After 12 years of Christmas albums, American songbooks and countless cover records, it’s finally Time for Rod Stewart to release some original material. And it’s exactly what you’d expect an album from a 68 year old man to be, albeit with a little more polish.
Over the last 10 years or so, Stewart has made it abundantly clear that his rock ‘n’ roll days are over. Bowing out before the leather jacket and eyeliner became laughable allowed him to corner the market in what essentially is Mother’s Day music – crooning along to family friendly favourites that could be packaged up with a box of Roses and solve your present-buying woes for another year. Rod has made it at least a little admirable, using massive record sales and sold-out tours to spend the rest of his time raising his kids and posing for Hello! magazine.
In fact, you rooted a little for him despite the complete lack of grunge and ’60s glamour. ‘Good on him!’ you’d think to yourself, bypassing his life-size cutout in the music store. ‘If I could make a living out of that, I’d have a private jet and wear shiny suits on stage too.’
So the release of a new album is somewhat refreshing as there has been such a dearth of original material. And Time is such a pleasant album. It breezes by, showcasing a life in a capsule that is sometimes marked with low moments but is mostly upbeat. The main theme running through Time basically is Rod Stewart acknowledging what a lucky bastard he is.
Opener “She Makes Me Happy” is a pleased-as-punch love song that cheerfully sets the scene for Time‘s remaining 14 tracks. Gone is the husky-voiced prurience that characterised Stewart‘s early career, replaced by tender entreaties and a vague wistfulness for those days. “I could smoke and drink and gamble just as I please/ Now I’m working out daily and I’m watching my waistline,” he sings, and you believe him. Heavy drinking and one night stands are a thing of Rod Stewart‘s past, and now, as on the album cover, he prefers to amble down a beach with a guitar; the wind playing with that legendary barnet is as wild as it gets here.
The all-out bawdiness of songs like “D’Ya Think I’m Sexy?,” all hairspray and tight pants and dripping lust have disappeared and, in some ways, that is a shame. Whilst love once was sweaty couplings and frenetically appreciating a nice pair of “Hot Legs” Stewart now embraces all that is chaste and simple, with titles like “Make Love To Me Tonight.” And when he questions a love about the “drug that you’re dealing” on “Sexual Religion,” well, we know where our minds collectively went, and it wasn’t towards thoughts of cocaine.
We live in a world where Rod Stewart sings about the redemption found with one (only one!) woman and the only thing flamboyant about Elton John is his glasses. Most of the sexy rock pinups have mellowed, flush with wealth and drooping with age. The excesses of their youth are, political correctness tells us, best left behind for the inevitable autobiography and urban legends.
If anything, Time is most disappointing in how it seems to be frozen in the present, apologising rather than acknowledging the craziness that was Stewart‘s early life. While he sings paeans to drunkeness like “Legless,” you can’t imagine that he’ll go beyond one or two standard drinks, to be washed out by a detox in the morning. “Brighton Beach” is a little more passable as a stroll down memory lane, reflecting on his first love and mixing his pop culture references somewhat (“You were Greta Garbo/I was Kerouac”). It would be nice to hear a bit of the Stewart of old, cheeky and unrepentant about his appetites, but even his legendary Scotch-tinged burr has been pared down into something softer and occasionally raspy.
Soft ballads like the Celtic-tinged harmonica heavy “Corrina Corrina” are where Stewart shines on Time - utilising the decade or so of experience he has had in producing heartfelt covers. On the flipside, the years spent plumbing the depths of easy listening have perhaps taken the edge off his lyrical ability.
There is nothing hard-hitting or complex, which is unfortunate as the same man who brought us beauties like “Every Picture Tells A Story” surely has a bit more gas in the tank. If Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg can keep reinventing themselves as they sail towards old age, then surely Rod Stewart has it within himself as well. Rather than being something definitive and truly original, Time is instead another songbook with a bit more autobiography jammed in. The songs are competent and pleasing to listen to, but little sticks in the mind to justify a second listen.