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Smiler
Rod Stewart

Mercury 1017
Released: October 1974
Chart Peak: #13
Weeks Charted: 14

Rod StewartThe magnificent catarrh has a new album, Smiler, and it contains what by now you would expect: several energetic new examples of the Stewart/Wood world view, a couple of boozy renditions of classic R&B standards, a sentimental soundalike of Rod's smasheroo "Maggie May," at least two ho-hum instrumental interludes lasting an average of less than a minute, plus at least one good old Dylan song and maybe a stray ballad or two. This must be Rod's conception of what a well-rounded pop album should be.

Stewart began his career as a dramatic blues shouter (with Jeff Beck) but has completely abandoned the blues for a more easygoing format. Still, the material that stands out from this largely unmemorable new album is the abandoned, old-fashioned, pounding and tinny English rock & roll that Stewart and his mates cut their teeth on.

Rod Stewart - Smiler
Original album advertising art.
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The rockers include Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Rock'n'Roller" (the English have always been Chuck's most faithful interpreters), "Sailor," an awesome blast with Stones-style horns and a great, throaty chorus, "Let Me Be Your Car," another high-energy piece of automotion by Elton John and Bernie Taupin with an unfortunately overwrought Eltonian finale and "Dixie Toot," a decent tribute to the unsung British "trad" pub band. "Hard Road" is the last of the rockers, a soaring number that Stewart handles with his customary ease and high spirits.

Smiler's "Maggie May" reincarnation, cowritten with Martin Quittanton, is called "Farewell" and is not as distinguished as the song's last life, in which it was known as "You Wear It Well." Rod's nods to R&B classicism are a Sam Cooke medley and "A Natural Woman" transsexed into "A Natural Man." On the former Rod cackles woozily above a swamp of syrupy violins; on the latter he provides a sincere but pallid attempt, in light of Aretha's monumental version. "Girl from the North Country" is the mandatory Dylan song and Stewart performs it admirably. But his best vocal is saved for Paul McCartney's pretty but lyrically weak "Mine for Me."

Smiler is Stewart's first solo album in more than two years and his weakest to date. It sticks to the same format as Every Picture Tells a Story and Never a Dull Moment but lacks the lyrical cohesion that unified those two and made them work. Personally I sorely miss the simple virtuoso acoustic musicianship and sensitive vision that made The Rod Stewart Album and Gasoline Alley such important records. It's time for Rod to kick the format and look to his roots again.

- Stephen Davis, Rolling Stone, 12-5-74.

Bonus Reviews!

After over two years, one of the brightest names in pop music returns with a simply brilliant effort, serving up a little of everything he does best, including a Dylan ballad, two great Sam Cooke cuts, a fine Chuck Berry rocker, a McCartney song and a few fine originals. Stewart certainly does not have a good voice, but he is one of the top song stylists in rock and backed by a band made up of the Faces and other notables, as well as a tasteful use of strings and horns, he has done it again. There is no radical change in style here, but that's just fine. Stewart has built up a loyal following on his solo efforts through his ability to choose just the right songs and handle them near perfectly. Welcome back, Rod. Best cuts: "Sweet Little Rock 'N' Roller," "Farewell," "Bring It On Home To Me/You Send Me," "Hard Road," "Girl From The North Country," "Natural Man."

- Billboard, 1974.

Except for an embarrassingly unnatural "Natural Man" (that's right, Aretha's), the failure here is elusive, but that doesn't make it any less real -- spiritual tone, energy, horns, something like that. For me, the better part of valor is to give up before the Elton John track wears out the way Sam Cooke stuff and "Dixie Toot" already have. B-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Rod Stewart's classic formula ran out of gas on Smiler, his fifth solo album. The failure of Smiler wasn't a matter of weak songs, nor was it a matter of Stewart being in poor voice. Instead, the album failed because everything, from the choice of songs to the production, sounded too pat and predictable. The predictability held "Sweet Little Rock 'N Roller" from truly rocking and it made the reworking of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Man" unbearably smug. Apart from the free-wheeling take on Elton John's "Let Me Be Your Car" and the inspired version of Dylan's "Girl from the North Country," Smiler is an utter waste of time. * *

- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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