Sunday, 5 April 2009

1983 Rod Stewart: Baby Jane

It's fair to say that the eighties weren't kind to Mr Stewart. The latter half of the seventies weren't exactly salad days either, with the man seemingly hell-bent on driving a wrecking ball through his credibility at every turn - 'Hotlegs'. 'Ole Ola', 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy' - it's a roll call of embarrassing crap that would have sunk a lesser being without trace; never mind 'Baby Jane', whatever happened to the Rod Stewart who wrote 'Maggie May'?

With 1981's 'Young Turks', Stewart seemed keen to get his groove back by tapping into the New Wave with a song that had a modern sounding tune with bit of bite. 'Baby Jane' is more of the same, but whereas 'Young Turks' was a decent step forward to some kind of return to form, 'Baby Jane' shoves him rather more than two steps back.

After opening with a wailing synth line that must have caught Joey Tempest's ear when he wrote 'The Final Countdown' three years hence, 'Baby Jane' soon bogs itself down into a right old plod when those Linn drums start battering out a pedestrian beat with all the rhythm of a migraine and feeling just as enjoyable. On it goes, virtually unchanged in form and substance till the very end and if you removed Rod's vocal track then literally anything could be sung over the top of it on Karaoke night and it would matter not one jot.

All the tune and melody of 'Baby Jane' is carried solely in Stewart's mouth, and it's his vocal performance that saves the song from oblivion. For it's fair to say that he pours his heart, body, soul, blood, sweat and tears into his tale of a girl gone good who wants nothing more to do with him

"Baby Jane don't leave me hanging on the line
I knew you when you had no one to talk to
Now you're moving in high society
don't forget I know secrets about you"

It's almost 'Don't You Want Me' redux, and Stewart's voice howls out his frustration in a bug eyed, vein bulging blast that rasps like sandpaper on a doorframe. It's certainly his best vocal in years, but what takes the edge off the feeling that he 'means it man' is every word being enunciated with a pin sharp 'rain in Spain' clarity that does not suggest a man in torment; I can just picture his diction tutor clapping with joy at his pronunciation of the 'hhhhhhhhhhanging' in that first line, with it coming from somewhere near his tartan socks before leaving his gob.

Yes his voice is in top shape, but rather like putting Formula 1 tyres on a Ford Capri, it's wasted, and no amount of leading from the front effort can hide the fact that 'Baby Jane' is a lazy and formulaic affair from the off. Rod can only take it so far, and his shoulders are broad enough for a while, but then a hhhhhhhhhorribly tuneless saxophone solo halfway through tips the balance and nails the coffin lid down firmly.

So a step backwards again, though to be fair in this instance it's less of the own goal of the songs listed above than a fluffed penalty shot - at least he was kicking in the right direction this time. There would be better to come, but this would be the last time he'd top the charts.

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