Like most rags-to-riches stories, this one's both predictable and messy. From 1974's Smiler through 1980's Foolish Behaviour, Rod Stewart has too often played a singularly buffoonish Falstaff to his own backward Prince Hal, dragging himself down artistically while consolidating a strong commercial fortress comfortably isolated from such initial masterpieces as Gasoline Alley and Every Picture Tells a Story. If Johnny Rotten and other noted rock critics grew to hate him, it wasn't because of his money (as he thought)... Read More
but for his snotty self-image as a slumming Hollywood starlet-aristocrat that left him light years away from fans of real-life rock & roll. There were still some exceptional songs, to be sure ("Tonight's the Night," "You're in My Heart," "Still Love You," "The Killing of Georgie," "You Got a Nerve," "I Was Only Joking," "Scarred and Scared," "Oh God, I Wish I Was Home Tonight"), but, for the most part, the randy and likable adventurer of the early LPs had curdled into a cranky, self-pitying purveyor of sleaze, penning one silly singles-bar anthem after another.
These things don't matter, you say. Get on with it. What about the new album? Well, Tonight I'm Yours is surprisingly fine, and the main reason for its excellence is precisely than Stewart has examined his recent history and decided to apologize for it. Indeed, the very first words from the singer's mouth here are addressed directly to those who care or have cared about him: "I can tell by the look in your eyes/You've been bored for a long, long time/... Let's turn it all around." Easier said than done, but Stewart tries. Oh, how he tries.
In addition to the star's philosophical gear shifting, getting rid of the band he'd used since 1977's Foot Loose & Fancy Free was a terrific idea. What's immediately apparent on Tonight I'm Yours is that Rod Stewart's current crew (guitarist-coproducer Jim Cregan is the only holdover) can really play. Sparked by drummer Tony Brock and bassist Jay Davis, the new tunes accelerate like a fleet of expensive sports cars, their engines humming and hammering in smooth but spunky grooves. These musicians are able to floor it in the fast ones and skillfully maneuver the trickiest melodic curves. And Stewart's decision to act as his own producer again was long overdue (though he was responsible for most of the tracks on Foolish Behaviour), because every great record he's made has been self-produced.
As good as the new group is, however, it has yet to develop much of a personality. The singer still has to supply that, and, to his credit, he does. On Gasoline Alley, Every Picture Tells a Story and Never a Dull Moment, Rod Stewart created an idiosyncratic sound that rivaled those of Bob Dylan, the Band and the Byrds in its filigreed fusion of knockabout rock & roll and rustic, ringing folk music. Jangly, incendiary, homemade and voluptuous, such a sound depende