Never A Dull Moment
Released: July 1972
Chart Peak: #2
Weeks Charted: 36
Certified Gold: 7/28/72
"As I listened to Gasoline Alley the first time, I found myself saying again and again, "He can't understand that." - Langdon Winner, in Rolling Stone, 9/3/70
We don't expect compassion, humility and self-doubt from our rock & roll heroes, not in this age of musical assault and battery, not in a time when we have seen the raunch and innuendo of primal blues and R&B slide into what some angry folk choose to call "cock rock." But I look at the amazing career of Mr. Rod Stewart and these qualities, tempered by a mammoth sense of humor, are at the core of everything he appears to be -- band leader, band member, writer, composer, interpreter, gentleman and least and finally, superstar.
Until now my favorite Stewart album had been his first, The Rod Stewart Album, with its nervy version of "Street Fighting Man," the heartbreaking "Handbags and Gladrags" and the bitter, lonely "Dirty Old Town," all set off by Wood's stunning bottleneck guitar, Waller's drumming and beautiful acoustic guitar by Martin Quittenton.
Through two more successful albums Stewart kept adding to this nucleus, building a relaxed studio outfit with like-minded comrade musicians, bassist-pianist Pete Sears, fiddler Dick Powell and others, with Faces Lane, Jones and McLagen drifting in and out of the sessions as they were needed (that Rod has managed to keep two separate bands working for several years is its own tribute to his prodigious energies). Gasoline Alley established Rod as a songwriter ("Lady Day," "Gasoline Alley") and demonstrated his uncanny ear for picking out tunes and giving them his own stamp (Elton John's "Country Comforts," Dylan's "Only A Hobo"). And there's simply nothing left to say about the flashing rocking and gentle minstrelsy that propelled Every Picture Tells A Story.
And so here's Never A Dull Moment, maybe the best of 'em all: four cuts per side (plus a surprise if you get the cassette version) with both hands working on four Stewart-Wood/Quittenton tunes and covering the likes of Dylan, Hendrix and Sam Cooke, and it sounds like they had a good time.
"True Blue" is a nice little double cross, self-effacing and then sardonic. It's the only track with all five Faces and it does pack a wallop. Rod's lyrics are getting better too -- you know he wants something but he don't know what it is:
Which sounds pretty convincing and angst-laden in front of hard-faced rhythm and Wood's biteass guitar chops. "Back home I'm considered the fool," Rod says, and we're feeling pretty sorry for all the inner turmoil when, as a coda, there's the revving of an electric guitar followed by the revving of Rod's Lamborghini. No heartbreak here, just rock & roll, a belly laugh, and a pratfall.
The second side starts with Jimi Hendrix's "Angel," Rod's biggest bite yet off something most musicians thought was unchewable. "Angel" is a gorgeous tune and is handled well by the band, but it comes off as just a version, not the take-over we've come to expect from Rod. I guess that Hendrix's sense of the dramatic cannot be duplicated, and "Angel" was one of the most dramatic of his slower tunes. "Interludings" is 40 seconds of Ron Wood playing the guitar, a prelude to "You Wear It Well" a Stewart/Quittenton sequel to their great "Maggie May." The music is the same violin-organ-guitar groove, about a halting return to the lost romance: "Don't laugh at me... don't hesitate to call collect," and then a kind of ultimate compliment: "Madam Onassis got nothin' on you."
"I'd Rather Go Blind" is a nice cover of a blues recorded by Etta James. The tune reminds me of what I've always thought was Stewart's best performance on record, a steal of Dinah Washington's "Drinking Again" that was transformed by Rod and Jeff Beck and retitled "I've Been Drinking."
Anyway, out we go with Sam Cooke's "Twistin' the Night Away," a faultless, rollicking, brilliant choice. Listen to Mick Waller's time change between Ron's lead intro and Rod's vocal. It's good to know that the man in evenin' clothes (how he got here I don't know) is still dancing with the chick in slacks, and she's still moving up and back, twistin' the night away, and then Woodsy scorches in with a bossy railroad rimfire guitar break that is nothing if not the essence of rock & roll. That Rod's no dummy, but I wonder if he realizes that his version of the tune will replace the original in the mind of a younger sub-generation?
