After an early career during which he sang exquisite, powerful songs, Rod Stewart forsook the studio for the spotlight and lost the balance between straight-ahead rock & roll and eloquent ballads that galvanized his best albums.
On Out of Order, his fifteenth solo album, Stewart has teamed up with the power trio of the Power Station (Bernard Edwards on bass, Andy Taylor on guitars and Tony Thompson on drums). The result is a confident, well-written, high-voltage work that stands as Stewart's best album since 1981's Tonight I'm Yours.
Out of Order is catalyzed by the five songs co-written with Taylor. The best of those songs, —The Wild Horse,— is Stewart on Stewart, a sprawling bluesrock travelogue through the freight trains and gypsy camps of his past. It lets out the reins a bit; the constrained synth-pop of songs like 1983's —Baby Jane— sounds flimsy next to the sinew and kick of Out of Order. And Stewart can still sing with the best of them. In —Lethal Dose of Love,— he matches Taylor's guitar note for note, volt for volt. When Rod rocks out, he's electric, and no one should believe that the lightning Rod is only available on oldies.
The ballads complement the rock nicely. On —My Heart Can't Tell Me No,— Stewart's vocal and Jim Cregan's beautiful acoustic-guitar solo transcend the saccharine lyrics. And with —Try a Little Tenderness,— Rod proves that he can still put muscle into the standards.
The CD and cassette versions of Out of Order close with another impressive Stewart-Taylor collaboration, —Almost Illegal,— which features stomping, incendiary guitar work by Taylor and slick fiddling by David Lindley.
Stewart's face, which has invariably adorned the front cover of his albums, gets only back-cover placement this time. The demotion shows what is in order about Out of Order. Stewart has stopped facing the camera and has faced the music again.