Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Rockaliser 30: Rod Stewart, Never A Dull Moment (1972)

[Welcome To the Rockaliser 30, a month-long series devoted to classic albums that have been eclipsed, forgotten, misheard, or otherwise not given their propers. This is Day Twenty Four. Archive here.]

Throughout Never A Dull Moment, Rod Stewart cuts a meek figure. His characters are lonely lads, sitting around catching colds in towns where they don't belong. He sings like he’s Jagger’s younger brother--a scruffy and eager kid. Like Mick, Rod is a great interpreter--here he covers Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Sam Cooke, and Etta James, finding a home in their forlorn tunes even as his narrators drift. (Etta James loved Rod’s “I’d Rather Go Blind”; we’ll never know what Cooke or Hendrix thought, but he does Bob proud on a definitive “Mama You’ve Been On My Mind.)

On Never, Rod has the same problem on nearly every song--girls he can’t get over. Fictional Rod gets in these spots because he’s so damn indecisive. “I’m not asking you to say yes or no, please understand me,” he sputters on Dylan’s “Mama You Been On My Mind.” In opener “True Blue,” Stewart begs “please can you make up my mind?”

It’s a persona at odds with most of what Stewart projected publicly (a few fine albums excepted), but one in keeping with his 1971 solo breakthrough, Every Picture Tells A Story. That album featured a hapless young man stranded in an affair with Maggie Mae, and brought Stewart his first huge hit as a solo star.

For Never A Dull Moment, the follow-up, he works from the same blueprint. This is a harder-edged version of Every Picture’s folk-rock. The tunes, half of them originals, are gorgeously played. Ron Wood, who co-wrote most of the originals, is scrappy throughout. On the Hendrix cover “Angel,” Wood summons the pub-rock spirit inside Jimi’s riff.

The other musicians--a rotating cast, including several members of Stewart and Wood’s group The Faces--find the warm, wistful heart in these tunes. Fiddle, organ, and accordion all age these tracks, giving them the sharpness of a fine whiskey. But it’s Stewart who makes them worth endlessly revisiting. His raspy voice is as loose and assured as his narrators are adrift.

Of Stewart’s transformation into a megastar, Greil Marcus has remarked “If it was necessary to become a great artist in order to get the money to spend and the stars to fuck, well, Rod was willing.” On Never A Dull Moment Stewart is a great artist, just starting his journey towards those reviled, sometimes catchy pop hits. But the stories he sings on this album aren’t about having money or girls. They’re about building up a lot of regrets in a few short years, and on Never, Stewart sells every word.

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