Rod Stewart – The Definitive Rod Stewart – Warner Brothers (2 CDs + DVD)
Published on December 2, 2008
Rod Stewart – The Definitive Rod Stewart – Warner Brothers, R2 514094, (2 CDs + DVD) CD 1: 77:29/CD 2: 73:11/DVD: 61:55 ***:
The dictionary defines definitive as “being authoritative and apparently exhaustive.” If you want definitive Rod Stewart, this Warner Brothers package comes up short. Seemingly, the label had no interest in acquiring Stewart’s rambunctious early work with the Jeff Beck Group on Epic, nor any of his recent American standard material on J-Records. However, that still leaves thirty years of music to pick through to create a lasting impression of an artist’s legacy.
Unfortunately, Stewart’s path over time quickly went from classic songwriter and inspired interpretive singer, to disappointment as he turned into a dancing fool and competent entertainer. It’s the equivalent of watching Elvis go from rockabilly maverick to Hollywood has-been.
Anyone who has charted Stewart’s career can tell you the best years were from 1969, when his self-titled debut came out, to the mid-seventies, at which point it became clear he was more responsive to simply moving his hips than using his soulful voice and lyrical skills. That trajectory basically runs briskly through the first eight to ten tracks on disc one of The Definitive Rod Stewart, from seduction narrative “Maggie May” to lascivious “Tonight’s The Night,” where Stewart professes his lust for a young virgin. Who might be interested in this 23-track, 14-video compendium? Causal fans who only know Stewart’s blockbuster hits could just as easily hunt down the 2001 single-disc The Very Best of Rod Stewart. The sixteen cuts provide much the same viewpoint that The Definitive Rod Stewart covers. That best-of is leaner, but that doesn’t mean it won’t disappoint. For anyone who needs the depth that Stewart’s storied discography requires, listeners could search out the still in print, four-CD Storyteller: The Complete Anthology. While it stops in the eighties, it’s a compilation worth owning.
The Definitive Rod Stewart has plenty of favorites and certainly Stewart fans will find quite a lot to like. But a top-40 singles collection does not reveal Stewart at his finest, nor does it supply a coherent journey of his changing public persona. Many of Stewart’s album cuts present a wider and deeper perspective on his ability to pen poignant ballads, or to put his unique stamp on other people’s songs, and that doesn’t even mention the brashly sloppy rock he did with Faces. “Stay with Me” is the only Faces tune included on The Definitive Rod Stewart, which is a shame since the band created some of the foremost seventies-era, hard-rocking stuff this side of the Rolling Stones.
While disc one roves through the seventies and eighties and goes from folk-rock (“Mandolin Wind”) to disco (“Da Ya Think I’m Sexy),” disc two emphasizes the rest of the eighties and the early nineties, from dated digital pop (“Tonight I’m Yours”) to retro pop (“The Motown Song,” with the Temptations). But there’s definitive material rejected here as well. One of the superlative pieces that is missing is “People Get Ready,” a fine 1985 Rod Stewart/Jeff Beck reunion. Instead, the compilers have added the inferior 1984 “Infatuation,” a much weaker Stewart/Beck collaboration. Two highlights are Stewart’s renditions of Tom Waits’ “Tom Traubert’s Blues” (from 1992) and Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately?,” from the 1993 return to roots live performance, Unplugged…and Seated. The second disc wraps up with an unreleased 1998 recording, “Two Shades of Blue,” which blends in a slice of Borodin. While the song isn’t a dud, its doubtful this will make completists rush out to buy The Definitive Rod Stewart. Downloading the MP3 should suffice, if needed.
The bonanza for Stewart aficionados is the hour-long, non-chronological DVD that collects fourteen videos, showcasing Stewart’s flourishing role as a full-fledged, jet-setting superstar. The DVD spans the gamut from Stewart’s heart-wrenching interpretation of “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” to bum-shaking, spandex-clad, pre-MTV promotional video clips (the embarrassing and misogynistic “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and “She Won’t Dance with Me”). The DVD ends with a lovely, unadorned remake of the Faces’ “Ooh La La,” from 1998, casting Stewart as a middle aged man more concerned with the future than the past, having become the old man his old man once was. While the audio is mixed well throughout the DVD, in both Dolby 5.1 or PCM Stereo, the video quality is hit and miss due to unavoidable age and format issues.
The liner notes, although useful for those not aware of Stewart’s past, could have been better handled, perhaps with historical essays, more rare photos, and a discography. Maybe even a few words from the man himself?
1 Maggie May
2 Mandolin Wind
3 Every Picture Tells a Story
4 Stay With Me
5 You Wear It Well
7 The Killing of Georgie (Part 1 and II)
8 Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)
9 The First Cut Is The Deepest
10 You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim)
11 I Was Only Joking
12 Hot Legs
13 Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?
15 Young Turks
1 Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)
2 Baby Jane
4 Some Guys Have All the Luck
5 Love Touch
6 Forever Young
7 My Heart Can’t Tell You No
8 Downtown Train
9 This Old Heart of Mine (1898 version with Ronald Isley)
10 I Don’t Want to Talk About It (1989 version)
11 Rhythm of My Heart
12 The Motown Song (with the Temptations)
13 Tom Traubert’s Blues (Waltzing Matilda)
14 Have I Told You Lately (Unplugged version)
15 Reason to Believe (Unplugged version with Ronnie Wood)
16 Two Shades of Blue
2 I Don’t Want to Talk About It
3 The Killing of Georgie (Part 1 and II)
4 The First Cut Is The Deepest
5 You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim)
6 Hot Legs
7 Ain’t Love a Bitch
8 She Won’t Dance with Me
9 Young Turks
10 Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)
11 Baby Jane
12 If We Fall In Love Tonight
13 Ooh La La
— Doug Simpson