It’s to Paul Rodgers’s credit that he’s still strutting his stuff as he approaches his 74th birthday. But listening to Midnight Rose is akin to watching one of those Glastonbury Legends slots: the experience clouds one’s fond memories. Yes, there are flashes of brilliance – class acts will always be class acts – but there are also moments when one wonders bemusedly what the hell is going on here.
Midnight Rose, Rodgers’s first solo album of new music in nearly 25 years, comprises just eight tracks, with a running time equivalent to one of them ol’ vinyl LPs. No problem. But what it lacks is a pulse-quickening ‘showcase track’ – a Fire And Water, a Mr Big, a Running With The Pack, a Burning Sky… a (to continue the 12 o’clock theme) Midnight Moonlight, even. It’s all rather countrified and subdued.
The press release makes many mentions of Bad Company but barely acknowledges Rodgers’s earlier time in Free, when he recorded his most breathtaking vocals. To be honest, the hyperbole – “one of rock’s most iconic voices” – rings hollow here. (Oh I Wept? Let’s not even go there.) One longs to hear that big bluesy boombox of a voice as it used to be. If you listened to this as a newbie, you’d wonder what the fuss was about.
Rodgers sounds like a man out of time. Living It Up (in the USA)? Not if the politicians have anything to do with it. The track begins promisingly with a deep, resonant “YEAHHHH” before Rodgers pays homage to Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles et al. ‘Memphis music moved me so,’ he sings. Such dewy-eyed reminiscences jar with the reality of modern-day America. The lumbering Photo Shooter is the musical equivalent of a crumpled, faded Polaroid. Highway Robber? More Roy Rogers than Paul, complete with chants of ‘yippee-ki-ay, yippee-ki-oh’. What the hell… etc.
Rodgers’s band is run-of-the-mill. Oh for a Kossoff or a Fraser, a Ralphs or a Kirke. Someone to energise the affair (produced by wife Cynthia, and Bob Rock, incidentally.)
In truth, this would’ve made a decent EP. The sparse, reflective title track – ‘If there was a red rose in a smoky room…’ – doesn’t so much tingle the spine as Taser it. The Spanish-y Dance In The Sun somehow manages to be both sprightly and mournful. And Melting – very loping, very Rodgers – could’ve been that ‘showcase track’ had it had a little more impetus and ingenuity.