Rod Stewart’s first original studio release in two decades, due on May 7, 2013, via Capitol Records, is aptly titled: Time. Sparked in part by Stewart’s work on a memoir, it’s the sound of someone looking determinedly backward.
That leads to a comfy sense of nostalgia, as Stewart touches all of the bases on a victory lap through a varied career that started with his tenure in the rough-and-tumble Faces before taking a series of detours as a solo artist — from stripped-down balladeer to synthesized disco maven to songbook slickster.
It’s all here, for good or for ill. The sawing fiddle on “Live the Life,” for instance, hints at the rootsy joys of 1971′s “Maggie May.” “Can’t Stop Me Now” and “Make Love to Me Tonight” both have the stamping, cyclic nature of Scottish-inspired Stewart hits like “Ooh La La,” originally recorded in 1973 with the Faces. Stewart hoots and howls on “Finest Woman” with a brio unheard since perhaps “Hot Legs” back in ’77. “Pure Love” is a slower, grayer, sadder version of 1988′s “Forever Young.”
There are moments, too, when Time seems to provide deeper glimpses into his heart’s actual miles. “She Makes Me Happy” is a hooky paean to marital bliss, while “It’s Over” tries to sort through the wreckage as a lengthy union is torn apart. Live long enough, Stewart seems to be saying, and you’ll see both sides.
You wish for more moments of tender honesty like that, times when Stewart peeks out from behind his bleached-coiffed persona. Instead, pleasant enough reminiscences like “Brighton Beach” and “Time” are counterbalanced by the souless misfires of “Beautiful Morning” (with its utterly vacuous MOR groove) and “Sexual Religion” (which, quite frankly, sounds unsettlingly pervy considering Stewart’s advancing age). Of course, any career retrospective would have to include his id-driven Blondes Have More Fun-era debauchery, too. So maybe that’s to be expected.
Worst of all, though, is “Picture in a Frame” — which is so string-soaked and lugubrious that it would have easily found a home on any of the snoozy standards sets Stewart’s been cashing in with over the past decade. I thought we were done with all of that goopy junk.