Following the success of Unplugged...and Seated, Rod Stewart had shrewdly repositioned himself as a mature, middle-aged man who still had a slight streak of his wilder days in him. Unsurprisingly, the music both recalled his past glories in instrumentation, yet the attack was different -- the acoustics rocked, but it wasn't bracing; it was like a back-porch jam session. Stewart expanded that approach on A Spanner in the Works, his first album since Unplugged. The acoustics are still there, but they're strummed a little more gently and set in a bed of unobtrusive synths. More importantly, Stewart tackles his most ambitious and varied set of material since A Night on the Town. From the pop/rock of Tom Petty's "Leave Virginia Alone" and the reflective take on Dylan's "Sweetheart Like You" through the R&B tribute of "Muddy, Sam and Otis" and the rocking "Delicious" to the British folk of "Purple Heather," the songs recall his classic early albums in ambition and musical diversity. A Spanner in the Works isn't quite as successful as Gasoline Alley or Every Picture Tells a Story -- it's a content album, not a probing one, which is appropriate for a middle-aged singer -- yet it is the most inspired and ambitious record Stewart released in nearly 20 years.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine