Robertson Thacher, also known as Bobby Matador, is a member of the musical organization and performance ensemble Oneida, founded in 1997. In addition to making unseemly noise, he teaches literature, writing, and art at a Boston-area middle school.
Rod Stewart is for everyone. I know this for sure; I read his book, I’ve listened to a ton of his music — which is as great a body of sound as anything ever laid down by anyone, including Bach — and I am totally confident in saying that nobody gets to own Rod, or own his music, not even the guy himself.
I hit play on his new album Time, and immediately I have a problem with this music — or more accurately, an acute lack of connection with it — and it’s definitely coming from me, not Rod. But still, the opening tune “She Makes Me Happy” is such a bummer, with a pinched, Autotuned lead vocal that makes it impossible to hear the Rod I love. You know, when it was Cher, I had absolutely no problem — and I’m cool with Cher, especially that OG Antares jam I’m pretty sure was called “Believe.” But. When Rod goes all Cher-machine it’s brutal because a) Rod’s voice is Adam-root stuff and deserves to be HEARD and b) the drumming on that song is like an in-house Mickey Waller plug-in, it sounds like shit, and same with the next jam. It’s called “Can’t Stop Me Now.” The lyrics sound like a totally gassed, empty guy trying to write a Diane Warren song. “I will climb this mountain with this god-given gift if it’s the last thing I ever do… [blah blah blah]… and I remember thinkin’…” These could be killer lyrics in the painfully unselfconscious Rod-drama tradition of falling in love with “the slit-eyed lady,” but it’s a different kind of stupid, without the inspiration, without the voice, and without those incredible players who constructed a universe of honesty in the grooves of that floppy, cheap Mercury vinyl.
Weird: I was just going to say “without those dudes,” out of patriarchal habit, mindset and I think maybe historical veracity. Lot of dudes on those Mercury albums; gets hazier on the Atlantic records and I never did listen to any of the standards albums, which I bet are probably great. I wonder if there are any women on Time. It would be cool if there are, and a more interesting evolution into modernity than slapping on the Autotune and crispy-digital mandolin (ugh). I got an online link to a stream of this record — no download, no meaningful one-sheet, no album art — so I’m in here for the music, no story, no myth other than the inescapable fact that it’s Rod’s first set of new tunes in forever, and I can’t even tell you who recorded it, who played on it, and now I want to know if any women get to play in Rod’s band these days, if there is a band, because if he’s going to make a modern record, and dump the past, that’s fine — but as a modern pop record this fails miserably to bounce, glide, or sway at all. As I listen to this right now I’d bet a pile that he’s still playing with dudes, but it’s clearly not the same dudes, not the right dudes. And these dudes are old or went to Berklee, or I’m wrong and there’s no band at all, or I’m down a deep rabbit-hole that makes no sense to anyone — but that’s because I’m really avoiding thinking about the lyrics to this song as hard as I can, and the music is giving me nothing. There’re definitely women singing from time to time here. But that’s not particularly cool either.
God damn it, why does Rod’s voice sound like this?
Thank fuck, the third tune, “It’s Over,” is kind of a vintage (’80s/’90s era) Rod ballad vibe, with vibrato, slippery-flowing-around with his voice, drawing minor-key chord changes behind him like a fucking sled team. Gratuitous modulation, one of my favorite Rod moves, is in force. It’s still a hyper-digi recording, but the relief of hearing the guy sing the living shit out of a (terrible) drama lyric is a total endorphin rush.
Lots of “remembering” in this record — and by “Brighton Beach” it’s kind of rad to imagine Rod as an old guy at some really fancy party that you somehow scored an invite to, and he’s a big deal guest, who does like a semi-scheduled performance after dinner for maybe 35 wasted guests including you, and the whole thing is not totally awesome because you really want someone on your wavelength to be there with you, and there’s no way you’re lame enough to take/send phone-video, but you’ve got no other way to share the experience, so you spend the whole time stressing out instead of letting go. So I’m not really listening to this record in any kind of focus now, just letting it wash over me, and trying to sink into pure sound… it’s a noise record. I’m letting go.
Ehh, not working. Oh Christ, the Cher machine is back. We got two ballads that sounded like some version of a real Rod, and now it’s “Beautiful Morning,” which is a goldmine for any ad agency that has to find a song that could work for both Maxwell House and Massengill.
“Live the Life” is an advice jam that mentions email in the first line, and in the chorus, “Satchmo” is namechecked and squeezed by “subtle” or maybe “tasteful” Autotuning, which could have been great used like a bowie knife, but instead just reminds me, where the fuck is Rod? Oh yeah, “Collect your diploma with your head held high…” — again, look at those words and if you love Rod it’s so easy to imagine an incredible tune dropping a brick like that. But wrong band, wrong fucking producer(s?), wrong Rod.
OK, I’m not reporting on anything else, not even the amazing letdown “Sexual Religion.” Fuck man, how could ROD STEWART sing “SEXUAL RELIGION” and it isn’t flat-out smokin? For posterity, let it be recorded here that I listened to this album a bunch of times; and I’m not deleting my link to the stream just in case (unless the label reads this in which case I imagine I’m expunged and maybe excommunicated). I’m not actually as dismissive as I’m sounding here. I love Rod Stewart’s music, his voice, and his history, but the choices on this record make me sad as hell. On the other hand, this dude is old, rich, happy, and that shows in his music, so maybe I’m not actually that bummed. It’s not really possible to shit on your history, only on your hard drive.