Picks and Pans Review: Vagabond Heart
Sheena, meet Rod, your new mentor. Rod, this is Sheena.
Now it's true, Ms. Easton, that compared with your previous mentor, Rod is on the subflamboyant side, rarely even wearing women's underwear in public. But you have a lot to learn from him anyway.
Take his current (and 18th studio) album. It includes a couple of the kind of rutting-beast, perpetual-adolescent rave ups that Mr. Stewart is known for, "Rebel Heart" and "No Holding Back." Even coming from a 46-year-old, they are energizing and fun.
But Vagabond Heart also includes a smart, entertaining mix of songs, from a libido-in-cheek duet with Tina Turner, "It Takes Two" (a onetime Marvin Gaye—Kim Weston hit written by Sylvia Moy and William Stevenson), the thoughtful "Broken Arrow" (Robbie Robertson) and "Have I Told You Lately"—not the old Gene Autry hit but a nonetheless enjoyable love song. There's even an enterprising nostalgic-romantic tune, Larry John McNally's "The Motown Song," on which the Temptations sing some backup in tribute to their own history.
The point is that Mr. Stewart does not start out with the greatest of natural abilities. Remember how it always seems that some miniature clawed creature has been running up and down his throat. But he has style and a sense of pace, having learned how effective slow, unsynthesized and unadorned tunes can be.
Your own What Comes Naturally, on the other hand, is a monument to career mismanagement. It is a nearly unbroken string of monotonous dance-pop tunes that are dull one at a time but reach stultifying levels listened to in sequence. And you may be taking those workout commercials a mite seriously, Ms. Easton, since that sneery, surly, woodpile-on-the-shoulder attitude you project has transposed itself into your singing, which is increasingly harsh and lacking in nuance.
You, having started out with one of the most glorious voices in pop music, have spent 10 years learning to turn it into a denatured, run-of-the-dance-charts sound.
Anyway, Rod, we hope you'll take Sheena under your wing, offering advice and suggestions, imparting the wisdom of your years. And remembering that you are a happily remarried man. (Warner Bros.)