Released: March 1975
Chart Peak: #30
Weeks Charted: 23
Modern Times, though less calculated in its structure than Al Stewart's previous Past, Present and Future, is also a gloomy concept album, its eight songs contemporary tableaux whose characters are propelled toward self-destruction. One of Stewart's stumbling blocks is the task of making his lengthy narratives tuneful. The two in which he succeeds best are "Carol," the portrait of a promiscuous, cocaine-loving scenemaker, and "What's Going On," a description of her male counterpart, formerly "Mr. Natural," now a glittered up male groupie. The eight-minute title cut, which formalizes Stewart's song cycle, tells of two friends meeting each other in New York after 15 years' separation. The one who became a hippie world traveler declares cryptically: "I've got no use fot the tricks of modern times/ They tangle all my thoughts like ivy." Throughout the cycle, Stewart runs the risk of intellectual condescension. He is highly articulate; his characters aren't. Yet Stewart's sympathy and concern for them seem genuine, and in his descriptions of urban desolation -- verbal equivalents of images form Antonioni films -- Stewart sounds almost as depressed and confused as they do. Though I prefer more spontaneity, simplicity and vulgarity in songwriting than Al Stewart allows, I admire Stewart for his studiousness.
- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 5/22/75.
Al Stewart probably has a plan of some kind. His previous album dealt with some of the larger historical events, and this one, in addition to what's implied in the title (styled after one of the songs), has imagery of rusty trains, wooden benches that contain no travelers or Irish lady authors, and a girl who walks like Greta Garbo and talks like Yogi Bear. The lad is driven by some vision, but I can't quite make out what it is. His stuff continues to sound oddly bookish, and not simply on the surface -- where, in this case, he makes up a song for Malachi Constant, hero (well, main character) of Kurt Vonnegut's worst book -- but somewhere in the attitude toward how words are written and sung. His singing apparatus is tidy and competent but singularly unspectacular; the voice sounds bookish too, about five-foot-seven in a bow tie. He has a better-than-average way of putting things, though, and usually writes a decent tune to put them in. His backing here seems to suggest that rock in the middle Seventies can be tasteful without being excessively dull, and that, like so many things about Stewart, surprises me in some tiny, obscure way.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 8/75.
Second LP for the label from this extremely skilled British folk/rocker who combines the charm of folk, the drive of rock and ends up as one of the few believable electric balladeers around. An excellent storyteller who, whether discussing mythology, the sea or love, is a master of his songs. At his best, he is reminiscent of the best of the early Donovan when it comes to getting a story across in a song. Excellent guitar throughout, with most cuts building from a folky beginning to a more rock oriented style. Stewart is the kind of artist who does not crash into mass popularity all at once. Rather he brings in new fans with every effort. FM play is a certainty here, particularly on the magnificent title cut. One of the few of the "British folkies" who makes a dent here, and one of the best, combining commerciality with an authentic flavor. Best cuts: "Carol," "Sirens Of Titan," "Not The One," "The Dark And Rolling Sea," "Modern Times."
- Billboard, 1975.
Stewart's airy (sometimes sentimental) obsessions with the passage of time take on a special resonance on this outing. Highlights include "Carol," "Apple Cider Re-Constitution," "Dark and Rolling Sea," and "The Modern Times." * * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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