When We Were the New Boys finds Rod Stewart tackling the music of his Brit-pop offspring and coming to terms with his pub rock roots. It's a bit of a risky move, since he could have embarrassed himself with stodgy singing but, surprisingly, he (more or less) pulls it off. Granted, he's not nearly as energetic as he once was, and he stumbles on occasion, but he recasts Oasis' "Cigarettes and Alcohol," Primal Scream's "Rocks," and Graham Parker's "Hotel Chambermaid" as comfortable rockers in the vein of "Hot Legs." They're not as vibrant as the Gallaghers' rolling thunder or Bobby Gillespie's ironic classicism, but they're easily the best rockers Rod has cut in ages. Yet, like on any of his '90s records, he really shines on the ballads, giving Ron Sexsmith's "Secret Heart," Nick Lowe's gorgeous "Shelly My Love," and Mike Scott's "What Do You Want Me to Do" lovely, unadorned readings, while letting his sentimental streak slip through in his original "When We Were the New Boys" and a cover of the Faces' "Ooh La La," originally sung by Ron Wood. These unabashedly recall his rowdy, youthful days with the Faces, and they're warmly nostalgic. He may be reveling in memory and trying recapture his youth, but Rod hasn't sounded this comfortable in years.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine