Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Redemption of Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople

Ian Hunter is doing some of the best work of his life at 71. Nearly written off by the mainstream, He's never been left behind by the true. Now the mainstream will rush to rejoin as the man ends 2009 with two Huge victories. The only thing that could make me happier would be to be up and writing again, and I am.

Mott the Hoople reign as perhaps the number one punters of the people band of all time, long remembered and loved for great shows and superb records. In the aftermath of their acrimonious breakup in 1974, there was really only Hunter's solo career to follow for lovers of Mott. The band reconvened after Hunter split, as simply Mott. BIG mistake. On a new listen some 35 years later, Mott's debut record, Drive On, reveals itself as a wonderful, wonderful spin, sounding much like everything that was good about the bombastic hard rock that dominated the next decade. Cool tunes, great production, superb guitar work by Ray Majors, Nigel Benjamin's vocal histrionics, and surprisingly strong writing by Pete "Overend" Watts, Columbia Records should long rot in Dante's 7th level for making them use the Mott moniker, for this could have only did what it did which was alienate every Hunter loving fan in Mottdom, for this ain't Kansas, Toto. With another name this band and it's first great album would have done what Mott the Hoople never did do - break America. They were ahead of their time, but following their past they couldn't but stumble. Mott the Hoople lived for 35 years as a mythical legend for those lucky enough for having experienced "the great trip."

So after a career that looked so bright, yet ended with great disappointment, anger, and bad vibes, Mott seemed through. Decades came and went as we waited and dreamt of a return to our youthful hopes and dreams, 'cause that's what Hoople fans do, y'know.

When I heard there was to be a reconvening, my first thought was, "Thank God"; my next thought was, "Dear God." While it seemed a dream come true, so much water had passed under this bridge that I feared what we'd find. Hunter, while still doing excellent work, had long left behind the high drama we loved so dearly, replacing it wih great wisdom and grace as perhaps one of the few remaining visionaries from the '70s who'd not lost his way. His output has remained stellar, but few would term it Hoople-ish. The rest of the band had faded into what I had heard described as, "a comfortable British retirement," with Ralphs slowing down the pace considerably, to Watts running his store and doing no public music of which I'm aware. While the thought, the very possibility of a reunion made my heart flutter, I also considered the possibity of a disaster, which at this point in the match none of us can afford. It's one thing to watch America crash and burn, but to think of a Mott crashing was just too disconcerting and bothersome. At that point the whole thing may be irreparable.

I had forgotten how to dream. And that's my fault and my fault alone.

The shows could not have been a bigger success, with the usually bitter, vitriolic British press singing praises both unanimous and vigorous. The reunion got called "the best ever"; the shows were termed "perhaps in their own right, the best concert ever."

Go find the reviews yourself, I read great remarks in Classic Rock, Mojo, and Q, and I'm certain there are more. They read like a real life Rocky, yeah, as if Stallone were still pulling it off at 71.

Ian Hunter is not shy, not timid, and not afraid. In the face of his old band's reunion, he had the stones to put out a solo record almost simultaneously, an act either bold or crazy. Turns out that you could debate the two events 'til you were blue and maybe not ever resolve which stood tallest. I'm not going to write a review of Man Overboard but it'samongst my favorite new records in a very long time. Better with every listening. The title song is as great as anything the man's written, and this is not hyperbole. I've got to mention the production and the sound of Hunter's voice. Hunter, York, and Moshay made a record that sounds like a rock band playing as a rock band should play. Tasteful, well played, and smartly sophisticated. Hunter returns for the first time in a long while to the dramatic, elegant changes that marked his best writing with the Hooples. Key changes, intriguing musical interludes, and cool signature riffs mark almost every tune.

Go buy Man Overboard today, not tomorrow, but today. And go find a copy of the 3 disc set of the reunion shows that I hear are available in the UK. I need to scare up a copy myself.

In a world that seems so tenuous and fraught with instability, I offer these acts of Ian Hunter as proof that we're gonna be OK. Maybe not today, but we'll be OK.

For great pics from the reunion go to: http://www.flickr.com/groups/ianhunterrocks/pool/

Peace, Love, and Loud Guitars.

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