Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
It’s going to take a lot more than this decent return to original rock songs—his first such release in over a decade– to erase the saccharine taste Stewart has left in the mouths of 70s fans. Recent years of well-meaning if smarmy interpretations into the great American songbook along with offshoots into soul, classic rock and Christmas chestnuts that often seemed phoned in were the definition of calculated. That’s something no one would have accused him of when he tore it up with scrappy performances as the swaggering frontman of the Faces and his early solo output. Apparently penning his autobiography Rod provided the inspiration to write music again and many of these tracks are clearly plucked from the pages of his life. In particular “Can’t Stop Me Now” is a sharp capsule of Stewart’s early struggling R&B years set to an arena sized chorus calling out for concert sing-alongs. Ditto for “Brighton Beach” where he name checks Janis, Jimi and Kerouac atop an acoustic ballad to his first love. The reminiscence is really quite moving even if it’s almost sunk by an unnecessary string quartet. Over production is a constant issue with these tunes, as Stewart (who co-produced) layers guitars, horns, backing vocals and too much of everything on melodies that, by and large, are strong enough to stand on their own in more stripped down arrangements. A few too many lyrical shout outs to the “Finest Woman” that he’s ever known also sterilizes the proceedings. But when he hits a tough, greasy, rocking groove there are glimpses of the old strutting “Gasoline Alley” Rod many in their 50s still think he’s got left in him. Time offers hope he continues this trend.