One of the items on Dave Stewart’s agenda as a solo artist has seemed to be sorting out speculation about his talents. Sure, the former Eurythmic (and Tourist and Longdancer) can play guitar. And, yeah, he’s a versatile, resourceful and chart-savvy producer, a knack he’s repeatedly proven for others as David A. Stewart (the initial distinguishes him from ex-Hatfield and the North prog-rock popster Dave Stewart, who has made a number of albums and UK hits in partnership with Barbara Gaskin). His own albums certify an ability to gather and organize sound with wit and dispatch. But nothing in Stewart’s past ever suggested he could sing or write lyrics. And the sorry fact is he can’t.
Given Eurythmics’ tall stack of hits and the division of creative chores between Stewart and Annie Lennox, it’s tempting to assume that he possesses real songwriting aptitude, as well as the stylistic suss to retain a consistent musical personality whatever the genre being refracted. So why can’t he manage a single sharp melody or intelligent lyric on his own? It turns out she wasn’t the chameleon in the group, he was. Stewart hasn’t got a signature of any sort: she evidently got custody of (and then promptly discarded) the band’s distinctive sound. Dave Stewart and the Spiritual Cowboys and Greetings From the Gutter are both flat-out embarrassing, full of songs that never should have been written or sung. The first one is an ordinary-sounding guitar-rock record pockmarked by vindictive and unseemly slags — in the no-points-for-guessing-who “King of the Hypocrites,” he sneers, “You told me you were a Christian/You told me you so were pure/But I think you’re so sick inside/You’re never gonna find a cure” — and moronic fantasies. “Fashion Bomb” descends to anatomically inept grade-school doggerel: “She’s radio active, you can see it in her eyes/Radioactive from her hips to her thighs.”
Greetings From the Gutter is a pretentious soul/rock mess recorded with a band containing Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell and lousy with high-profile guest stars like Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Lady Miss Kier and Mick Jagger. It’s no big surprise that the songs all suck, but Stewart’s inexplicable attempt to imitate David Bowie is a bewildering development. Besides aping the mannered voices, accent and intonation of his infinite better, Stewart loads up on material expressly designed to aid the effort. “Chelsea Lovers,” complete with a coy reference to “a Ziggy cartoon,” is very nearly a rewrite of “Drive-In Saturday.” “St. Valentine’s Day” contains a familiar line about “killing time”; “Tragedy Street” (which boasts the hauntingly clever chorus “How come you’re always in the middle of a tragedy/How come you’re always walking down Tragedy Street”) concerns a character named Angie. For good measure, Stewart replicates Mick Ronson’s ripping guitar sound and puts a sax solo by David Sanborn (who, coincidentally, played a similar part on Young Americans) into “Oh No, Not You Again,” another crude personal attack that ends this miserable and obnoxious album. During the song’s long coda, there’s an atrocious tearful scene acted out by Carly Simon and Sanborn. “I’m fucking suffocating here,” belches Sanborn at one point. He’s not the only one.
Before getting on with his tragically vocal solo career, Stewart tried his hand at film scoring, an area he should definitely explore further. Lily Was Here is an excellent piece of work, a varied but carefully interwoven set of themes explored by Stewart on guitar, an orchestra of strings and Candy Dulfer on saxophone. In addition to a bunch of more-than-wallpaper instrumentals (songs, really), the album contains a finespun number (“Second Chance”) delicately sung, co-written and played by Virginia Astley and a version of Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain Again” that places Lennox’s original vocal track in an entirely new and alluring acoustic guitar and strings setting.
In between his other projects, Stewart formed Vegas in partnership with singer Terry Hall (formerly of the Specials, Fun Boy Three and Colourfield). With a skilled and recognizable vocalist again in his corner, Stewart is able to concentrate on building the lush and varied production settings for the co-written songs (and a string-driven cover of Charles Aznavour’s dapper “She”) on the short-lived duo’s one album.