Who knows? Who cares? Rod Stewart and his merrie men rock on, with the image of a happy-go-lucky tippler-musician managing to spread cheer, style and common sense through miserable times. Never A Dull Moment -- I guess the title is its own best review. (Oh, about that surprise in the cassette version: the first side ends, there's an interval of about half a minute, and then a right purty version of Jerry Lee Lewis' "What Made Milwaukee Famous (Made a Loser Out of Me)." It's not listed on the cassette, and Rod meant it to be the B side of some yet-unreleased single. The man just likes to give presents, god bless his heart).
- Stephen Davis, Rolling Stone, 9/14/72.
Well, it took awhile, but Rod Stewart is back again with his fourth straight formula solo album. He's rounded up roughly the same crew of musical cohorts and deployed them in the same general fashion, and the result, like his three previous efforts, is a superb album. Only the songs have been changed, to protect the inner sense of individual integrity amongst the albums; but, actually, that's all you need. The Stewart formula is broad-based enough to allow for widely varied species of old folk tunes, blues and funk numbers, hard rockers, and the melodic "Maggie May" mainstream; the instrumentalists have it all down, Rod himself stands ready to apply the smooth sandpaper finish, and all that's required for another ace album is a new set of dynamics -- and on Never A Dull Moment there's no letdown in this department.
The songs herein are split between four originals and a like number of covers, of which the latter group the immediate knockout is Sam Cooke's "Twistin' The Night Away." Having previously declared himself unwilling to tackle his main stylistic influence's material, Stewart finally reverses his stand and delivers a pounding hard rock version which retains all the essential exuberance of the original and leads one to hope for similar subsequent revivals, the more the better. Also under cover here are a haunting rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Angel," the mandatory obscure Dylan number, "Mama You've Been On My Mind" this time out, a velvety version which grows insiduously more impressive on each listening; and a bluesy Christine Perfect/Chicken Shack U.K. hit of a few years back, "I'd Rather Go Blind," which through no real fault of its own save a lesser natural quotient of intrinsic excitement is the least compelling track on the record.
A worthy quartet of interpretations, to be sure, but the original tracks are even more rewarding. Stewart has the rare knack of writing clever and/or trenchant lyrics which can either amuse and delight the listener or be safely ignored in favor of concentrating on the music itself, as they in no way obtrude or detract from the song's musical impact. So in this album, after finally getting around to listening to the words, we find entertaining vignettes involving the problems of smuggling underage girls south of the border; a liason between a jeep-driving soldier and a girl in a Maserati; an idol-indecisive playboy and his money laden old man; and a humor and poignant wit and sovoir fare, with music to match. "Italian Girls" unleashes a vicious initial explosion and chugs merrily along throughout, as does "True Blue" (the latter also spotlighting a perfectly lovely bridge); while "Lost Paraguayos" presents a delightfully lilting melody line until ambushed by a party of rather ill-mannered but basically innocuous horns. And "You Wear It Well," a superficially shameless "Maggie May" cop, is yet such an infectious and memorable bittersweet number that it's the odds on favorite for the album's top cut (currently it's the single from the album).
No two ways about it, this is one fine album. And, although it unfortunately again raises the dread spectre of the Rad Stewart-solo and Rod Stewart-cum-Faces dichotomy (in that this album is vastly superior to A Nod Is As Good As A Wink or its two predecessors), Never A Dull Moment successfully confounds any churlish souls lurking about ready to garrot Mr. Stewart now that he has achieved mass-idol status. If any of those Pavlovian poison-pen pea-brains start cutting up the Rod for this LP, don't believe 'em; Never A Dull Moment is one of the most superbly crafted and enjoyable records of the year.
- Ken Barnes, Phonograph Record, 9/72.
Rod Stewart firmly puts to rest the rumor that he is just another pretty face. His voice is in top form and none of that oddly ingratiating sandpaperness or sardonic good humor has been sacrificed. Hovering precariously on the verge of tears he can swiftly change and ignite a vocal exuberance seldom heard elsewhere. Excelling in such cuts as "Angel," "Lost Paraguayos" and the late Sam Cooke's "Twistin' the Night Away."
- Billboard, 1972.
One can always count on Rod for superb vocalizing, but his recordings sometimes slip because of the spotiness of the material, from marvelous to mediocre. On his new LP, he solves the problem by writing half the songs himself and choosing the others with considerably more care than was exercised on the previous Every Picture Tells A Story.
