Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Rod Stewart Album (Part 3)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Camouflage (1984, Warner Bros.)

B –

Trading in Tom Dowd for, surprisingly enough, former Christopher Cross producer Michael Omartian, Camouflage is notable for having reunited Rod with Jeff Beck on three tracks. There’s undeniably too much filler here for an eight-track album, and the dreadful title cut and the ‘80s-styled makeover of Free’s “All Right Now” definitely should have been substituted with other songs, but at least half of this album is pretty solid. “Heart Is on the Line” is charming, and the Top Ten hit “Infatuation” is a fairly catchy dance-pop number that benefits from Beck’s guitar work, while the album-closing ballad and Omartian co-write “Trouble” is one of Stewart’s prettiest tunes in years. Best of all, though, is Rod’s effervescent remake of “Some Guys Have All the Luck” that cleverly splits the difference between the Persuaders’ more easygoing original version and Robert Palmer’s synth-pop-tinged, fractured near-total-rewrite of the tune, restoring the song’s full original lyric but welding it to the tempo of Palmer’s more dancefloor-friendly rendition.  

Rod Stewart (1986, Warner Bros.)

C –

Easily his worst album since Foolish Behaviour, this disc – helmed by, strangely enough, former Kiss producer Bob Ezrin [Rod inexplicably spent the entirety of the ‘80s jumping from producer to producer and only seldom picking someone who it actually made sense on paper for him to work with] - has what has easily got to be the worst first side of any Stewart album (not really the fault of Ezrin so much as that the songs are just really, really sub-par.) Listeners who make it to the album’s back half, though, are moderately rewarded for their patience. The album’s second side begins with one of Rod’s guiltiest pleasures, the tropical-tinged Top Ten hit “Love Touch” (penned by songwriting greats Mike Chapman, best known for writing Toni Basil’s “Mickey,” Huey Lewis and the News’ “Heart and Soul,” and Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz,” and Holly Knight, best known for writing Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield” and “Invincible”), a song that everybody – Rod included – likes to poke fun of (if only because of the song’s laughable title) but a lot of Rod’s fans – this reviewer included – actually secretly really love, if only for the infectious melody and those steel drums in the chorus. The next cut, “In My Own Crazy Way” is forgettable, but the disc quickly recovers, closing with a fine trilogy in “Every Beat of My Heart,” “Ten Days of Rain,” and a moving rendition of the Beatles’ “In My Life.”

Out of Order (1988, Warner Bros.)

B  

Stewart takes back over as producer again, bringing in former Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor and Chic bassist/co-founder Bernard Edwards to co-produce with him. It’s just as odd a move on paper as bringing Bob Ezrin in for the previous disc, but this pairing works much better. Of course, it helps that this is perhaps Rod’s best set of songs since Tonight I’m Yours, if in a much more adult-contemporary vein than that disc was. [Do yourself a favor, though, and skip past “Lethal Dose of Love” and the cover of the blues standard “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” both of which are just awful.] The brass-laden “Dynamite” is a fairly fun album cut and “When I Was Your Man” has its appeal as well, but the success of the album really all comes down to the four singles here, all Top Twenty hits: the dance-pop of “Crazy About Her,” the driving rock of “Lost in You” (co-written with Taylor), the enduring adult-contemporary-radio classic “Forever Young,” and, best of all, the pleading soul-pop of “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” a song found and recommended to Rod by Robert Palmer and written by the team of Simon Climie (formerly of Climie Fisher of “Love Changes (Everything)” fame) and Dennis Morgan, the same duo that penned the chart-topping Aretha Franklin and George Michael duet “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me).” 

Vagabond Heart (1991, Warner Bros.)

