What is this? Rod Stewart’s doing original music again?
For the past decade, the British-born Stewart has been content to croon tunes from Americana in his Great American Songbook series. After all, that just seems to be the thing for aging rockstars to do. But apparently something clicked during the writing of his memoirs (Rod: The Autobiography), and the inspiration seems to have bled over into some new music. Hence, Time, the first collection of original material from Rod Stewart in quite some time.
By formula, this isn’t an album that should work. The stuff that sells is angst, sexual prowess, dancing all night, that kind of thing. Rockstars just don’t make albums about settling down, playing with kids, beautiful mornings, and the days of contentment after the wild oats have been sown. But this isn’t just anyone, folks; this is Rod Stewart. As the Great American Songbook series proves, that rock-raspy voice of his (still strong at age 68) can sing just about anything and get away with it. So if he wants to sing about the memories of his past and his contentment in the present, whatchagonna do about it?
Indeed, Time plays at moments almost like a musical version of the memoirs. Stewart sings about his early struggles as a musician in “Can’t Stop Me Now”, the pain of divorce in “It’s Over,” and memories of young love in “Brighton Beach.” But there are plenty of references to the here and now, and not in the most self-flattering sense, either. The opening cut “She Makes Me Happy” is a bouncy, joyful song about being in a happy, committed relationship, but it comes from someone feeling his age: “I could smoke and drink and gamble just as I please / Now I’m working out daily and watching my waistline / No more burgers and fries.” (What nonsense is this, Rod? You’re a rock star, for cryin’ out loud.) Elsewhere, in “Live the Life,” Stewart plays the wise father offering advice to a son in college: “Love the life you live / And live the life you love.” Even in “Brighton Beach,” Stewart can’t help but make references to parenthood: “I sit here tonight playing with my kids / Wondering where you are in this world.”
If this were anyone else, so help me, I’d be laughing this album off. But somehow Rod Stewart pulls it off with grace. It’s a bit geeky coming from someone so cool, but it works because it is both honest and believable. Incidentaly, one of the best aspects of this record is that stylewise, Stewart neither reverts back to crooner jazz nor tries to be “modern,” but stays within the bluesy/rock vibe that made him famous, spending the better part of the track list in a folk-rock vein (with occasional Celtic influences), and venturing more toward soul on the back end of the album, including a run-in with disco on “Sexual Religion.” And herein lies the only misstep of the record, in my opinion. Frankly, Stewart does older-guy-in-the-golden-years so well that his one foray into the lasciviousness of his past just feels out of place.
I don’t know what it is about early 2013 that has caused this flurry of aging rockers putting out fresh material that sort of proves they still “got it.” We’ve had David Bowie now, and Iggy and the Stooges just last week—and now this. But among these, I have to say that Time by Rod Stewart is my personal favorite. Rather than coming off as having something to prove, Stewart has put out a record that acknowledges his past while fully embracing the joy of his present—and the result is one of the most honest records I’ve heard in some time.