When going through Stewart’s solo early solo records I’m always wary that maybe this one will be the one in which he abandons his early sound for the money-chasing of his later career. But the truth is never so straight-forward and so I find myself listening to a record that manages to both sound close enough to his early sound to not piss me off but also has enough signs of impending doom as to piss me off.
Don’t you hate it when an artist labels the sides of their record incorrectly? Stewart calls one side the “Fast Side” but includes a ballad. Maybe my ears betray me, but at least one song on the “Slow Side” is faster than one song on the “Fast Side”, right?
Anyway, Pearl Jam are apparently big Rod Stewart fans because Stewart does that thing that Pearl Jam are always accused of doing: he front-loads the faster, rockier songs and back-loads the ballads. When you do this, no matter how good you are at what you do, you are challenging at least part of your audience to stay with you.
What doesn’t help is that the ballads sound considerably slicker, even though the whole thing is definitely slicker than his earlier records. Though everything is more polished, the rock tracks at least can give you the impression that not much has changed. It’s easy to listen to them and let Stewart’s voice distract you from how everything is more together, less raw.
But once the ballads start (and they’re covers, by the way), you realize that things really have changed, that things have been cleaned up more than a little bit. Stewart has met the Mellow Mafia. (He may not have actually hired any of them – I haven’t double-checked.)
Wouldn’t we all rather have heard an album recorded with the MGs (who make an appearance) than the session musicians he replaced them with? I know I would have.
And are any of these covers of standards really definitive? Not to my ears.
I don’t know Stewart’s career well enough to know for sure, but this feels like the beginning of the next phase of his career, wherein he wanted to maintain the fame he earned by playing actual rock music, by going wherever the money took him.
That being said, it’s still an okay record, especially the first side.