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"You look like a star but you're still on the dole"
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Mott The Hoople were never glam's personification - that honour was left to T. Rex or Bowie. In fact, the strange (or not so strange, once one has taken a deeper look) thing is that they were never even meant to be - they became a glam band almost by accident, after Bowie convinced them that rock theatre was the only way for them to get rich and famous. It was, but it also ruined the band - neither guitarist Mick Ralphs nor vocalist/keyboardist/lead songwriter Ian Hunter could really get adapted to the show-off Bowie style that was imposed on them. Pity, because somewhere around 1972-73 they really showed signs of creativity. But let us deal straight from the beginning, really...Mott The Hoople were never a particularly impressive band. For one, they always suffered from lack of any virtuosos in the band - keyboard player Ian Hunter was competent but not far beyond, and while guitarist Mick Ralphs had a talent for a raving, spitfire solo or some dazzling riffwork now and then, there were just tons of far more technically gifted and skilled musicians around him. The rhythm section (Buffin Griffin on drums, Overend Watts on bass) were tight and interesting, and certainly able to keep the groove going, but after all, they were just a rhythm section; and, while Verden Allen's organ playing talents were quite vast (check out Brain Capers for an ample demonstration), he was nearly always kept down by the rest of the band, which led to his departure in 1972. Of course, if we were offered such a band in our sad spoiled times, we would only be happy - but back in the early Seventies one didn't really survive if he didn't solo like a demon and crank out riffs at lightning speed while his backing band were jumping out of their skins in order to prove their worthiness. Not that Mott weren't aware of this - they were, and always made a point of their, ahem, 'incompetency' - hinting at their rebellion against prog idols of the time, and, after all, quite a few fans liked them exactly for the reason they couldn't play like Steve Howe or Keith Emerson. But this is where the second flaw of Mott comes in: not only were they 'incompetent' (of course, exclusively in that early Seventies' sense), but none of the band members were really good songwriters. In the pre-glam period (1969-71), Ian Hunter was at his best a pale and feeble Dylan imitator, borrowing melodies from Mr Zimmerman and penning lyrics like a worthy, but unimaginative, disciple, while Mick Ralphs (the only other seriously creative force in the band) usually came up with stiff, conventional song patterns (like on the insipid Wildlife), only occasionally redeeming himself with kick-ass rockers. It took David Bowie to teach the band to write - and indeed, their glam status somehow freed their minds for a couple albums' worth of decent material. Even so, their riffs were usually unconvincing, their lyrics usually either smutty on order (All The Young Dudes) or self-indulgent (Mott), and, like I said, the band didn't even enjoy its newly found freedom. As much as I tried to like their material, I can't force more than a 'one' rating for the band: let's face it, they were just not geniuses - fair and square. Yes, they rocked pretty hard when they allowed themselves such a favour, but dozens of bands around them rocked just as hard and managed to write beautiful melodies as well. The Stones, for instance. The fact that certain reviewers and critics hold a very soft spot in their heart for the band can only be explained - as far as I believe - by the fact that Ian Hunter's lyrics speak to them on a personal level: his constant humble saga of a little man stuck in an ambitious rock'n'roll band and always getting his kicks in the wrong way is quite biting on the social plane of things, if you know what I mean. But I don't find his lyrics all that enlightening: there's too much Dylan imitating, and who needs derivative lyrics set to derivative melodies? Nevertheless, their best output is still quite a 'guilty pleasure' to listen to, and even if we close on our eyes on the band's historical significance (and they sure had quite a lot of historical significance - after all, they were one of the seminal proto-punk bands, weren't they?), some of their songs have a totally independent artistic value. There's some cool metallic riffing, some vaguely entertaining poetic imagery, some shades, some handwrestling on stage, and above all, what a cool name for a band! On to the reviews now, since I accidentally gave the whole lineup already.
Listenability: 2/5. My
major beef with these guys is their songwriting skills.
