22 September 2023
Words by Michael Bradley
One of the most difficult tasks for ageing musicians, traversing the decades and breaking into new generational consciousness, is remaining relevant – the music of the counterculture died as ‘70s stadium rock straddled at the helm before punk spat in its face and fended off the world with safety pins; although a select few managed to survive in the charts as the contemporary sounds of the ‘80s synthesized the radio waves.
Paul Rodgers was blessed with one of the best British rock voices and is among the greatest blues-rock vocalists in the world. Half a century later, he continues to make music. Maintaining your playing abilities through old age is something, but when your voice is your chosen instrument, it’s another world of hard work and dedication.
At 73, Rodgers has recorded a brand-new album which proves to fans and critics alike that he still holds a place in the top ranks as a vocalist.
Midnight Rose is the first collection of new and original music that Paul Rodgers is releasing as a solo artist in almost 25 years. By listening to this record, it is clear that he has been keeping busy, staying in touch with the music business and the new material coming out of the States. Classic rock dominates all the songs, but there are contemporary influences included, most notably from the Country & Americana scene.
The first track, Coming Home, is a modest, half-decent introduction to the album. It bursts out with roaring guitar riffs, followed by a sweet Hammond organ. The chord changes and transitions from verse to chorus to bridge work well. The bass really shines on this track, carrying the rhythm and lead sections but most impressive is Paul’s voice. Like a fine wine, you know it has aged, but it has done so gracefully.
Since his days in Free and Bad Company Rogers has always sung with a strong, raspy growl and, somehow, he still can – singing like a chain-smoking, bourbon-soaking, gravel-eating crooner. Think the vocal cords of Tom Waits and Australia’s own Billy Field were ripped out, shot, and burned at the stake, never to sound the same, and you would be on the right track.
Paul Rodgers must have tapped into some secret fountain of youth whereby he stays in top form by gargling the magic elixir daily. When he sings, “back from the storm”, it energizes and excites the listener for what is to come. Unfortunately, you’re likely to be let down.
The next song, Photo Shooter, has some of the most boring lyrics I’ve heard all year. (And this is coming from someone who listens to mainstream radio stations every day.) There seems to be no depth to this song and the lead guitar is similar in that the solos sound like nothing more than pointless noodling with no direction. Paul’s voice starts to sound a lot older and over-produced. You know it would never sound like this live. There’s almost nothing to this song and then it’s (thankfully) over.
The title track, Midnight Rose, is even worse. Stripped down and laid back, we’re shown that acoustic genres like folk would have never worked for Paul and his voice. It doesn’t sound bad, but listening to music is meant to be enjoyable, not feel like a chore. I’m sure some out there will like this track and get something out of it, but it’s probably better off being forgotten.
You may have already heard the next track since it has already been released as a single. Just as stereotypical hip hop never fails to mention drugs and ‘hoes’, Living It Up doesn’t fail to deliver the dad rock full throttle. It’s got everything: the heavy guitar tone with one main lick from start to finish, the basic 4/4 rock drums and the random “yeaahhh!” and “ahh!”’s thrown in here and there. He wants to tell us that he’s ‘been around the world’, that he lives in the ‘land of rock n’ roll’, and also that America is the USA, in case we didn’t know.
Dance In the Sun has the guest additions of some feature backup singing and is much more on the soft-rock side of the game. The acoustic guitar comes off as pseudo-exotic, strangely tropical, and doesn’t suit the rest of the album. It feels like you’ve been wearing an AC/DC singlet, drinking beer, and headbanging to the same beat all night, then suddenly take a break to put on a Hawaiian shirt and drink a piña colada.
Another single from this record, Take Love is a true throwback to Paul’s days in Free, sounding like an unreleased track of theirs. There’s some more backup singing as well as the frontman hitting some higher notes, showing he still can. That’s about all I can say positively about it. The man has the gift of a golden voice, and he’s wasting it on songs like these.
Highway Robber is slower and more mellow, which isn’t a bad thing. There’s fortunately more of a storyline to this song, allowing your brain cells to stop dying and losing IQ for a moment – until he starts singing “yippie-i-ay, yippie-i-o”. The use of a harmonica which sinks into the background throughout the track gives it a Western outback vibe.
The closing track has a strong sense of the Delta Blues and successfully retrieves some dignity and hope for Paul Rodgers’ future releases. Melting again showcases his powerful set of lungs. He’s flaunting a nice vibrato while still yo-yoing through clear howls and distorted growls. It’s an interesting addition to the album overall and is a song I would happily listen to again and again. The blues lick could be passed off for a Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters melody, minus the extreme low-fi quality all those old recordings have.
This is perhaps the best song on the album and one must wonder if it was purposely placed at the end as a reward for those who made it that far.
Midnight Rose is not a terrible album. It has nice qualities and is easy listening enough to be background music, but if you want to sit down and pay attention to this record, and you aren’t a baby boomer or is someone who has a fetish for ageing men who make the same music for 50 years, you’re likely not going to have a great time.
At least the album, especially Paul’s voice, hasn’t been digitally enhanced severely as does often happen with the music of his peers. However, having written all but one song on here himself, he is following in their footsteps with the unoriginal, predictable lyricism, the tired, over-done search for nostalgia which has never done any of these old rockers any good.
The man can still sing, and sing well; I just can’t help but feel that he is wasting his talent on making music that will never stand the test of time and is not doing a lot to endear his legacy to future generations who will read about the great Paul Rodgers in the history books.
*All reviews in HEAVY are just one person’s opinion of the album. We encourage honesty in reviews but just because our reviewer may or may not like/appreciate an album, that doesn’t mean their opinion is right! We encourage you to have a listen for yourself and make up your own minds!*