Review Summary: It's not youthful energy that drives his vocal performance here, nor is it technical chops: it's love, plus the desire to not get sued.
John Lennon doesn't sound a note younger than 33 on his oldies cover album Rock 'n' Roll. So it's not youthful energy that drives his vocal performance here, nor is it technical chops: it's love. Lennon's said he listens to rock 'n' roll and "not much else." He harbors a deep love for many, perhaps most, if not all songs here, and this shines through in his easy, affectless vocals. He sounds comfortable, but still full of life.
This is especially incredible given he mostly made Rock 'n' Roll to avoid being sued. His Abbey Road opener "Come Together" is a rip of Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me;" Berry's publishing company caught on and agreed not to sue if he covered three songs they owned. They're all here, including "You Can't Catch Me," which knowingly sounds a lot like "Come Together" but is slinkier, glammier, and more menacing than either that song or Berry's original. Lennon must have leapt at the opportunity to record this thing.
Phil Spector's on the boards. This was an inspired decision for multiple reasons. Firstly, Spector could do most of the work, and he did, running away with the recordings and slathering orchestras on them as usual. Secondly, his productions are the perfect fit for the material. Lennon knew exactly what he would get out of Spector--unlike poor Leonard Cohen, who ended up locked out of the sessions for his Spector collab Death Of A Ladies' Man and came out as disappointed by the results as the critics.
The grandiosity of "Stand By Me" recasts the song as a celebration of both itself and the original's romantic melodrama. Bobby Freeman's "Do You Want To Dance" becomes an odd, reggae-inflected jaunt. Fats Domino's "Ain't That A Shame" and Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" stomp forward relentlessly, coming on as strong as something like Bowie's "Heroes" rather than cute little dancefloor ditties. Spector's elaborate clutter isn't the Vegas ritz that bogs down so many aging-rocker cover albums; rather, it's alluringly noisy.
Thus, the core problem of the album is that it's a bit taxing. Rock 'n' Roll runs forty minutes, a tad long for a rock 'n' roll album and longer than all but two core Beatles albums (three if you count Yellow Submarine). But this is a small flaw, and at least it doesn't sound uninspired or disingenuous. The production's on point, the delivery's even better. And the songs here are classics for a reason: most of them are really, really good.