Resonance: 2/5. Ian Hunter can be wonderful one minute, boring as heck the next.
Originality: 0/5. Nothing in particular.
Adequacy: 2/5. Ian's tenure is often overbearing - too much ambition backed up by too few hooks.
Diversity: 1/5. Uh, well.
Overall: 1.4 = E on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 9
A mini-Dylan and a mini-Page trying to better their betters? Who needs that?Best song: ROCK AND ROLL QUEEN
Track listing: 1) You Really Got Me; 2) At The Crossroads; 3) Laugh At Me; 4) Backsliding Fearlessly; 5) Rock And Roll Queen; 6) Rabbit Foot And Toby Time; 7) Half Moon Bay; 8) Wrath And Wroll.
Yeah, I know. Weren't Mott The Hoople your ideal glam band - a lot of chic, pretension, and some intelligence thrown in for good measure (which actually distinguished them from teacher David Bowie)? But you wouldn't know all that from their debut album - a product as strange and, well, let's admit it, as dated as only can be. Glam rock was yet non-existent in 1969, and this particular music hardly fit any existent category at the time. The album's start - the crunchy, metallic riff of the Kinks' 'You Really Got Me' played with gusto by guitarist Mick Ralphs - deceives you into thinking that Mott were decided to follow in the footsteps of Led Zeppelin, but that's only part (and the least one) of the story.As it is, the album is divided by two contradictory tendencies - while Mick Ralphs is all ardent and ready to transform the band into a metal monster, lead vocalist, keyboard player and frontman Ian Hunter takes a much more quiet approach. If anything, he's trying too hard to become the new Dylan of the late Sixties, packing one tune after another with witty psychologic lyrics, and lazy, moody keyboard swipes. This is the good news. The bad news is that the fish was really too big for both of them to catch, not at the beginning of their career, at least. All right, I won't really bash the instrumental rendition of 'You Really Got Me' (Hunter had the wisdom not to wheeze his way through it): although I personally feel no great need to further metallize the prototypical metal song, they do it quite fine, with Ralphs' lead guitar assuming just the perfect tone. Kinda monotonous, though, and the lack of lyrics do remind you of how stupid the melody really was in the first place. But 'Rock And Roll Queen', which in the perfect world would be a perfect short rock'n'roll number about rock stars (actually, 'rock'n'roll studs' as I always misheard the refrain), is marred by a messy, totally tasteless 'jam' at the end that goes nowhere and ends nowhere - it doesn't even feature a distinctive guitar solo. And the final minute and a half of grungy noise ('Wrath And Wroll', contributed by their producer Guy Stevens) obviously has no other point than to make a bold statement: 'Well, you've sat through half an hour of lethargic piano noodlings by Ian Hunter, but here's to remind you that these boys are actually a rock'n'roll band! On the air, boys!' The statement is completely rotten, of course, because this album is essentially an album by Ian Hunter and his Dylan-sized avatar. Oh, not all is bad. At first, it's even enjoyable - like the cover of Douglas Sahm's 'At The Crossroads'. Ian introduces a relaxed, pleasant atmosphere with his croaky baritone and playing style, and though the song is no great shakes, it works as an interesting counterpoint to the preceding 'You Really Got Me'. But from then on, it's all trouble. Sonny Bono's 'Laugh At Me' is painfully overlong - the main part, where Ian again goes complaining about his personality, is relaxing again, but what's with those generic, boring piano solos? Hey, I'll go and listen to Keith Emerson if I want a piano solo. Wait, though, this is not the worst yet! 