No-one expected Rod Stewart to grow old gracefully. But after a decade crooning his way through the American songbook, one assumed he’d settled into something vaguely age appropriate. Not a bit of it. Blood Red Roses, his third album of original material in five years, sees the creaky old lothario exercising his pop chops again, even… perish the thought… strutting his stuff on the dancefloor with libido undiminished. There are some sentimental songs of reflection, something Stewart’s always done well dating back to the likes of Mandolin Wind, but on the whole this is plasticky pop to suit an X-Factor winner a third of his age.
Even those famous husky tones don’t escape. Already weakened by age and past illness, they get a digital blitzing on opener Look In Her Eyes, pure manufactured primary coloured radio fodder, with creepy dad lyrics: “Watch all the pretty girls looking voguishly hot”. Hole In My Heart is a more muscular effort, with crunchy guitars and bright brass, but is no less production line. The title track is a nautical-themed fiddly-dee hoedown – The Irish Rover meets Cotton-Eyed Joe – brutally incessant as an earworm, calculated and cliché-ridden.
By no means are they the cheesiest moments either. The only pensioner who should have been allowed anywhere near Give Me Love is Nile Rodgers. Its nimble bassline, spangly guitar and parping horns are something he’d do wondrous things with. In Stewart’s hands it’s yer grandad giving himself a hernia at a wedding disco. When he urges the gospel backing singers to “help me now, sisters, help me”, it’s enough to make even a hardened conservative shout “cultural appropriation” in order to make it stop. Stewart would laugh that off, but even he should have baulked at the naffness of lyrics like “I woke up in Harlem / pavement is my pillow again” and “Fifteen years in Sing Sing / for a crime I didn’t commit”. The same lyrical afflictions affect Rest of My Life, a song sonically haunted by S Club 7. “All of my buddies have settled down,” he sings. It’s to be hoped so, Rod. “Sitting watching telly on a Friday night, getting pizza and a Heineken light.” He’s no Dylan.
It’s better when he tucks into meatier, more emotional subject matter.
He stage-managed a minor controversy of sorts covering Irish rebel song Grace – an imagined conversation between Republican Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford as they married shortly before his execution. He says the BBC banned him from singing it; they say they didn’t. Regardless, there’s no doubting the pretty melancholy of the melody, and Rod has always known his way round Celtic cadences, even if they always end up more pop than folk. It tugs all the heartstrings it means to.
That’s not all he’s got in the armoury either. Julia is a mid-paced, rose-tinted reminiscence of a young crush. Honey Gold is a neat tribute to a woman of Rod’s own age (surely some mistake?!) who “never grows old” and “even partied with the Faces” and has a chorus Take That’d be proud of, although who knows what he’s talking about when he sings about “a rally for peace in the summer of 1995, when you marched through the streets of London with all your children by your side”. Best of all in this reflective vein is Farewell, a nostalgic tribute to a late buddy he used to party with.
For those who miss Rod’s rockier side, there’s a couple of rougher-edged numbers. There’s a cover of the 90 year old Delta Blues Rollin’ and Tumblin’, while Vegas Shuffle is rock cliche the Stones might have spewed out in the 80s/90s – “round about midnight, that’s when the fun begins” – but not bad considering.
None of Blood Red Roses is subtle in intention or execution; some of it would be laughable if Stewart retained any pretensions towards credibility. But for a bloke of 73, it’s gloriously unembarrassed and crowd-pleasing. It knows its audience and its simple melodies are tailor-made to burrow their way into your brain whether you want them there or not.