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Merry Christmas, Baby?

There is a little war being waged in my household over Rod Stewart's career in the past ten years. Yes, Rod Stewart. (War might not be the right word, as the extent of it has been posting links on Facebook timelines and hurling light insults at each other. Nothing has come to fisticuffs or hurt feelings, yet.)

If my memory is correct, my housemate Matt casually mentioned his love of Rod Stewart's recorded output. Rod the Mod's been on his mind quite a bit lately, mainly with all the used vinyl LPs he's found in the past few months at Half Price Books. I have plenty of appreciation for the material found on these LPs, going back to his days with the Faces to his early solo work, and all the way to songs found on his mid-1990s albums. For those keeping score at home, that's "Stay With Me" and "Maggie May" all the way to "My Heart Can't Tell You Know" and "Rhythm of My Heart."

Where the line goes off in different directions involves Rod's choices of material starting with It Had to Be You, his first Great American Songbook collection, in what has accumulated into four unnecessary sequels. I'm not picking on Rod by choosing cover songs; he's done cover songs for all of his solo career. Whether it was Tom Waits or the Isley Brothers, he did things in his own way.

But the way he covers a song like "The Way You Look Tonight" is pathetic. Doing it in a style that sounds like it's being performed in an airport bar feels like pandering. A kind of pandering to men and (especially) women aged 38 to 66 who still aren't sure about the validity of MP3s or the iTunes music store. Somehow, this demographic doesn't mind when older artists take the route of regurgitating material that has already been regurgitated to death. And even worse, they regurgitate it to make it sound as appealing as a Yanni album. See also: Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, and Kenny G.

I understand that Rod is playing to the people who are actually buying tickets to his shows and his albums. Albums like Human and A Spanner in the Works didn't catch fire in the '90s, so he's taken the safe route of playing the familiar songs of other people to stay relevant to a broad audience. (Though I must say his version of "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" from the Still the Same collection is pretty spot-on.) The man women wanted to lose their virginity to and the men who wanted to be him has come to this career floatation device.

Since he's going the way of Barry Manilow, it's only fitting that Rod has a Christmas album out this year called Merry Christmas, Baby. Now he's playing to those people who want continuous Christmas music to start on November 1st every year. By giving this crowd a dozen of the Christmas songs you always hear every year (along with a few original tunes), he's going the same airport bar performance route. Feel free and hit the snooze button through "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Silent Night"!

I can only roll my eyes at Matt's enjoyment of this record. He made me a copy of it and I could barely get through the first track. He's told me about Rod's appearances on the Home Shopping Network schlepping this as well as the recently-released autobiography, The Autobiography. And I'm sure he will terrorize me with his copy of Merry Christmas, Baby when we're out getting our Christmas tree or doing various bits of holiday shopping. (I hope Jenny doesn't snag a copy in the meantime.)

For now, we agree to disagree. I'll take Rod's version of "Downtown Train" any day over "White Christmas" any day. Unfortunately, I'm alone in this.


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