'Backsliding Fearlessly' is such an unashamed Dylan rip-off (actually, it's a combination of 'Just Like A Woman' and 'The Times They Are A-Changin'') that I only believe Bob didn't sue the band because he was kinda modest, you know... anyway, who needs a second-rate Dylan rip-off sung by a guy whose singing voice is better than Dylan's but worse than Roger McGuinn's? The main offender on the record, however, is the murky, eleven-minute long 'Half Moon Bay'. To tell the truth, I only know a couple of Velvet Underground and Traffic songs that can be compared in their 'dragginess'. Again, the song begins as a dreary, snail-paced personal confession (it doesn't live up to the fast introduction that melts away almost as soon as you're starting to hope the song will bring back the energy) with nothing special about it, after which it turns into some kind of one-note requiem, after which it becomes yet another 'jam' that lasts for God only knows how long. Dang. I bet Ian Hunter thought this kind of sound was 'progressive'. Maybe he even wanted to ape the freshly formed King Crimson. Yet the freshly formed King Crimson had energy and inspiration, while this early incarnation of Mott The Hoople had none. Or, well, maybe it had some, but Ian clearly wanted to wipe all the energy off the album. Yeah, right. He had a point - since his main inspiration was undeniably Blonde On Blonde, an album with an all-time low quotient of energy, he deemed that his own records must be loose and feeble as well. Unfortunately, however high you might think of him, Ian Hunter ain't, and never was, no Dylan. He's just another personality-obsessed 'starlet' whose main problem in this world was his not being recognized in the major star world. Well, the major star world certainly needed no crazyass Dylan imitator in the fall of 1969, that's one thing I can say for sure. I'm even not letting the album's rating as low as I could, because he's a good singer, and 'Rock And Roll Queen' is hilarious - but cut the crap with these jams, man, they're downright awful!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971Record rating = 7
Deadly dull country and soul excourses. Except for that knock-off final jam, of course.Best song: KEEP A-KNOCKIN'
Track listing: 1) Whisky Women; 2) Angel Of Eighth Avenue; 3) Wrong Side Of The River; 4) Waterlow; 5) Lay Down; 6) It Must Be Love; 7) Original Mixed-Up Kid; 8) Home Is Where I Want To Be; 9) Keep-A-Knockin'.
Now this is the place where the boys are starting to get on my nerves (well, I haven't yet heard 1970's Mad Shadows, so maybe they started getting really bad even earlier). Most of the record is dedicated to slow, moody shuffles that at their best serve as effective lullabies, while at their worst are able to convince even a hardcore traditionalist that no member of the band had any talent at all - songwriting, singing, playing, charisma, whatever. Even Ralphs abandons his trademark riffage style in favour of straightforward country and pop, for reasons I find hard to bring up. Ian Hunter probably just never wanted to admit that it was mostly his fault that the records didn't sell, so he convinced Ralphs that it was because of him. (Well, I made that part up myself, but seems very trustworthy, to me). Well, the album opener, 'Whisky Women', might be qualified as a hard rock song - it's got those distorted chords in the intro and other places, but the song is basically an average pop rocker, with Ralphs' standard groupie-bashing lyrics all over the place. Question: why is it that popular rock bands rarely write groupie-bashing songs and unpopular rock bands often do? Answer: because the latter don't have anything better to do...Apart from this single song, though, the rest is all unbearably lame. The only good number among the first eight songs is Hunter's 'Original Mixed-Up Kid', a somewhat obscure, but presumably misanthropic ballad that might be his best Dylan impersonation ever, due to the fact that it's kinda quiet and lacks those swooping keyboards, generic backup vocals and all that stuff that makes the worst of Mott material so jaw-dropping (in the bad sense of the word). It is also quite intimate and personal - Hunter is clearly singing about himself, and his lyrics are almost poetic this time. But that's about the only glimpse of light in the forest. Mott have decidedly turned to their roots - as if in a backlash to prog rockers and their artistic excesses. This first battle, though, is decisively lost by Mott. Ralphs' 'It Must Be Love' is a painfully ordinary country send-up with uninteresting lyrics and some fairly routine slide chops, and their cover of Safka's 'Lay Down' is definitely one of the worst soul covers by any rock band ever. Not only does the lyrical matter (a unification prayer) seem totally incoherent and unadjustable to the band's usual themes, but the melody is so smothered in keyboards and loathsome backup vocals that... aarrggh, why am I trying to explain? What could be more stupid than Mott the Hoople doing a soul cover, anyway? Next, Ralphs totally loses his head on the nostalgic ode 'Home Is Where I Want To Be': okay, Mick, why don't you satisfy your heart's desire, especially since you can't write a good number to save your life? 