A Bunch Songs Looking For a Sound Meets a Handful of Sounds Looking for Some Songs
NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
22 March 1975
by C.S. Murray
Oh. There you are. Somewhere in this album is The Soul of Ian Hunter, laid bare before your very eyes.
Possibly this elusive object is contained in a monologue entitled 'Shades Off,' which starts about three quarters of the way through 'It Ain't Easy When You Fall' which precedes it. File under 'I'm wearing my mirror shades backwards today.'
Alternatively, the Real Ian could be lurking within the confines of '3000 Miles Away,' a cute little just -me-an-my-box pick'n croon acoustic ditty, though that prospect is more than a little daunting.
Then, of course, the hiding place of verractual For Real Hard Core 'Untah could be 'The Truth The Whole Truth Nothin' But The Truth', in which case the whole Hunter /Ronson Let's Break Up And Be Friendly Trip has justified itself in a mere six minutes and twelve seconds of grinding angst-ridden aggression, which, despite setting its coordinate by Lennon's latitude and Led Zep's longitude, proves, more than anything else, that Hunter has given Mick Ronson an occasion to rise to as producer and arranger as well as a guitarist, and that Ronno has come on like a champeen.
It's Killerville, is what I mean.
It starts off with an almost palpable air of menace with drums, piano, and clavinet carefully extruding different parts of the beat and Hunter-moaning our the lines just like ole Papa John and it smoulders away until Ronno kicks it into overdrive with a blazing power chord sequence that Jimmy Page himself wouldn't have been ashamed to put his name to, and then comes around again with Hunter shouting the lyric in his best deadpan sneer.
The fact that the band that the band never let go keeps it brooding even when Ronno lets loose with a guitar solo that works on the same principle as the solo on 'Pleasure Man' (from Slaughter) but effortlessly eclipses it. It's all disconnected phrases coming out of nowhere, building to screeching climaxes and then breaking off and hanging in mid-air, snarls, dive bombs and the kitchen sink.
It ends with Hunter murmuring, with an air of utterly shell-hocked calm that is ultimately far more effective than any howlings and trumpetings and vocal overkill would be. 'The truth can't hurt ya, the truth won't hurt ya, the truth can't hurt ya'
In itself, the song ain't up to much and it probably sounded fairly naff when played raw on an acoustic. But when supplemented by all the Ronsonia it achieves well-nigh epic proportions and exemplifies exactly why Ian and Ronno are so good for each other.
A bunch songs looking for a sound meets a head full of sounds looking for some songs, in fact.
The album's other stab at Magnum Opus-hood is 'Boy', which occupies most of the last half of the first side, and it enabled Hunter to do his 'Hymn For The Dudes' routine, all swirls of piano and rafts of strings.
I ain't pointing no fingers (and I ain't naming no names) but there's a piano bit at the end that bears a quite suspicious resemblance to parts of 'Life On Mars.'
Hunter really, in the words of Joe Stevens, sings his ass off on 'Boy,' which I'm not altogether sure is a good idea, since Hunter's best vocal moments, don't necessarily occur when he attempts to mimic the vocal tactics of singers with 'better' voices than his own. In general, he succeeds best when he capitalises on his limitations instead of attempting to transcend them.
Most of the rest of the album is your rock and roll (sniff), with two cuts - 'Lounge Lizard' and the opening salvo - 'Once Bitten Twice Shy' sounds extremely Mottish and operating according to distinctly Mott ground rules.
It's a critical truism to suggest that Mott were rapidly becoming an undeniably stylized band, but the fact that only two of the songs fall into the traditional Mott piano four square stomp would indicate that Hunter was feeling a trifle constrained by the demands of having to write for Mott, as opposed to writing purely for himself.
'Lounge L izard' was actually intended for the B-side of 'Saturday Gigs,' and a Mott version of it actually exists somewhere, and I'd bet actual money that 'Once Bitten Twice Shy ' was originally written for that last Mott album that never happened.
It opens with Hunter whacking out a basic Chuck Berry rhythm guitar vamp, turning to the mike and greeting you, the listener, with a flat 'Allo' before the silly keyboards come in and he launches into a real patented Mott stomp.
And just to prove that he ain't afraid to write a song thrt consists almost entirely of repetitions. riffs, wo-yehs and other trash-pop gimmicks, there's 'Get So Excited,' which should be immediately covered by someone on Rak.
Largely speaking, Ian Hunter is a successful album in that it (a) retains a certain amount of continuity with Hunter's work with Mott (b) establishes Hunter's independence from the stylistic limitations that he imposed on Mott and Mott on him, and (c) answers any lingering doubts' about the viability of Ian's musical relationship with Mick Ronson.
Ronson, incidentally, goes a long way towards repairing the damage done to his credibility by Play Don't Worry.
His production, arrangements, and guitar playing are actually better than than they were on his two solo albums, which proves that he is a veritable titan in tandem with someone of separate but equal skills. Hunter provides the voice and the songs, which is as it should be, because those are his turfs.
Lemme put it this way: imagine a Mick Ronson solo album produced, arranged and lead guitared by Hunter. Disaster city, right?
Each of them has what the other needs, and while this album isn't anywhere near as good as they're going to get it they stay together and avoid screwing up, it's an encouraging record and one which gives rise to a certain amount of co-optimism.
And 'The Truth The Whole Truth Nothin' But The Truth' is just great. Play it loud - that's L-0-U-D. Loud enough to piss off your neighbours and often enough to zombify your friends. It's probably the most rewardtng way to get evicted.
Last bit - if the horrendous mock Dali sticker that arrived plastered to the plain white sleeve that I got the album in is actually the cover artwork, then someone's suffering from severe shortages ofin the imagination departments.
A nice grainy black and white shot would've fitted the music better.