In the history of rock 'n' roll, perhaps no one has sold out with more success than Rod Stewart. The sad part is that he didn't need to. Stewart's first five solo albums blended folk and rock and kicked some ass. This was much to the dismay of Faces, the group he was concurrently fronting.
As Stewart's solo popularity grew, he alienated his band more and more until the group finally split in the mid-'70s. Guitarist Ron Wood joined the Rolling Stones, drummer Kenney Jones hooked up with the Who, and keyboardist Ian McLagan became a successful studio musician. Rod Stewart became a superstar.
Unfortunately something seemed to be dying in Stewart as Faces broke up. His last solo album before the breakup of Faces, Smiler, had neither the lively folk rock of his previous albums nor the carefully instrumented pop that would come later. It only got worse from there. The songs on Stewart's first albums, covers like "Street Fighting Man" and originals like "Maggie May," were rollicking numbers perfectly suited to listening to under almost all conditions, whether in the bar or in the car. Stewart put a stop to that, though.
After a nasty battle with the tax collectors of the United Kingdom, Stewart applied for American citizenship and arrived in the U.S. Soon he released the 1975 album Atlantic Crossing. If Smiler was the transition piece, this was the beginning of his new direction. The folkster was out the door, abandoned as he stepped into the world of well-constructed pop. Throughout the remainder of his career, the spiky-coifed, scratchy-voiced pop singer has never looked back.
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Whatever the musical movement du jour, Rod Stewart has been there. Disco? You bet! Just check out 1978's Blondes Have More Fun. Synth-pop? Well, OK. As long as it's popular! Give a listen to 1981's Tonight I'm Yours. Then came the 1990s, when rock music got back to its roots, and everyone and his mother recorded an acoustic album. Rod Stewart made his career-revival maneuver à la Eric Clapton, releasing a live record from his appearance on MTV's Unplugged. The aging pop star came off sounding as if he were covering someone else's tunes. Not surprisingly this worked best on covers like Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately?" It's no coincidence that song became the biggest hit on the album. And now, with the release of Human, Stewart is back on the road. His new album stays true to form, with Stewart attempting to remain up-to-date by incorporating current music trends, in this case the vocal styles of contemporary rhythm-and-blues and ripping a page from the book of electronica.
So when Rod Stewart performs at MARS Music Amphitheatre this Tuesday, fans will certainly see a legend of rock but unquestionably a tired one, having avoided for 30 years the sounds that made him great.
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