the Faces (including current Rolling Stone Ron Wood and former Who drummer Kenny Jones), are planning to reunite for at least a tour next summer.

Could this be a case of Rod redeeming himself? Well, perhaps. I did mention in an earlier post that the best thing Rod could do at this point in his career was record a quick album with Wood and a tight rhythm and horn section. This is probably the next best thing to that. It sounds, too, from Rod ‘s quotes that he’s quite into this reunion idea; maybe he was even the driving force behind it.

But before you or I get too vibed about this, I do think it is necessary to temper everyone’s excitement. After all, the man is now in his 60s, more than 30 years past the last Faces recordings and tours. What will be heard in 2009 is simply not going to be more than a good approximation of what occurred in the early 1970s. While Rod can still hit the notes with the same regularity as his did back then, the tone, the texture, the feel and the soul are not going to be the same. The voice is there, but it’s changed, no buts about it. Anyone interested in seeing the outcome of this possible reunion has to — like most band reunions — hope for the best but expect much less. Better to be pleasantly surprised by what happens than to feel that what you’ve just experienced was yet another sad coda to a historic band and a waste of money.

A second point that needs to be considered is that, while Rod seems to be genuinely excited about this reunion, he has been genuinely excited about lots of other things in his musical career that haven’t turned out to be what we, as fans, wished for. In the last couple of decades we’ve heard very good things about albums like A Spanner in the Works or When We Were the New Boys, and while they may have been the most solid works he’s laid down in the studio during that period, they were far from the “returns to form”
that many Rod fans may have built them up to be.

Additionally, Rod seems to have rarely been one to complain about turns taken in his career. The bad taste that many fans of Rod’s work during the first decade-or-so of his career currently have is often built upon the notion of him having “sold out”. Unlike someone like Elvis Costello or David Bowie, who often changed the sounds of their recordings in a way that didn’t seem to always reflect popular trends (and especially in Bowie’s case, may have set some), Rod Stewart is seen as gravitating towards the middle of the road. Worst of all to some people, Rod seems to actually enjoy what he’s doing, even if it means the umpteenth packaging of The Great American Songbook.

But is that really Rod’s “fault”? No it’s not. Doing what he does gives him pleasure, and still gets him enormous crowds to this day, especially in Europe and South America. He (like all other rockers of the ’60s and ’70s) may no longer be able to chart singles on the Hot 100 , but his last batch of albums have charted as high in Billboard as any other period in his career. So, he must feel he’s doing something “right.”

In a way, the problem is with us: the fans. We feel we “own” Rod. This is something unique in the world of entertainment. We may buy the jersey of a sports hero, but often we’re just rooting for laundry and statistics. We may see all the movies of an actor or director, but with the exception of certain iconic stars, we don’t normally track down everything about them, including “bootleg” copies of audition tapes or foreign printings of their films. In music, however, I would guess that there are many more instances of people feeling-through the music-that they have not just a personal bond with the singer or band, but that we are “robbed” in a way when the artist goes in a direction we don’t like, or makes a what we consider to be a subpar record with material that doesn’t to their strengths. This definitely plays to the emotional power and intensity of music, and the interrelationship with fan to both the music, and ultimately its creator.

In a way, this promised Faces reunion is another test for those who adhere strictly to the belief that there is a distinct “classic” period in Rod Stewart’s career that he simply moved away from. For the “classic” fans, his forays into mainstream pop, disco, adult contemporary stylings and balladeering is really an abandonment of what he should be doing, rather than a natural career progression. What most of the “classic” fans-the ones who never got to experience “classic” Rod firsthand, live or on record release day-need to do at this moment is pull the reigns back on both their excitement and/or judgment at this news. It’s still a few months to go before this tour is supposedly going to take place. Tours fall through all the time, and quite a few propsed ones for 2009 will never happen just because of the current state of the global economy. But if it does go off without a hitch, you have to realize, no matter how hard it may be to convince yourself, that these shows will not contain a magic elixer to transform a senior citizen into a 23-year-old, and make him sing with the same fire and intensity you wish he could again.

If you can set both your fanasties and prejudices aside, and leave it at that, Summer of 2009 may bring you an hour or two of enjoyable live entertainment from The Faces. And then, if Rod goes straight back to making the kind of music “everyone at work can enjoy”, don’t get angry. After all, we can own the albums, but we can’t own the Mod.

The Faces – Stay With Me

The Faces – Rock Me