'Wrong Side Of The River'? 'I was born on the wrong side of the river'? Spare me stuff like that. Please do. It reminds me highly of the Bee Gees' country stylizations on albums like Life In A Tin Can: a band that desperately wants to pass itself off as 'roots experts' but which hasn't got a true understanding of how to make their 'root sound' interesting or at least a little less generic. And this usually happens at times of acute inner crisis - which is pretty obvious about Mott the Hoople at the time. And of course, what (at least, what early) Mott the Hoople record can pass without a couple of lethargic Hunter musings, like his farewell to a prostitute ('Angel Of Eighth Avenue') or just mystic ravings about the fates of mankind in 'Waterlow'? Bah... The latter tries so hard to be gorgeous and moody and anthemic and universalist and sweeping at the same time, but instead it's just unoriginal and insipid, not to mention unsuitable for Ian's voice (he's trying so hard to be gentle and tender that you can almost feel his hands shaking and vocal cords strained during the singing). Basically, what happens to me during the monotonous plodding on is that I fall asleep from time to time, only to wake up and face another Hunter stutterfest. I've almost written off the record, and I'd bet you anything you will do the same... until you arrive at the last track, that is. On their ten-minute live rave-up, beginning as a fiery version of Little Richard's 'Keep A-Knockin' and going through several different sections, including parts of 'Mean Woman Blues', 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On' and 'What'd I Say' (we're not talking Ten Years After here?), they deliver the goods with such a staggering, incredible force that you can't but help thinking: 'Hey, weren't these guys just putting me on? This sounds like a different band!' Mick Ralphs soloes like a demon, Hunter's singing, while certainly not on the same level with Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis, still proves surprisingly effective, and his bits of spoken dialogue, including a hastily assembled lecture on rock'n'roll basics where he says something like 'this is the best kind of music that has ever been', are amusing. This track proves that Mott the Hoople were by far one of the best boogie-woogie performers on the rock scene in the early Seventies, when the genre was all but fashionable. What the hell, probably the very best - what other band can provide you with such ferocious piano/guitar interplay? None. Unfortunately, one track still does not make a whole album. I've given the rating an extra point specially for that number, but as far as I can see, it's small consolation. 'Keep A-Knockin' deserves to be placed on any greatest hits compilation in all its length, and I guess 'Whiskey Women' and 'Original Mixed-Up Kid' could also pass, and 'It Must Be Love' could at least have secured them a couple of prizes on the local country market (sounds more authentic than the rest of their country stuff, at least), but the rest is mind-numbin' filler. Skip this if you're not very interested in Mott's pre-glam years; go buy some Dylan and some Band instead.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10
More heavy and self-conscious, but with the usual Mott flaws. Just mott that hoopla, guys...Best song: DEATH MAY BE YOUR SANTA CLAUS
Track listing: 1) Death May Be Your Santa Claus; 2) Your Own Backyard; 3) Darkness Darkness; 4) The Journey; 5) Sweet Angeline; 6) Second Love; 7) The Moon Upstairs; 8) The Wheel Of The Quivering Meat Conception.
