Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Music Review: The Definitive Rod Stewart (Deluxe Edition 2-CD & DVD)

Now Available


I think on first glance, it may be easy for the children of the baby boomers to discount the musical contributions of "Rod the Mod" or "Rod the Bod," a.k.a. Rod Stewart. A British/Scotish white man's version of Barry White who-- in his heyday-- frequently wore what can only be described as a grown-man's version of a baby's "Onesie" or unitard, Stewart embraced everything from fuchsia to sailor suits, leopard prints to earrings, and that instantly recognizable spiky big blonde hair. Additionally, he seemed to own the unofficial "Come Hither" one-night-stand soundtrack of the late '70s and early '80s with tunes like "Hot Legs," "Tonight I'm Yours (Don't Hurt Me)," and "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"

Yet, the Stewart I grew up with-- the more contemplative late '80s and early '90s Stewart who-- despite several critiques to the contrary citing his bloated ego and voracious appetite for fame-- released some of the most beguilingly beautiful and subtle pop songs of the last few decades.

Now a venerated member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who only in 2004, shockingly won his first Grammy Award despite a whopping estimable 250 million in album and single sales, Rod Stewart is being embraced fully once again by Warner Brothers-- the label he'd called home for many years. Kicking off a series of planned releases, Warner sets the bar at an all-time high with The Definitive Rod Stewart which is available as a thirty-one song 2-disc CD set or a worthwhile 2-disc plus 1 music video DVD Deluxe Edition (featuring fourteen stellar performances).

Containing Stewart's smash singles beginning with his first huge simultaneous success here in the states and in the UK, "Maggie May" and moving chronologically through his career-- the tracks sound better than ever in this gorgeous reissue. Featuring a beautiful photograph filled booklet and thoughtful essay by Ben Edmonds, the Deluxe Edition offers a well-deserved second look at the career of the man who took his love of folk, blues, country, soul, and rock and managed to blend them all together in his own unique way. Also, it serves as quite a fascinating musical tour through his maturation as an artist from the raspy and more out-of-control sounds of some of his early work with Jeff Beck and Ron Wood with whom he became not only a pioneer "of blues-rock" (and also served as early inspiration for the boom of the British punk band The Sex Pistols) to his more introspective ballads like "Forever Young."

And initially as "Maggie" begins to play with a beautiful, long introduction typically cut off from radio versions, we're lost in romantic reverie before the rock tracks set in as we're transported back to the era of his earliest solo albums (in addition to the ones he worked on with The Jeff Beck Group and Faces) such as An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down (renamed in America to the uninspired The Rod Stewart Album), Every Picture Tells a Story, and Never a Dull Moment.

Despite a few clunkers and derivative songs such as "You Wear it Well," which sounds an awful lot like "Maggie May," "Every Picture Tells a Story" sounds even more incredible than ever as does the Faces tune "Stay With Me," which benefits incredibly from a terrific sound system to hear not only the singer's signature rasp but each and every strum of the guitar. Taken completely by surprise with "Sailing" which incidentally is the first music video included on the DVD of the Deluxe Edition (and features Stewart in a Village People like sailor suit approaching the Twin Towers and NYC in a video of pure bittersweet beauty)-- the nearly gospel like quality of the anthem which also seems rooted in classic folk or Woody Guthrie styled boxcar songs introduces us to a new side of Stewart not usually given much due.

Further moving into his dreamy ballads-- which again usually surround "getting it on"-- we move to the incredibly gorgeous "Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)" before he reminds us why Sheryl Crow's version of his "The First Cut is the Deepest" just will never cut it. After the great sing-along track "You're in My Heart (The Final Acclaim)," Stewart goes wild once more with his Rolling Stone and pre-ACDC like "Hot Legs" and the song for which he's possibly the most famous-- the now tongue-in-cheek "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"

While it's been used for laughs over the years (such as in this clip from So I Married an Axe Murderer) and was the subject of a lawsuit due to similarity to a Brazilian tune, according to the liner notes Stewart has always maintained that it was another third-person character song, yet his presence in the video as both the singer and the man in the bar probably didn't help matters.

Very instinctive of its post sexual-revolution time period with "Tonight I'm Yours (Don't Hurt Me)" that boasts a video staged like a naughty pool party with Rockette styled moves in lawn chairs, whips that seems to indicate that it's ready to turn into an orgy at any given moment-- ultimately, the videos are pretty dated (although humorous for a look at how times have changed in the now "safe sex" world).

Yet, the second disc of the set is by far the best, containing so many wonderful tunes-- from love stories to tales of heartbreak and woe, even including Stewart's embrace of Detroit's Motown with his aptly named "The Motown Song" (performed with The Temptations), as well as the one, the only "Forever Young," a perfect take on "Downtown Train," and the instantly relatable "My Heart Can't Tell You No," in which he refreshingly lets his guard down to sing a song about a man being used by a woman who's in love with someone else. Moving on with "I Don't Want to Talk About It" and the Billy Joel like "Rhythm of My Heart," the album and its DVD also contains a few rarities including unplugged versions of "Have I Told You Lately" and "Reason To Believe" and even boasts one previously unreleased track.

While unfortunately, the album was missing one of my personal favorites, "All For Love," which he performed with Bryan Adams and Sting for the film The Three Musketeers, it's a great set that displays all sides of the singer who managed to keep his unique style and rasp intact (even after intense cancer surgery which left him needing to re-train his voice) after all these years yet managed to change with the times and continue to release material that mixed genres, defied expectations, and proved once and for all that he wasn't just simply the self-satisfied sexy bad boy from his #1 album Blondes Have More Fun.


1. “Maggie May”
2. “Mandolin Wind”
3. “Every Picture Tells A Story”
4. “Stay With Me” – the Faces
5. “You Wear It Well”
6. “Sailing”
7. “The Killing Of Georgie, Parts 1 & 2”
8. “Tonight's The Night”
9. “The First Cut Is The Deepest”
10. “You’re In My Heart”
11. “I Was Only Joking”
12. “Hot Legs”
13. “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”
14. “Passion”
15. “Young Turks”

1. “Tonight I’m Yours”
2. “Baby Jane”
3. “Infatuation”
4. “Same Guys Have All The Luck”
5. “Love Touch”
6. “Forever Young”
7. “My Heart Can’t Tell You No”
8. “Downtown Train”
9. “This Old Heart Of Mine” – with Ronald Isley (1989 Version)
10. “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” – (1989 Version)
11. “Rhythm Of My Heart”
12. “The Motown Song” – with the Temptations
13. “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Waltzing Matilda)”
14. “Have I Told You Lately” – Unplugged Version
15. “Reason To Believe” – with Ronnie Wood (Unplugged Version)
16. “Two Shades Of Blue” – previously unreleased (1998)**

1. “Sailing”
2. “I Don’t Want To Talk About It”
3. “The Killing Of Georgie, Parts 1 & 2"
4. “The First Cut Is The Deepest”
5. “You’re In My Heart”
6. “Hot Legs”
7. “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy”
8. “Ain’t Love A Bitch”
9. “She Won’t Dance With Me”
10. “Young Turks”
11. “Tonight I’m Yours”
12. “Baby Jane”
13. “If We Fall In Love Tonight”
14. “Ooh La La”

**Previously unreleased