There’s something to be said for the New Wave rebellion against (to borrow a phrase from the not-so-young-himself Willy De Ville) “old meat.” Even if this reaction is mostly confined to England, it seems very healthy. There are a lot of kids in England who don’t care what kind of fashionably gauche trinkets decorate Rod Stewart’s high-class, Hollywood home or what the exact terms (if any) of his separation from Britt Ekland will be. They do care that Stewart has lost touch with them, not only musically but culturally as well. And for Rod Stewart this dilemma seems particularly complex. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that Stewart (who began his career idolizing Sam Cooke, David Ruffin and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott) was digging graves for a living and feeling a little testy himself.
To his credit, Stewart decided not to take the easy way out this time. Instead of returning to Muscle Shoals and American sessionmen for a comfortable followup to Night on the Town, Rod opted to form a band and cut an album of mostly rock & roll. Foot Loose & Fancy Free is the result. But there’s just one problem: the record falls flat.
Part of the trouble is the band, which sounds stiff and not particularly inspired. Guitarists Gary Grainger and Billy Peek dredge up familiar “Brown Sugar” chords on “Born Loose” and “Hot Legs” (a hedonistic revel that might have worked five years ago but now sounds only lecherous and silly), and “You’re Insane” tries to combine funk and reggae but dies because drummer Carmine Appice (ex-Vanilla Fudge) just can’t pull it off. The Faces rhythm section was creaky, too, but at least it made up for the lack of swing with an energetic, good-humored sloppiness.
Then there’s the inclusion of a seven-and-a-half-minute version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (with, yes, the Vanilla Fudge arrangement), an odd lapse of taste for the normally scrupulous Stewart. A cover of Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to Be Right)” comes off much better. Where Ingram sounded forlorn, resigned to the situation, Stewart is damned positive he’s making the right decision. And when he sings the hook in the third chorus, the pull of his voice is still capable of creating Herculean emotional drama. Finally, there are the separation songs, which are drenched with a bitterness the arrangements don’t always bring out. It’s hard to be discreet when the disintegration of your romance is fodder for every two-bit, publication in the world. But Stewart doesn’t even try. “You’re in My Heart,” the current single, is a cheeky, none-too-subtle put-down that deserves better than a country chorus awkwardly tacked to a singsong narrative. The subdued “You Got a Nerve” is more straightforward and features this chilling couplet: “Oh what pleasure it gives me now To know that you’re bleeding inside.” It’s been a long year for Rod Stewart.
According to Greil Marcus, Graham Parker (who was pumping gas in England until two years ago) is quite content traveling between current U.S. tour dates on a bus — a big improvement over the station wagon that carried Parker around last year. The press notes for the current Stewart tour advertise that his entourage also will be making the rounds by bus. But you can bet Graham Parker isn’t lugging around 64,000 pounds of equipment, a seamstress, a masseuse, a tour photographer and a makeup “girl.” As for Foot Loose & Fancy Free, it’s sure hard to care much about “Hot Legs” with Elvis Costello and the Sex Pistols around. Even Rod Stewart can’t get lost in this rock & roll. It’s pretty vacant.