Label: Warner Brothers
Released: November 18, 2008
Rod Stewart may have the perfect rock voice. It’s raw and honest and warm and he expresses emotion with ease. Its rough edges are its primary strength. The first handful of tracks on this collection, rock songs tied tightly to their folk, boogie and blues roots, are ideal vehicles for Stewart’s perfect imperfection. The heartfelt “Maggie May,” the earthy “Mandolin Wind,” the rollicking “Stay With Me” all draw the best out of Stewart and he in turn elevates them in a way that few if any singers could.
The trouble is that as Stewart cleans up his sound and adapts to the changing world of pop music, he tempers his strength. Sure, it doesn’t all go south with the disco stylings in “The Killing of Georgie,” but he has started down the slippery slope. Stewart still brings his best on “You’re in My Heart” and makes it easy to forget that without him, “The First Cut is the Deepest” would be an average rock song at best. Even “I Was Only Joking” has its moments. But by “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” Stewart had clearly crossed the line. Stewart is a great rock singer, but he wasn’t able to re-invent himself to turn down each new pop avenue.
To be fair, Stewart doesn’t kill his later material so much as it kills him. The synth pop of “Tonight I’m Yours” is the polar opposite of everything Stewart had done right earlier in his career. Even a rocker like “Infatuation” is so inundated with bad 80s production that it sucks out anything Stewart brings. Where the late 60s and early 70s were the perfect time for Rod Stewart, the 80s were anything but. “The Motown Song” has some charm and “Reason to Believe” from Unplugged is at least somewhat of a reminder of Rod Stewart the rock singer rather than Rod Stewart the pop star. The previously unreleased “Two Shades of Blue” sat in on the shelf for ten years and frankly, it could have stayed there. Nice try with the classical stuff, but Rod needed more rock, not more phony sophistication.
Also included in this set is a DVD of Stewart’s music videos. It’s not a bad bonus, but it’d still be a better idea to skip this and just buy the early albums individually. Videos are never a good substitute for better music and his early album tracks hold up better now than does his mid to late period output.
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