Sunday, July 12, 2015

Rod Stewart - Blondes Have More Fun (1978)

(This is the second of a series of record reviews called "Shades of Mediocrity," a look at weak [but not necessarily bad] albums from esteemed artists.)
If blondes have more fun, they must be listening to something else.
Rod Stewart strove for stardom in the early 1970s even as he remained true to his music. Now, at the end of the decade, he was cranking out records that sounded professional and competent but lacked any depth or soul once you dug deeper.  Blondes Have More Fun is a regrettable example of how Stewart had become so complacent.
A good deal of this album is full of trashy songs about girlfriends and casual affairs, suggesting that Stewart is living it up with no regrets.  He throws out bombastic rockers like "Dirty Weekend" and "Blondes (Have More Fun)" with a laugh; he sings as if it's just a job, just a way to earn the big dough that has helped him lived life to the fullest.  There's nothing in his delivery to suggest that he takes most of these ten songs, all but one of which he co-wrote, very seriously - so why should we?  He does a credible job on the album's one cover, the old Four Tops tune "Standin' in the Shadows of Love," but there's nothing in his smooth, glossy vocal to suggest he's found any personal connection to it. This is frustrating, because we know Stewart can be great when he treats the music that inspired him with the reverence it demands.  And if he's not trying hard enough with a cover . . .
A few flashes of brilliance manage to get through on Blondes Have More Fun, sort of like weeds through asphalt.  "The Best Days of My Life," which he wrote with his guitarist Jim Cregan (previously of Family and of Steve Harley's Cockney Rebel) is a tender ballad full of warmth and humanity, and the closing cut, "Scarred and Scared" (written with his lead guitarist Gary Grainger) suggests that not all is well in Stewart's decadent lifestyle.  But with empty-headed tunes like "Attractive Female Wanted" or the Latin-tinged, hammock-ready "Last Summer"  to contend with, you wonder if he really means any of the more heartfelt moments he conveys on this record or if he's just kidding us.  Musically, the record is a compromise;  aside from the sloppy drumming of Carmine Appice, Rod's band plays well, and Cregan in particular, journeyman rocker that he is, is a pretty strong linchpin.  But the arrangements are predictable, and producer Tom Dowd doesn't add much bite to the sound.
The big hit from the record was "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?," a blatant disco song with an elitist vibe to it.  The cosmopolitan strings, anchored by a repetitive synthesizer line, conjures up the slickest, slimiest playboy making his move on the woman of his desire, and you feel unclean from being a part this voyeuristic look at how he seduces her to his high-rise lair.  Perhaps the most charitable thing I can say about "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?", apart from the fact that at least Stewart's characters are together at daybreak enjoying each other's company (in his earlier songs - Faces and solo - about trysts, Stewart's male characters ask their sexual partners to be gone by morning), is that Stewart donated the royalties of this chart-topping hit to the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF.  Stewart even performed the song at the 1979 Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations, which, given the subject matter, seems far more than merely inappropriate.  All I can say is, just give at the office.  Rod may have been having fun, but this certainly isn't living.     

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