Stewart's unique, bright songwriting talents are highlighted with the opening "True Blue," in which the back-up band is known collectively as Faces. Rod writes catchy lyrics, couplets that leave a real impression because of their looseness and the way they flow naturally off the tongue, like the immortal "My body stunk but I kept my funk" off the last disc. Here, the jumpy invocation is "Never gonna own a race horse/Or a fastback mid-engine Porsche/Don't think I'll own a private jet/On the stock exchange I'm not threat," with the music bouncing along brilliantly. The hero of the cut is Ian McLagan, who contributes dazzling electric piano. Ron Wood and Kenny Jones produce crisp assertive lines with clever syncopations which make this tune the most cooking Faces recording for a long time. "True Blue" may just be the best rocker Stewart has committed to vinyl in his last three outings.
When Jones bows out for the duration of the album, he is replaced by the wonderful Micky Waller, who thumps through in his own exquisite, sparse style for the rest of the disc. "Los Paraguayos" picks up the steam nicely until it struts into a Van Morrison-type rocker with a light little riff in the horns. "Italian Girls," "You Wear It Well," and "I'd Rather Go Blind" show the Gasoline Alley kind of interplay between Quittenton's acoustic and Wood's electric guitar, augmented by Stewart's mandolin and Heatley's expert stand-up bass. "You Wear It Well" is the album's best slow number, carefully constructed and tenderly delivered by Stewart, with the recurring lines "You Wear It Well/A little old fashioned but that's all right," which might describe Rod himself. "You Wear It Well" was written by the same Quittenton-Stewart team that produced the smash "Maggie May" and it is a fine sequel.
Rod opts for another revival (á la "I Know I'm Losing You") to finish the album, Sam Cooke's "Twistin' The Night Away," which is performed with infectious good humor, precise, but spirited musicianship (Ron Wood chugs along very well indeed), and is, in short, the perfect vehicle for Stewart's lighthearted romping. The closer embodies all the qualities that one admires in Stewart, the refusal to take himself too seriously, the attention to detailed arranging, the energetic involvement in the material, the way his voice can propel a tune as well as the best drummer. When Stewart strikes, the listener gets caught up and has a good time right along with him. And isn't that what rock and roll is all about?
- Mark Leviton, Words & Music, 11/72.
Rod Stewart's amiable tenor bleat is heard again in the land. Never A Dull Moment serves up Stewarty, as he calls himself, in an array of tales involving females exotic and commonplace, boring and strange, all rendered in that hoarse manner that appeals to so many of us. "Italian Girls," for instance, is a typically farfetched tale of a beauty in a Maserati and our hero in an Army-surplus jeep. There are other things -- Jimi Hendrix's "Angel" and the old rocker "Twistin' the Night Away" -- that show another side of Rod's talent, equally delightful, and a back-up band, equally capable.
- Playboy, 11/72.
There are, in fact, many dull moments here. Only that genuinely unique Stewart vocal timbre -- hoarse, rough-and-ready -- saves the album, as it has all of Stewart's past outings, with the Jeff Beck group, with Faces, and, as in this case, on his own. He is at his best, I think, as an interpretive performer, and does particularly well here with Dylan's "Mama You Been on My Mind" and Sam Cooke's "Twistin' the Night Away." He is less effective with Jimi Hendrix's "Angel" and the four songs of his own included here. Nothing approaches the level of "Maggie May" from his last album, and it is surely to Stewart's credit that his remarkable voice, monochromatic though it may be, manages to sustain one's interest throughout the disc. I've got grave reservations about the superstar labels that have been attached to him lately, but he is, at the very least, one of England's top-level pop exports.
- Don Heckman, Stereo Review, 1/73.
He's so in love with the run of life that it would be a contradiction for Stewart to attempt any grand aesthetic advances, so why wonder whether his art is improving until it gets boring? This doesn't peak as high as Every Picture. But "You Wear It Well" starts ringing in your head like "Maggie May" after a couple of plays. The three originals on the first side check in not long after. And Stewart's augury of the incipient early '60s revival, "Twistin' the Night Away," is the perfect nostalgia combo -- the unimaginable twist with the irreproachable Sam Cooke. A-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
The package comes pretty close to Every Picture Tells a Story, minus the mandolin, and it results in fine listening, but its predecessor was so damn great! Still, "You Wear It Well" and his cover of Sam Cooke's "Twistin the Night Away" would hold up anywhere. This, to date, sadly also represents his last real quality recorded effort. The CD's sound has an overall muffled, dirty quality to it, that still reflects greater dynamic enhancement than the LP, but it's not much improvement over the vinyl. B+
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
This repeats the formula of Every Picture Tells a Story, but the originals, with the exception of the beautiful "Italian Girls," are just slightly below par. Still worthwhile though. * * * * *
- John Floyd, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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