Better. Better. Better. Their last pre-glory album, recorded in one week and almost destined to be their swan song (until David Bowie recollected them a year later), actually gives some hints at their next stage, at least, serves as a necessary link between the pre-glam meditation days and the heavily-Bowied period. No, don't get me wrong: there ain't a single truly great song on the album. But at least, it's much more advanced in the listenability department - the tunes are for the most part catchy, much more riff-based, and, how would I say it? emotionally entertaining, ain't it? Could be, could well be.Ralphs and his metallic playing style are much more prominent on this album than on any previous one, even if he only contributes half a song for the whole record. But there are no more bland country ditties at all - they seem to concentrate their efforts on what they manage to do best, and the result is a couple of terrific hard numbers and a handful of quite decent ones. In fact, when the opening dirty licks of 'Death May Be Your Santa Claus' reach your ears, you might almost think they have re-recorded their 'Keep A-Knockin' groove for this album. But that ominous guitar/drums interplay that burst into the well-known boogie-woogie chords on the last record here finally turns into a proto-metallic monster, with Ian Hunter delivering some of the most angry and pissed-off lyrics, hell, the most angry and pissed-off lyrics of all his career: 'I don't care what the people may say/I don't give a... anyway.../How long 'fore you realise what you missed/How long 'fore we get out and get pissed/.../How long 'fore you realise it's all strange?' Indeed. The song's a true gift to all Mott lovers and might seriously be their best in the pre-young dudes days. My only complaint is the horrendous production (in fact, that's a complaint appliable to the whole album) which leaves Hunter's voice somewhere in the far away background so that you won't even hear him singing if you're not very, very, very careful. Then again, maybe if they'd put him up straight, the song would be all too much of a generic heavy metal anthem, doncha think? Other first-rate metallic fests on the record include 'The Moon Upstairs', not a very memorable but quite a well-played anti-social pamphlet, and the cover of the Youngbloods' 'Darkness Darkness' that starts out almost folksy, then picks up the heat and becomes yet another mad heavy rocker. It may have nothing to do with Mott's true style (folkies? them? are you kidding?), but they do it with verve, and the tune itself is worthy. At least, it has a melody, and that's more than I can say of 'Journey', the lowest point on the album: a traditional Hunter epic, this time more than nine minutes long, and even if it's also hardened up and is even transformed into a true musical storm towards the end, I just don't get it. Where's the melody, dammit? They clearly go for atmosphere here, and Lord knows Mott The Hoople weren't as qualified as Pink Floyd or, well, Hunter's main ideological idol (you know who I mean, right?), to rely entirely on atmosphere to pull out a particular song. And the storm they brew up is actually just an illusion: heavy-punching block chords and one-note piano solos have no entertainment value all by themselves, no matter how high you turn up the volume. If you disliked stuff like 'Laugh At Me' from their debut album, you're almost sure to be bored by 'Journey' as well. The only redeeming point here is Verden Allen's organ playing, strangely, much more visible on this record than any previous one. (His own stab at songwriting in 'Second Love', though, with its jazzy arrangement, is ultimate crap). Luckily, it is followed by 'Sweet Angeline' - a hilarious Dylan imitation where Hunter again comes as close to aping the Father of America's Intellectuals as possible. He's also progressed, too, since the days of 'Backsliding Fearlessly' (which, if you remember, was a ripped-off medley of 'The Times They Are A-Changin' and 'Just Like A Woman'): the song is more tasteful, the sound more interesting, and even if I do observe that the tune is totally in the vein of 'Absolutely Sweet Marie', especially rhythm- and lyrics-wise, at least it's an imitation - not a carbon copy. And then there's another cover, their inspired version of 'Your Own Backyard', with lyrics totally suited to Hunter's style and a thing Hunter usually lacked - a sense of melody. Maybe they'd done better as a cover band? That 'You Really Got Me' was really something! A fun record, this one - just don't expect too much. Yeah, the low points are low, but the high points are worth it, and if you'd like to make a representative, but thoroughly listenable Mott collection, this is the obvious place to start - suitable introduction for their glory days. Of course, the true glory was yet to come, but not until they'd come close to exhaustion and disbanding. Well, nothing strange about that - it's easy to see how they could miss the mark in 1971 with their albums. In 1971 the musicianship/songwriter plank was so high that even their best stuff was obviously deemed derivative and third-rate - and remeber, it's the best stuff we're speaking of!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10
One of the seminal glam-rock records - important at least for its historic value.Best song: ALL THE YOUNG DUDES
Track listing: 1) Sweet Jane; 2) Momma's Little Jewel; 3) All The Young Dudes; 4) Sucker; 5) Jerkin' Crocus; 6) One Of The Boys; 7) Soft Ground; 8) Ready For Love/After Lights; 9) Sea Diver.
