Stewart's beautiful loser found perfect company in the Faces, and on their second and third albums they pounded their blues away with a ragged kind of drunken boogie that made alcoholism seem like more fun than baseball or sex. Long Player and -- Nod Is as Good as a Wink . . . to a Blind Horse, both issued in 1971, epitomize the reckless joy and fearless abandon of rock and roll so masterfully you'd think the Faces created the stuff between pints in their rehearsal space. Ron Wood's guitar was fat and fuzzy, a testament to the open-chord legacy of Keith Richards. Ronnie Lane's bass roamed all over the bashing rhythms of drummer Kenney Jones, while keyboardist Ian McLagan filled every space with boogie-woogie flourishes. Amid the sodden roar, Stewart spilled his guts, screaming and crooning songs of love, loneliness, regret, and chaotic good times. The fraternal spirit ran thick, as did the band's acceptance of their loser status. This flowed over into Stewart's lyrics, resulting in defeatist classics such as "Too Bad," "Bad 'N' Ruin," "Pool Hall Richard," "Miss Judy's Farm" A songs that more than ten years later would be influencing insecure punks (Paul Westerberg and the Replacements) and boogie-mad revivalists (Chris Robinson and the Black Crowes).
The humility in those songs would never again surface in Stewart's music, although he released a few decent singles between the Faces' 1976 breakup and his forsaking of artistry for celebrity. The soul-tinged Atlantic Crossing (1975) had its moments, as did its followup, A Night on the Town (1976). From there the albums blur together, the singles mere reflections of Stewart's creepy ability to conform to the desires and demands of the marketplace: He could be Depeche Mode ("Young Turks"), Robert Palmer ("Dynamite"), Steve Winwood ("Downtown Train") A practically anyone, it seemed, but Rod Stewart. Seizing another marketing trend, Stewart reunited with Wood (a Rolling Stone since 1976) for an acoustic set that aired on MTV in 1993 and was released the same year as Unplugged . . . and Seated. It was hailed by some as a return to form, but in reality it wasn't. Too much was missing: There was too little conviction, too little spirit.
Last year saw the release of -- Spanner in the Works, a typically desultory set that features a well-intended but awkward tribute to "Muddy, Sam and Otis" and feeble covers of Dylan's "Sweetheart Like You" and Tom Waits's "Hang on St. Christopher." Near the end of Spanner, though, there comes a sign -- a spark that can't help but ignite the fires of anyone saddened by Stewart's fall from grace. Fittingly, it's a song by Sam Cooke, the soul-singing genius whose influence is woven throughout Stewart's greatest music. "Soothe me," comes Stewart's voice, crooning the song's title over a slick but slightly gritty rendering of the melody. Immediately you hear something: The voice is alive, awakened, and for the first time since God knows when, interesting. After more than twenty years in the darkness, Rod Stewart had -- momentarily, at least -- found the light. As the song fades out, you're reminded of how good the man used to be, how good he was when the song and the voice clicked in unison. When it's over, you want to buy him a beer. Or two or three.
Rod Stewart performs Saturday, May 11, at the Miami Arena, 721 NW 1st Ave; 530-4444. Showtime is 8:00. Tickets cost $30 and $50.