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Rod Stewart - Human Print E-mail
Tuesday, 06 February 2001

Rod Stewart

format: CD
label: Atlantic Records
release year: 2000
performance: 8
sound 8.5
reviewed by: Bryan Dailey

Image"Human," the opening track of Rod Stewart’s new album of the same name, sure caught me by surprise. I thought my Rod Stewart CD had accidentally been swapped with a Destiny’s Child record. Smooth R&B back-up vocals and staccato drum and high-hat rhythms form the basis of this song. It’s not at all what I expected from the raspy-voiced Stewart, but strangely, I was digging it. This R&B sound continues in one form or another throughout most of the album. However, just when you think this album marks Rod Stewart’s foray into the game of hip-hop and R&B, Saul Hudson a.k.a. Slash from Guns ‘N Roses cuts in with a screaming guitar solo as only Slash with his 1957 Les Paul can do. It’s a very Lenny Kravitz-eqsue move to have Slash make a guest appearance on your record, but if you are going to feature a large-scale rock guitar solo, who better than Slash to get the job done?

Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame appears on Human, playing a subtle yet effective lead guitar part on the hauntingly melodic "If I Had You." This song has all the makings of an adult contemporary hit, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this song in high rotation on VH1 in the near future.

The mid-tempo ballad "Don’t Come Around Here" features guest vocals by a singer named Helicopter Girl. Her vocal style and sound make her almost a dead ringer for Macy Gray. Helicopter Girl’s gravelly vocal tone is very dry and present in the front of the mix as she trades call and response vocals with Rod during the song’s chorus. Ironically, Macy Gray’s name does appear on the album’s liner notes, but not because of any singing that she did. Macy co-wrote the song "Smitten" with three other songwriters, one of them former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Arik Marshall.

The album’s first song released as an MTV video, "Roll Back Into Your Arms," is the only track that feels like vintage Rod Stewart. The vocal melody is similar to Rod’s hit song "Downtown Train," without being a self-parody in any way. The tight string section is what really makes this track a standout. It’s a little bit Bee Gees, with the funky guitars buried deep in the mix providing the groove and the string part contributing accents and driving the song forward.

On Human, it seems that Rod Stewart is trying to demonstrate that he’s not just the spiky-haired, supermodel-dating, Lamborghini-driving playboy who wants to know if the world still thinks he’s sexy. George Michael tried proving that he was a serious musician with his 1994 album Older, but the result was a record that was lifeless and boring. Stewart, on the other hand, has transcended his image and made the step from disco/dance playboy to serious musician much more gracefully.

The production on Human is very slick, with lush backing vocals, percussion effects and a mix that sounds huge even on the smallest of systems. Rod has obviously surrounded himself with top-notch producers and mixing engineers. They have helped him create a modern-sounding album that won’t make listeners think they are hearing a pop music dinosaur who shouldn’t be recording anymore. Surprisingly, the 56-year-old singer’s distinctive raspy vocal tone has not aged as might have been expected.

The album closes with its most rocking track, "I Can’t Deny It," a piano-driven tune that sounds a bit more like a Bon Jovi song than one from Rod Stewart. The album is well-paced and structured in a way that makes it an easy listen. For diehard Rod Stewart fans, this album is a must-have and you probably have already picked it up. If you enjoy voice-driven pop music, this album will most likely be a welcome addition to your music collection.

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