Rod Stewart - Human

Released: 2001
Label: Atlantic, 83411  
chart peak
date certified



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Track listing:
Gordon, Reeves

Gray, Wilder, Ruzuma

3Don't Come Around Here
Joyce, Barry, Taylor, Thomas

4Soul On Soul
Jordan, Capek

Frank, Reeves

6If I Had You
Davis, Rachmaninoff

7Charlie Parker Loves Me
Jordan, Capek, Kipner

8It Was Love That We Needed

9To Be With You
Malo, House

10Run Back Into Your Arms
Stack, Reid, Rawling

11I Can't Deny It
Alexander, Nowels


For the first time in Rod’s career, some lucky fans managed to put their hands on a pre-copy of the album in the early days of December. At long last, the lucky ones had the opportunity to listen to Rod’s brand new offering. And what an offering !
The first copy of the album that mysteriously landed in Smiler’s letter box contained the 9 songs that were exclusively reviewed in the last issue of Smiler by Ian Roberts.
Now that we are approaching the official release date, and thanks to Annie Challis, Smiler officially received a copy of the album as it is to be released on the 12th of March in the UK.
At first sight, I was a little bit disappointed to see that instead of the 12 songs that were to appear on the original album, it was now cut down to 11. Two of the songs that were scheduled to be on the first pressing also disappeared. This set apart (I will come back to these two songs later on in this article), it was with open ears that I prepared myself to enter into Rod’s new world.
Atlantic got it right. Its statement perfectly illustrates what you are to hear on the 12th of March. This new album is very different from what we were used to, not only in its production, but also in the actual lyrical content of the songs themselves. As Ian pointed out in his review, HUMAN is a refreshing collection of Rhythm’n’blues and Soul, with a touch of Reggae.
From the first few bars of the up-tempo ballad that kicks off the album, Human, you will automatically notice the new approach : the sound is definitely modern. I must admit right now that until recently, I was not really comfortable with modern sounds such as drum machines. Although very modern, what we get here is very classy and brilliant. This new sound perfectly suits Rod’s voice and he manages to deliver his message in a sort of menacing way. This songs deliciously starts with a gentle chorus mixed with acoustic guitars before the beat and Rod’s perfect voice get into action. Human is an interesting reflection about our state on planet Earth. Although we have achieved a lot, we still remain creatures that have limits…limits that some of us may surpass?
Musically, Human mixes modern beat and great guitars. Half way through the song comes the arch sound of an electric guitar, courtesy of Slash (famous for his role in the Faces/Stones/Zep/Who combo Guns’n’Roses). I got hooked on this song straight away not only because the melody is superb, but also thanks to the musical structure which is great too: the chorus that starts the song come and go during the course of the story and the song ends on the same notes as it had started.
Then comes the sound of a runaway car which takes us to the second number of this collection: Smitten was written by Macy Gray. Not our editor’s sister, but Rod’s female equivalent ! Macy’s voice on her brilliant debut album often sounded like Rod’s, so it was with delight that I learnt she had written a song for him. Smitten is one of the best track on the album (along with the 10 others !). Although I did not catch the melody at first hearing, the number very quickly grew on me. This slow ballad describes the story of a man whose love is in vain. Rod’s voice is absolutely breathtaking, I do not think there are other words to describe it. “Hello, allow me to introduce myself, I am smitten” sings he. This song reminds me of Macy’s last big singles, the only difference being that it is even better. A gentle piano, a couple of guitars and a few strings accompany Rod’s delicious delivery all along this five minutes ballad. The beat is very discreet and gentle, at 3,36 minutes through the song, the music slows down and we can hear Rod softly singing the above words…Unfortunately, the girl could not care less ! Sad but delicious.
On the next number, Don’t come around here, the beat gets more space. After a few seconds, you expect Rod to make his entrance, but instead we are treated to a female voice. A very nice one, indeed. Don’t come around here is a duet with a Scottish girl strangely named Helicopter Girl.This particular number may not touch you at first, but as you will experience, it is a definite grower, like a couple of numbers on this album. Although the melody is quite simple and repetitive, what makes this ballad so good is the texture of the female’s voice and the way it blends with the master’s.
Soul on soul is another gentle ballad where, once again, the combination between Rod’s voice and the instrumentation is immaculate. Written by Jordan & Capek, it is in a way reminiscent to the other songs they gave to Rod, especially “This”. The woman choir, all throughout the song, brings a gospel touch which kind of suits the general atmosphere. Is Rod singing to a lady or to God ? We all know that after his break up with Rachel, he was at his lowest personal point and even recognized having to turn to the Church to help him go through such trouble times. The chorus goes : “Good God have mercy on me, don’t you desert me, I want to be together soul on soul this time…” Toward the very end of the song Rod offers us a great falsetto which demonstrates that the master is still capable to hit very high vocal notes. Soul on soul describes a man who has lots of love to give and wants to be full of such feeling.
In the next song, we get just the opposite : a poor man who has lost his faith in love. Loveless is an exquisite song in term of melody and delivery. The words are sad and Rod easily manages to deliver the message. This number is “funny” because we are normally used to very slow delivery to express such feelings. Here we almost get an up tempo ballad where both the rhythm and the use of drum machine are perfect. For me this song is a jewel, the structure is different from what one is used to : after the first verse, one would expect a chorus à la “You’re the star”. Instead, what we can hear is very subtile and different. According to me, this is what makes this song so special. The backing female vocals accentuate each words Rod pronounces : Loveless, Hopeless, Foolish, Careless. After the first bridge, Rod explains his situation : “Tell me what I’m gonna do about this feeling inside…” The approach he uses to sing these lines is absolutely superb and his falsetto technique to enhance each important words is of great effect. Listen to the way he sings “There’s no springtime…. And each night gets colder…” A pure delight ! I wish Rod had written these words that supposedly describe his state of mind after his break up. If this number has been especially written for Rod, well, the least we can say is that the authors got it right.
The next song brings a totally new sound: If I had you gets treated as a slow reggae and works perfectly well. This old Korgis top ten hit from the late seventies gets the RS treatment and suddenly becomes a great song. Although the chorus melody is too predictable for my tastes, it nevertheless remains great. This number also uses back up vocals, and this time one comes way in front of the mix. After Slash, we get another special guest, Mark Knopfler from Dire Strait’s fame, to come and play a very soulful guitar solo.
After the first track of this new album, Rod has settled into a slow groove which suits him perfectly and where he can make good use of his powerful voice. The last song to close the circle is Charlie Parker loves me which remains in this semi-ballad form. The overall mood here is almost jazzy, just like the sort of music Charlie Parker used to play in the 30’s. You may not jump at the ceiling at first hearing, but like other songs on this album, this number will grow on you like it did for me.
The four remaining tracks are up tempo numbers where Rod seems to take a genuine pleasure to sing. It was love that we needed is one of my favourite. Written by a man considered by his peers as the black Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield sadly left us too early. It was love that we needed is Rod’s second attempt at covering a Curtis Mayfield song. The first time he got the help from his friend Jeff Beck, the (winning) team came up with certainly one of the best ever cover of the song called People get ready. This time around Rod decided to tackle an up tempo number. His cover is very similar to the original version in its overall arrangements and musical instrumentation. Where Rod brings something new is in his delivery : he has managed to find and enhance the melody which the original version lacks. He pushes the song to new and undiscovered boundaries. What a pleasure it is to hear ! During some passages, Rod’s voice almost sounds like Curtis’. It seems that Rod quite likes reggae ! He uses this form of music once again here with great effects. Pray listen to the way he sings the following lines : “Romance in the world, just dancing with you girl, you’re my world…oh yeah yeah…” Absolutely breathtaking !!!
To be with you is also another winning track. It is the sort of songs that will make you dance wherever you are ! It has an happy-go-lucky feel which is just irresistible. The words, very simple and straightforward are sung with passion. The sound of the guitar is both funky and country ! To be with you is one of the only two songs on this album where the back up instrumentation is generated by genuine musicians. I do not know who is the backing band behind this song, all I can say is that the players truly do a great job. This song is in the same vein as “You wear it well” and should make a perfect single for the American market. As a friend of mine pointed out, it sounds very Roy Orbisonish!
Run back into your arms was the first choice as a single. I think whoever took the decision to chose another track had a very good idea. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good light song, but is far too obvious for Rod to sing. It sounds like an old soul song and could well have been sung by Otis Redding or Sam Cooke.
I Can’t deny it is I think the song that will put Rod back on the fame tracks. This song is so good that he can’t fail ! This is bound to bring him thousands of new fans. It starts as a very slow piano ballad (the four first seconds are very reminiscent of Tubular Bells from Mike Oldfield) before bursting into a frenzy pop song. The melody is immaculate, the way Rod sings brilliant and just like To be with you, it will have us dancing all around, especially when played live. What I like about this song is that it is a very happy kind of song. Rod has not released such a great song in a very long time.

