BEFORE RODERICK 'LOST THE PLOT'
Colin Spence | Formby, UK | 11/05/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Once upon a time in Merrie Englande, there was an ordinary young bloke who did what most ordinary young blokes do - raved about popular music, went to football matches, tried it on with the birds and, together with his best mates, had a few scoops and got wrecked most Saturday nights. Then lo!, he became a rock superstar - joined the jet-set, fled from the clutches of the taxman, dated an assortment of actresses/models, went a bit camp and started wearing Spandex tights (an ordinary bloke no more). Alas and alack, the fairy tale finally ended and, to make matters worse, with his attempts to re-invent himself, he succeeded only in becoming a caricature of himself (a phrase borrowed from another reviewer because it is so very apt). He now seems content to release endless albums of popular American music dredged up from the 30s and 40s. I can almost see him now - sitting in his rocking (no pun intended) chair, with his pipe and slippers.
Yes, Rod Stewart was an ordinary bloke, except for one thing - he had an extraordinary voice; and on this album, you can hear that voice, with its velvety rasp (a slight contradiction in terms, I know) and its unmitigated raw energy and soul. When I first bought it, it was called 'An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down', but for reasons best known to themselves, his record company execs decided to rename it (in an obvious fit of brain-storming originality) 'The Rod Stewart Album'. The music is a combination of folk, blues, soul and rock - semi-acoustic in parts, but beefed up with some gutsy playing from his band.
There's no filler on this album, not only did Rod have an ear for a good song, but he was a pretty decent songwriter himself (5 of the songs are written by him). There's a great mix of songs also : two 'in yer face' rockers given a slight folksy twist ('Street Fighting Man' and 'An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down'); a traditional folk-blues ('Man of Constant Sorrow'); a majestic pop ballad ('Handbags and Gladrags'); a heavy blues-rocker ('Cindy's Lament'); an almost prog-rocker ('I Wouldn't Ever Change A Thing'); a contemporary English folk song (written by a Scot!) ('Dirty Old Town') and last, but by no means least, the cathartic, soul drenched 'Blind Prayer' - my favourite track.
It isn't just Rod's voice that makes this album remarkable, it's also the playing by the band and the sound that they produce. Moreover, the sound is very raw (but the playing is very focused) - there is no slick production behind this album; and to be honest, had the sound been over-polished, I think the album would have been ruined. Rod doesn't hog the limelight with his vocals either, each of the musicians get plenty of opportunity to show their mettle - including : snarling bottleneck slide from Ronnie Wood (electric bass also), Martin Pugh (electric lead guitar), Martin Quittenton (acoustic lead guitar), Ian McLagan (piano), Keith Emerson (organ on 'I Wouldn't Ever Change A Thing'), and some heavy duty drumming from Mick Waller.
If you like spontaneous rootsy rock music - buy this album; if you prefer Rod's pop/disco confections - listen to this album (there may be hope for you yet); if you're a fan of Rod's 'American Song Book' stuff - proceed with extreme caution; and, for those who bought 'Still The Same : Great Rock Classics of Our Time', expecting the Rod Stewart of old - you have my heart-felt commiserations.
'The Rod Stewart Album', together with Rod's next three, are essential purchases for any fan of classic rock music - thereafter, the rot began to set in. It's unlikely that Rod (or anyone else, for that matter) will ever recapture the unique musical blend and raw edge to found on these early albums; a seminal album from the man who brought us 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?' - 4.5 stars.