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Rod Stewart has done such an efficient job of tarnishing his own reputation over the past two decades that it’s almost hard to believe he was once an artist who really mattered. But long before he became an average, middle-of-the road troubadour, he was one of pop music’s greatest singers. As a member of the Faces and on his solo albums from the early ‘70s, Stewart effortlessly shifted from boozy belter to tender balladeer, and carved out a small legacy of enduring work that he’s never topped.

So his decision to try to recapture that early energy with stripped-down arrangements and harder-edged material is definitely a move in the right direction. Unfortunately, “When We Were the New Boys” is less an attempt at something fresh than a ham-fisted mishmash of old and new songs jacked up with self-consciously raw guitar sounds that scream, “I’m back!”

One of the young Stewart’s greatest strengths was his ability to take familiar songs such as the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” and Sam Cooke’s “Twisting the Night Away” and by sheer force of personality turn them into his own. On his new album, Stewart is merely content to steamroller through songs by Ron Sexsmith, Oasis and Nick Lowe, among others, with little passion or nuance.

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Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times’ World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: https://www.latimes.com/sound clips


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