Review: Rod Stewart Returns with a Mixed Bag

Rod Stewart
The Tears of Hercules
(Rhino)
2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Respect the aging rock star.

Now 76, Rod Stewart is a multimillionaire who doesn’t need to sing another note, or play another gig, and can live out the rest of his days in the comfort of knowing he has been there, done that, and has the catalog and bank account to prove it. 

But Stewart and his peers (we’re talking to you Elton John), clearly thrive on the attention and trappings of success. How else to explain a late in life return to writing original material starting on Time in 2013 and continuing through three more releases, resulting in The Tears of Hercules (2021)?

The difficulty is finding something to say in a unique way, taking advantage of that distinctively scratchy voice that sounded old even back in Stewart’s Jeff Beck Group and Faces days. The added pressure of trying to satisfy fans from the “Maggie May” and “Stay With Me” era while keeping contemporary is another balancing act.

Stewart tries to have it both ways on these dozen tracks, nine of which are newly penned. He unearths an obscure Johnny Cash composition in “These Are My People” and tries (unsuccessfully) to go Grand Funk one better covering the Soul Brothers Six’s chestnut “Some Kind of Wonderful” utilizing Funk’s hit arrangement.

As for the new songs, he dedicates a ham-fisted tribute to T.Rex in “Born to Boogie (A Tribute to Marc Bolan),” borrowing the riff from “Bang a Gong,” that has lyrics so trite and naive even Bolan would wince if he was around to hear them. The last thing most would want from Stewart is him latching onto EDM (as he did to disco in “Do You Think I’m Sexy”), let alone with awkward lyrics about sex in the ridiculously titled “Kookooaramabama” (Sex is good for everyone, come on people have some fun…I love it…) that verge on creepy coming from someone his age.

Ditto for going slick pop on “I Can’t Imagine,” a slice of pseudo soul so forgettable and flaccid (After all is said and done, my youthful days are now all gone states the obvious) it’s startling someone didn’t stop it from being included. The opening “One More Time” is similarly silly and blows an enticing acoustic guitar intro by sliding into slick programmed beats underpinning lyrics of how he’s a rambling man and has to leave his recent romantic conquest to go on the road… but he’ll keep her on speed dial.

A few moments almost save this from moving into the “better luck next time” pile. The piano-driven title track is a little goopy with strings but shows Stewart getting serious on a ballad about aging and old love that seems like a reasonable way to move forward in the future. Despite some clichéd lyrics (Hold on to what you’ve got) and title, Stewart goes acoustic on a touching “Hold On” where he puts his still healthy voice to tender effect. And “Precious Memories” aims straight for Sam Cooke territory in a retro ‘50s doo-wop new song, complete with honking sax, which proves, along with the closing melancholy “Touchline,” that Stewart can still dig down and surface with some of the emotional gravitas that used to come so naturally.

Whether it’s worth panning through the rest to get to a few pieces of gold depends on your dedication.

At the very least, he’s out there trying, which is more than he needs to do at this stage.       

     

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