First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2009, Volume 16, #9
Written by John Metzger
Fri September 11, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
In 1975, the music business was at a crossroads. Rod Stewart knew this because he was at one, too. Everything on which he had been weaned and from which he had constructed his career — from the snarling blues of the Rolling Stones to the earthy grooves that defined the Stax sound — was being replaced by a morass of grandiose statements, bloated arrangements, and overly slick production techniques. Since stepping out on his own, Stewart had milked everything he could from the Faces, but given how the industry was changing, he likely felt that the outfit’s raucous, garage-band approach wasn’t compatible with the direction he needed to take if he wanted to sell a lot of albums.
With a brand new recording contract in hand, Stewart saw an opportunity to rebound from the failure of his 1974 outing Smiler by making a clean break from his past, and he took advantage of it. Moving from England to Los Angeles, Stewart jettisoned his supporting cast and began anew. Under the guidance of veteran producer Tom Dowd, Stewart worked with an array of session men in Memphis and Muscle Shoals — including the MGs and Al Green’s rhythm section. Not surprisingly, then, Stewart was able to use his sixth solo effort Atlantic Crossing to reinvent himself through the process of embracing his soul-infused roots.
In hindsight, Atlantic Crossing undeniably was a transitional effort, one that remained tethered to Stewart’s beginnings, even as it tested the waters and laid the groundwork for his future. Essentially, Stewart and Dowd hedged their bets in ways that were designed to ease the singer’s established base of fans into his new paradigm. With songs like Three Time Loser, Stone Cold Sober, and All in the Name of Rock ’n‘ Roll, Stewart dabbled in the rough-and-tumble, Stones-inflected rowdiness that had been a cornerstone of his work with the Faces. Beneath the surface of these tracks, however, the changes to his approach were obvious. His chaotic, edgy intensity not only was diminished, but augmented by an assortment of horns and backing vocalists, the music also assumed a crisper air. Elsewhere, the gentle tickling of a mandolin that graced Still Love You was meant to draw comparisons to Maggie May, but overall, the tune was more styled and less organic than its predecessor. This, of course, was a problem that has plagued Stewart’s output ever since.
Atlantic Crossing’s biggest flaw, however, is the way in which it was constructed. Split between fast and slow songs, there is a distinctive lack of variation among the tracks that fill each of the effort’s sides. The ballads suffer most. Stewart wrings the heartache from I Don’t Want to Talk about It, for example, but the strings press so heavily against the arrangement that they become too much to bear. A cover of This Old Heart of Mine, which had been a huge hit for the Isley Brothers, fares even worse, and despite the hushed longing that greets Still Love You, his heartfelt sentiments are lost amidst the lethargic pace of Atlantic Crossing’s latter half.
None of the alternate renditions featured on the deluxe edition of Atlantic Crossing would have made the original album any better, either. Instead, they further highlight the collection’s flaws. Without the extra polish that eventually was applied to its songs, more of Stewart’s trademark swagger was able to bubble to the surface. Yet, these newly unearthed tracks ultimately feel incomplete. As superfluous as they were to conveying the emotional content of the material, the addition of horns, strings, and backing vocalists were made an integral part of the arrangements. Although Atlantic Crossing is a solid endeavor, it also sowed the seeds of Stewart’s gradual artistic decline, as he chose to pursue fame and fortune by following, instead of challenging, the industry.
Of Further Interest...
Atlantic Crossing: Collector's Edition is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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