It may comfort some that Rod Stewart has a new home with Clive Davis, the legendary record mogul behind J Records. Davis's impressive track record -- he's responsible for hits by everyone from Aretha to Aerosmith to Alicia Keys -- suggests Stewart may score this time out. The songwriting is impeccable, spanning Kern, Gershwin, and more contemporary tunes. The production is top-shelf, too.
But Rod is no longer the Mod or even the Bod, and this album is less reinvention than brand extension. Stewart's last album for the Warner Bros. family, Human, an anemic stab at soul he released on Atlantic last year, was a stinker; its was the sound of slumming and desperation. It Had to Be You is better, if only because the songwriting is superior, risk-free, and demographically unassailable.
Backed by smooth jazzer Dave Koz and the more versatile Michael Brecker on saxes, Stewart treats 14 chestnuts with ease, if not authority. "These Foolish Things" is pretty cool, and "Every Time We Say Goodbye" spoons out well-mannered rue, but the album is rarely more than soothing and, contrary to entertainment-business gush, is not a breakthrough. It's been years since Stewart made a record with personality and passion; he's been too busy being a celebrity. Here, Stewart is making a foray into Tony Bennett's territory, but he gets stuck in Barry Manilow's foothills.