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No reason to believe Rod is sexy

Rod Stewart has finally done it. Fusing his ragged, soulful voice with modern R’B, he easily steamrolls what was left of his musical credibility. Once a blues-rock icon, Stewart found himself shifting into pop-rock/adult contemporary territory in the `80s and early `90s. It would not be unexpected for him to continue rocking the baby-boomer cradle ever so softly.

His newest release, Human, proves otherwise. From the drop-your-pants-in-December shock of the title track — in which Stewart shifts his cadence from crooning to talking in sing-song that is as close to rap as he could get — to the white bread reggae of “If I Had You,” the man knows no shame.

If anyone with enough money wanted to cut a R’B/adult contemporary record, this is what it would sound like – generic, empty and vapid. But that’s not the main problem with Human. Stewart’s shift to new musical territory is not just unsuccessful, it is unnecessary. Does Metallica play symphonic pieces? Does Garth Brooks sing rock tunes? Don’t answer those questions, you’ll only end up disappointed. There are only three reasons for these artists to do such things: money, a wider audience and going beyond perceived artistic boundaries. With Stewart, unfortunately, the answer looks most likely to be money, which is a shame. But a mid-`50s rocker has to find some way to keep attracting supermodel wives.

All the songs on Human are about love – needing it, having it, losing it, wanting it and giving it. The lyrics are, for the most part, phoned in. Of all the sonically modern tracks, a duet with the Macy Gray-sounding Helicopter Girl (do I even need to make a comment?) titled “Don’t Come Around Here” offers perhaps Stewart’s most sincere vocal performance. Unfortunately, what could have been a stirring string section is marred by “modern” bass lines and drum loops.

“Charlie Parker Loves Me” is the most oddly titled track, and the expected horns are the only normal thing about the song. Stewart runs from whispering menacingly to declaring that everybody knows that Charlie Parker loves him. Well, I would like to know how Charlie Parker feels about this. The upcoming posthumous collection, “Charlie Parker: Rod Stewart is a Lying Bastard” should do much to set the record straight.

“Run Back Into Your Arms” is reminiscent of Stewart’s collaboration with the Temptations, “The Motown Song,” but not as catchy. “To Be With You” could have been a Roy Orbison tune and is the most enjoyable song on the album. If more of the songs on Human were like it, perhaps Stewart’s hopes for a comeback would not be as unreasonable as they look (and sound) now.

The whole listening experience plays out as an episode of Rod Stewart in the 8th Dimension, with special guests Cher’s producer, some guy who lived next to Puff Daddy and the ever-mysterious omnipresent female backup singers. To quote a line of “Soul on Soul,” “good God have mercy on me …” Until then, I’ll be listening to Free Design.

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