When We Were The New Boys

Rod Stewart

Warner Brothers Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Michael Ehret


This record is cause for celebration because it signifies Rod Stewart's reclamation from Sappy Ballad Land. It was a conscious effort to return to his Every Picture Tells A Story era -- and is largely successful.

After several years of treading water with one ballad after another being released from largely uneventful albums (beginning with Stewart's righteous cover of Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately" and continuing through 1996's insipid "If We Fall In Love Again"), Stewart has seemed mired in songs which, if not for his vocal contributions, would never have been recorded. (We won't even talk about his ghastly collaboration with Sting and Bryan Adams -- they should have all known better.)

Anyway, this new disc opens with a rock and roller "Cigarettes And Alcohol," written by Noel Gallagher (of Oasis fame). This song could have been part of any Faces album.

From there it goes into a great cover of Ronnie Lane and Ron Wood's "Ooh La La," which was released as the disc's first single. The song contains a classic Rod line: "I wish that I knew what I know now / When I was younger / I wish that I knew what I know now / When I was stronger." And when John Shanks chimes in with that electric mandolin -- it's like a time machine takes you back to Stewart's "Maggie May" era -- and it's a pleasant trip.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The songs - with the exception of the title tune which Stewart wrote - are largely the product of hot, new, young U.K. songwriters. Their energy and abandon serve Stewart well, but with the strength of the title tune I'd like to see Stewart write more.

Given his success of late with ballads, it should come as no surprise that there are several included on this set - and to the song they are high quality and Stewart brings his years of experience in love and love lost to the fore in highlighting these gems.

Starting with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, Stewart takes the song "Secret Heart," written by Ron Sexsmith, on a journey to song heaven:

"Secret heart / What are you made of? / What are you so afraid of? / Could it be three simple words? / Or the fear of being overheard? / What's wrong? / Let her into your secret heart."

As the song builds it picks up slide guitar and organ and some almost nonexistent backing vocals, but remains a simple song about being afraid to express love for the fear of the consequences. "This very secret you're trying to conceal / Is the very same one you're dying to reveal / Go tell her how you feel."

He turns in great performances on Graham Parker's "Hotel Chambermaid" and Nick Lowe's "Shelly My Love," before capping the disc with the title track. "When We Were The New Boys," a great mid-tempo song, is Stewart's finest writing in years:

"With laughing eyes I do recall / Every face that crammed this hall / In this room our hats were hung / And words were written and songs were sung / And we held our glasses high / And we dared to reach for the sky / And we never would grow old / When we were the new boys."

Still, it is the album closer "What Do You Want Me To Do?" by Mike Scott that points toward Stewart's maturity. The song, which opens with a great harmonica bit, is about a man who's come to a point in his life where he realizes life is not what he expected it to be.

Puzzling over this, he says: "I've been deceived and misunderstood / But in my heart there was only good/I stood alone most of my time / But now I've got you by my side / What do you want me to do? What do you want me to do? What do you want me to do Lord?"

I can't speak for God, but I'd like Stewart to keep on making music like that found on this disc -- and while he's at it could he, perhaps, rescue his pals Elton John and Eric Clapton from Sappy Ballad Land also? There's great music to be made out there by aging rock and rollers. When We Were The New Boys proves that it just takes a little inspiration.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A-


© 1998 Michael Ehret and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.