A

Easily Rod’s finest disc since at least 1981’s Tonight I’m Yours and possibly even 1972’s Never a Dull Moment, Rod’s first outing of the ‘90s is firmly in adult-contemporary-pop territory, but Rod has never sounded quite so comfortable working in that vein before as he does here, and his taste in outside material here is especially great, not just for the quality of the songs he’s chosen – for the first time in at least ten years, there is not one single embarrassing cut to be found – but in their suitability for him as well. Working with a hodgepodge of producers that includes the legendary Richard Perry, Patrick Leonard (best known for his work with Madonna), Chic’s Bernard Edwards, and even former Buggles lead vocalist Trevor Horn (who had since gone on to produce Yes, ABC, and Seal, to name just a few), Rod also surrounds himself with a great supporting cast of guests. Tina Turner serves as Rod’s duet partner on a remake of the Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston classic “It Takes Two,” and the Temptations pop up on “The Motown Song,” which also utilizes most of Toto for its rhythm section. But it’s the songs here that shine, especially his covers of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately,” Robbie Robertson’s “Broken Arrow,” and the Stylistics’ “You Are Everything” and, much more obscurely, Dutch rocker Rene Shulman’s Scottish-flavored and bagpipe-laden folk song “Rhythm of My Heart,” which Rod sings just as passionately as if the lyric was his very own. Most fun of all is his cover of Larry John McNally’s nostalgia-minded “The Motown Song”; Rod’s own deep love of R&B makes this an especially fitting song – both musically and lyrically – for him to cover, and his joy here is utterly contagious, not in the least in the way he slides right in alongside the Temptations, the R&B legends and the iconic rock star sounding absolutely marvelous together. It’s easily one of Rod’s greatest post-‘70s singles. Of all Rod’s post-Mercury albums, this is at the very least one of his three best, if not the best, and is a must-own for any true Rod fan.

A Spanner in the Works (1995, Warner Bros.)

B –

Perhaps taking a cue from the unexpected success of his live album Unplugged … and Seated, Rod (once again working with a rotating cast of producers that includes Edwards and Horn) tries to keep things a bit more organic and introspective this time – not quite Gasoline Alley-organic, mind you, but certainly much more so than any of his studio albums since the ’70s. There’s nothing notably bad here, and as a whole, the disc is certainly appealing – highlights include the self-penned “Lady Luck” and covers of Bob Dylan’s “Sweetheart Like You,” Sam Cooke’s “Soothe Me,” and Chris Rea’s “Windy Town” – but nothing here is anywhere near as catchy as any of the better singles from Vagabond Heart or Out of Order, either, and the album could have benefitted an enormous deal from the presence of something as immediate as “Rhythm of My Heart” or “The Motown Song.” Critics were a bit kinder this time out, but the lack of a knockout single meant that adult-contemporary stations had a much harder time warming to this album than they had Vagabond Heart, and the only Hot 100 hit the album could muster in the U.S. was the Tom Petty-penned Wildflowers leftover “Leave Virginia Alone,” which could only climb as high as #52 and understandably so: it at least sounds good when it’s on, but it’s also arguably the least catchy lead-off single from a Rod Stewart album yet with the sole possible exception of Foolish Behaviour’s “Passion.” Rod makes a valiant effort here to restore his artistic credibility, but the lack of strong hooks will likely leave a lot of fans disappointed, and it’s consequently hard to recommend this album any more than, say, Body Wishes, which may not be anywhere near as deliberately artful but at least had some unforgettable melodies like “Baby Jane” and “What Am I Gonna Do” to keep you coming back to the disc.

When We Were the New Boys (1998, Warner Bros.)

B

Rod’s final full-length studio outing of the ‘90s is both stronger and more fun than its predecessor , in spite of being comprised almost entirely of covers (the nostalgia-minded title cut is the only original here) and not Rod’s usual cover fare, either; rather than covering the likes of Dylan or Sam Cooke or delving into the Motown catalog, Rod instead focuses almost exclusively on covering acts – and mostly alternative ones, at that – that have emerged in the decades since he became a superstar. The disc even opens with, surprisingly enough, a fine cover of Oasis’ “Cigarettes and Alcohol.” Rod also covers songs by the likes of Graham Parker (“Hotel Chambermaid”), Nick Lowe (“Shelly My Love”), Ron Sexsmith (a great performance of “Secret Heart”), Waterboys leader Mike Scott (“What Do You Want Me to Do?”) and Primal Scream (“Rocks.”) But the greatest moment here is a tribute to his old band The Faces, as Rod teams up with Andrea, Sharon, and Caroline Corr from the Irish pop band The Corrs to turn in a stirring cover of a song from his old band, the Faces, in “Ooh La La,” the original version of which had been sung by Ron Wood rather than Rod. The cover – a surefire bet to delight fans of those old Mercury albums of Rod’s from the early ‘70s – deservedly returned Rod to the Top 40 for the first time in nearly five years and sadly remains his last Top 40 hit to date.