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Rod Stewart

A Spanner in the Works

(Warner Bros 9362-45867-2)

The misnomer of a title hints at what's missing from this first collaboration between Rod the Mod and Trevor Horn: there are no surprises, no shocks, no wayward turns whatsoever. Indeed, Horn may be the very worst choice for producer: his beautifully manicured, expansive sound does Rod no favours on his weakest set of material in some time. The mandolin on the opening "Windy Town" suggests a return to Stewart's folk-rock roots, but there's an enormous gulf between the earthy textures of Every Picture Tells a Story and this polite, plonking selection. Likewise, the R&B element is poorly served, especially on "Muddy, Sam and Otis", possibly the most embarrassing tribute song of all time.

Rod's choice of covers is as astute as ever, but both The Blue Nile's "Downtown Lights" and Tom Waits's "Hang On St Christopher" sound drained, oddly denuded of their peculiar magic; Dylan's "Sweetheart Like You" fares better, as does "Purple Heather" - a song that, contrary to the composing credit here, was sung long before Stewart was alive, and will continue to be sung long after he has gone. If "trad arr" was enough credit for both The Byrds and Van Morrison, what gives him such proprietorial claim on the song?