What’s wrong with Rod? The standard diagnosis is that Stewart’s suffering from a prolonged case of creative gout, that the good life’s taken a heavy toll on this aging playboy’s muse. After all, it’s been a decade now since his last uniformly impressive album, A Night on the Town. Since then Rod’s come up with Britt Ekland, Alana Hamilton, Kelly LeBrock and Kelly Emberg but not one new “Maggie May.”
But when he teamed up with Jeff Beck last year for a moving version of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” Stewart surprised a lot of former fans by delivering his strongest performance in years. Perhaps sensing the threat posed by a new generation of British blue-eyed soulmen, like Paul Young, Rod showed what that scratchy, Sam Cooke-ish voice of his could do given worthy material. The difficulty is that Rod the writer doesn’t usually deserve Rod the singer. Rod the writer is a musical conservationist, a slapdash composer all too happy to recycle riffs — remember how 1981’s “Passion” turned into 1984’s “Infatuation.”
Rod Stewart isn’t Every Picture Tells a Story by a long shot, but it’s encouraging to see signs of life from this likable dinosaur. Producer Bob Ezrin (Kiss, Pink Floyd) helps matters by giving the record fewer coats of studio polish than Michael Omartian slapped on Stewart’s last album, 1984’s overly slick Camouflage. The opening “Here to Eternity,” — in which a couple of Young Turks confront crime and punishment — is another of those mildly impressive midtempo melodramas Rod’s so fond of. Much better are “A Night Like This,” a Stonesy rocker that Stewart brings off with real conviction, and “Ten Days of Rain,” a stately soul ballad that’s delivered with unusual subtlety.
On the other hand, no singer could breathe any life into “Love Touch (Theme from Legal Eagles),” a lame piece of soundtrack pop that’s less a song than a marketing tool. And while someone with Stewart’s hit-or-miss composing skills should by all means be seeking covers, there’s got to be something fresher for him to interpret than the Beatles’ “In My Life,” to which Stewart brings nothing new.
Rod Stewart sounds like the Tartaned One is at least trying again, and at this point in his not always brilliant career, that’s more than could have been expected.