So, what is my overall judgment of the final product?

HUMAN is a brilliant new album and will definitely win Rod hordes of new fans. I am still curious to see what the general critics reactions will be and how are they going to accept this new career move ? Rod is bound to get bad publicity simply because he is Rod Stewart. I am sure that his audience will stand behind him whereas they are old or new.
One complain I would make is that even though Rod has been telling us for the last 10 years that he’ll write news songs, we still have not heard them yet !
Had all the songs on this album been written by the pen of Mr Stewart, he would definitely have painted his masterpiece. Having said that, we must take into account the fact that there are only 3 covers on the album, the rest of the tracks having been especially written for the man himself.
A big thanks goes to Rob Dickins for once again helping out with the song selection. We must also congratulate Arnold Stefel Management for not only sending us a copy of the album a couple of weeks before the official release but also for having done things right this time: at long last we get bonus tracks as B-sides on the forthcoming single! Peach and Do wha Diddy which appeared on the first album project will officially see the light of the day on the first single. Did they decide to put these two songs on the single because they kind of were forced to (everybody in the know-how had them) or was it a conscious move ?
We will have to wait for the second single to tell. What will the second single be ? There are several options : personally I think that To be with you would be perfect for the US market and later in the year, Smitten for the English market.
A possible (and fantastic) B-side would be the Sam Cooke cover “Cupid”. Premiered by Rod live in 1999 in Glasgow, this reggae rework would have easily found its place on the final album. If Rod has recorded this song during the HUMAN session, it would be a definite crime not to make it public. If Rod, Arnold or Annie are reading this article, hopefully they’ll take this advice into account…The future will tell us.
Returning to Peach and Do wha Diddy, Rod once again did a fantastic job. Peach although very close to its original is very powerful and basically just guitar driven. Thanks Slash !
Do wha diddy is a strange number, I must admit that I did not particularly liked it at the beginning, but now, the more I listen to it, the more I find it excellent. This song sound funky and Rod’s vocal get very arch at some point. The beat is extremely modern but without all the negative aspect it can have.
Rod has turned a new page in his musical book, let’s now see how the general public react…As I said, HUMAN has all the necessary ingredients to be huge. Should that not be the case, there is always a tomorrow : the rumoured reunion with Ronnie Wood already sounds great and I can’t wait to hear what these two old crows are going to come up with. The other rumours about a jazz album may sound good as well. Let’s wait and see…

Frankie Mercorelli

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