I was in California last weekend for a wedding. Afterwards, I was driving a couple of close friends to the airport and inevitably, the iPod shuffle was on. A great Faces song, “I’d Rather Go Blind” (an old R&B cover) came on, and as my friends and I got into the song one of them turned to me and asked, “Was Rod Stewart ever cool?” I kind of felt like someone’s Dad for a second, and explained, yes, at one time, many, many years ago, Rod Stewart was indeed VERY cool. Back in the early 70’s, in the wake of a couple of great Faces records, and one of the greatest records of all time, Every Picture Tells A Story, Rod Stewart epitomized some of the best that rock had to offer. Influenced by soul greats like Sam Cooke, he created wonderful music filled with spirit, feeling, lust, good humor and total compassion.
I mention this because I got a copy of Rod’s new collection of covers, “Still The Same…Rock Classics Of Our Time.” Coming on the heels of his wildly and surprisingly successful collection of standards, this, I guess, was the obvious follow up. As business strategy goes, I guess it’s the obvious move – in the post “American Idol” culture we’re in, it’s been made obvious that there are millions of people that would rather hear recreations of songs they know and love than hearing anything new. That being said, when you make a record that’s more about market strategy than artistic expression, the trick is to hide that as much as possible, and on “Still The Same…” all one hears is market strategy. Stewart can barely hide his absolute disinterest in the material – the arrangements are nearly identical to the originals, and there is a complete detachment in the singing – and when Rod was at his best, detachment was nowhere to be found. This isn’t a record – it’s karaoke, and the cynicism floods every single note.
The selections themselves are horrific. Since when is Bonnie Tyler’s “It’s A Heartache” a rock classic? “Everything I Own” by Bread? “Still The Same” by Bob Seger? This from the man whose taste in material used to be impeccable?
Greil Marcus once wrote about Rod: “Rarely has a singer has as full and unique a talent as Rod Stewart; rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely.” I’d add that when the great big dictionary of rock is written, next to the word “sellout” will be a picture of Rod Stewart. This inspires not scorn and derision in me, rather, I feel real sympathy for Rod – for I have a strong suspicion that he would agree with everything I’ve written.
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