But let's set the record straight. The best Rod Stewart albums were actually his first two, The Rod Stewart Album and Gasoline Alley, both raw, funky affairs played with boozy insouciance and sung with genuine mod soulfulness. Every Picture was -- good and pivotal as it may be -- the beginning of the Big Sellout for a singer so adept he almost got away with it. And compared to some of the slick Hollywood tricks Stewart has been turning for far too long, New Boys is a darn sight more listenable -- even credible. But it's still a Rod Stewart album, where the rock and roll is always a bit too slick, and the sentimental stuff a little too gooey.

Even so, Stewart can still sing 'em pretty damn well. And even if his take on the Faces' "Ooh La La" doesn't have the drunken rugby-club charm of the original, this is still Roddo at his most heartfelt in years. Sadly, the session-sterile playing on the disc fails to evoke the good old days of beer-fueled passion -- or fully obscure his more recent Moët-drenched, stretch-limo seductions. Still, half a loaf is better than none at all. (** 1/2)

-- Rob Patterson

Spring Heeled Jack USA
Songs from Suburbia

Is it just me, or is the whole neo-ska movement so starved for originality that it's beginning to feed on itself? Not that there was much of any nutritional value there to start with -- just tired Two-Tone moves, bratty, faux-punk angst, a weak surf-rock undertow and horn sections made up of the sort of guys once bloodied by schoolyard thugs for being in marching band. With rare exception, '90s ska lacks any sense of what makes a hit worth revisiting, years down the line -- or what it takes to transcend disposability. It's like Special Beat Service never happened.

This week's log on the fire of the blazing skanker funeral pyre: Spring Heeled Jack USA, an insufferably sunny septet from Connecticut's bedroom-community wasteland -- hence, the title of its debut CD, Songs from Suburbia. The aforementioned mandatory style points are delivered in full on Suburbia, and all of it goes down as easily as room-temperature Bud Light inhaled through an Olympic-sized beer bong. Not that you won't hate yourself for the indulgence later. Hell, I hate myself now. (* 1/2)

-- Hobart Rowland

Press Ratings
***** Historic
**** Great
*** Worthy
** So-so
* Lame

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