Alright listen up you ***s; ignore the campy white suits, ignore the Christmas/ American Songbook compilations that play in the background during your parents’ sorry attempts at regaining some youthful sexual vigor, hell, ignore the goddamn primetime commercials: Rod Stewart used to ***ing rule. Backed by the vibrant, sloppy and brilliant Faces he belt out some of the most ardently honest poetry rock’n’roll has ever known, all in a wild, drunk and hoary rasp that could shake the foundations of any estrogen production line.
“Every Picture Tells a Story” is the definitive statement of his early solo career, mixing the folk rock tendencies of “Gasoline Alley” with the bluesy feel of his debut, tied together by marvelous, intelligent and original songwriting. The opening duo of tracks, “Every Picture Tells a Story” and “Seems Like a Long Time” has to be one of the best double punches in rock history, and it serves as a perfect sampler of what you’ll find throughout the album. The playing is impassioned and fiery; The Faces deserve a place in history as one of the most energetic groups ever to drench the world in their hot, creamy tones. It’s largely their outstanding performance that makes famous tunes such as “That’s All Right” and “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” blend right in with the feel of Rod’s original material, and make the record sound varied yet unified. Particularly noteworthy is the brilliant performance of a pre-Stones Ronnie Wood, whose screaming, bluesy solos are only out-cooled by his raunchy, face-melting tone. The one number where that perhaps doesn't hold up quite as well is the mid-paced blues groove of "That's All Right," but it really shouldn't matter so much after your fourth beer, and if you're not into your fourth beer by the time the track hits, then maybe you shouldn't be listening to this record.
But of course the real unifying factor is the genius of Rod Stewart. His throaty blend of bark and croon is perfectly unique and it instills a compelling, somewhat gritty energy to the tunes that is beautifully complemented by The Faces’ hot, chaotic performance. He belts out the wonderfully selected cover tunes with as much conviction and sincerity as his original tunes, to the point that he usurps many of the original performers, if not in technicality then at least in passion. The selection of covers is worthy of particular praise not only because of the way the songs help keep the album dynamic and moving, but also because of how well they fit thematically with Stewart’s originals, further helping the album feel like a whole. Tellingly, for a record including songs originally performed by Bob Dylan and The Temptations amongst others, it’s Stewart’s own tunes that stand out most in the lyrical department. “Mandolin Wind,” “Maggie May” and the title track are intelligently written, heartfelt narratives about ordinary people, confused, stunned and baffled by life and her enormity, full of rage and dreams with a trail of disappointment behind them. There is no pretension of insight in these tunes and yet there is enormous wisdom, a sort of refined emotional maturity and perspective that comes across as doubly powerful because it completely lacks any sort of self-awareness.
Such is the key to the music’s success. This is certainly not a sermon from the mount, Rod Stewart is certainly not out to change the ***ing world. Moreover, it is not mere resignation and descent. Many a significant rock artist, from the Velvet Underground, to Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits and a ton of punk rock bands has taken on this aesthetic of the mundane from a sort of post-intellectual viewpoint, inflicted with symbolist decadence and bitter, near nihilistic cynicism. Stewart’s world-weary wisdom has nothing in common with such a thing; after all, nihilism is a luxury of the over-educated. In other words, this *** is just too real, too vibrant, and too vital for old Charlie B. and his cohorts.
For all its perspective world-weariness and earthly wisdom, you will find no moping on “Every Picture Tells a Story,” in fact the record is a high-energy, vibrant and youthful blast. Hell, you can dance to most of these songs. As admirable as caustic artistic brilliance is, maybe sometimes you don’t need a dark masterpiece. Maybe there’s something more to a record that makes no grand statements, simply takes a look around at life and rocks its way through it. Rod Stewart and his band aren’t saying, “life is meaningless, *** life,” the prevalent sentiment rather appears to be, “life is meaningless, and hard and occasionally brutal, but hey, maybe that’s precisely what’s so beautiful about it.” More likely than not however, I’m just reading too much into a wild, rocking record made by a group of extremely talented and inspired individuals in love with life itself, who just wanted to have a hell of a time.
“This is it; this is where the soul of man never dies.”