Wow! Brain Capers gave a little hint, but you'd never thought Mott The Hoople, after coming close to disbanding and already starting to plan their separate careers, would suddenly step back, take a couple of hints from guru David Bowie, turn around and effectively re-invent themselves as top-knotch glam rockers! Where are those nine-minute illusionary ravings, those clumsy Dylan send-ups, those lame country rip-offs? The dial is set to 'rock out mighty', the band discards its past (Ian Hunter didn't discard his shades, though) and comes up with one of their best and most impressive records - in fact, one of the most important and impressive records of the whole glam movement.How both Hunter and Ralphs allowed to be lured into the gay paradise of David Bowie is one of those little mysteries of history that you'll never come up with a definite answer for. Yes, it is a well-known fact that they were on the point of physical and mental exhaustion, bankruptcy, etc., etc., and the little bone that Bowie was throwing them in the form of their first hit single (title track) looked quite appetizing. However, Bowie only wrote them one song, plus one more is borrowed from the Velvet Underground ('Sweet Jane'): the rest of the material was written by the boys themselves. And ooh, what strange material is this! Personally, I never saw Ian Hunter writing gay or S&M songs before - but 'Momma's Little Jewel'? 'Sucker'? 'One Of The Boys'? Man, these songs are mean - Bob Dylan would never have come up with something like this. What an unexpected shift of paradigm! Considering that already on the next album Hunter was much more mild lyrically, I'll just have to assume that these songs were made on convention - so that Mott would firmly occupy a stable niche in the glam movement that was by then reaching its peak. Even so, the album's raunchiness is at an all-time high - one could have supposed that they were going after Zappa rather than Bowie. Aargh, damn the lyrics, my young dudes, it's the musical factor that makes the album truly outstanding - at least, according to Mott's own standards. The title track is indeed grand, with the chorus so perfectly singalongable that you can almost imagine all the young so... er, dudes swinging in unison to the anthemic chords on a Mott concert. I wonder if Ian ever dared to roar his 'bring him to me! I want him' lines before a stoned audience? Indeed, the song is a true homosexualist anthem, though little more. I seriously doubt if numbers like this really appealed to the listeners' inner selves - after all, isn't it ridiculous to suppose that homosexualism was at an all-time high especially in the early Seventies? It was just a part of the glam image - nothing else. In this sense, 'All The Young Dudes' could never hope to become a true teenage anthem in the vein of, say, 'My Generation' or 'Satisfaction' - too theatrical and insincere. Still fascinating, though. Hunter's creativity is also on the peak - he gets in just one minor embarrassment, with the pompous, but musically pale 'Sea Diver' with elements of orchestration. The song's totally worthless, of course (if you're not a Hunter freak), but there are two redeeming factors: first, it's short and it's the last one, and second, why not let Ian show off at least a teeny-weeny bit of his pretension, especially since he'd been a good lad and has carefully swapped his Dylan rip-offs for carefully crafted tunes elsewhere? Like the angry, self-elevating and women-bashing 'Momma's Little Jewel', the one that's based on a quiet, but pleasant little riff and a mighty, crashing chorus rising to an anthemic scream? And don't you forget the gloomy S&M allusions of 'Sucker' ('My baby call me when she want a tale'), with its almost dorky repetitive refrain but a sly, ironic, evil atmosphere all around! (I don't quite get 'Jerkin' Crocus', though - kinda bland). Even better is Ian's magnificent collaboration with Ralphs, the song that I consider second best on here - the rip-roaring, drivin', almost bleeding tale of 'One Of The Boys'. The most enthralling part of it isn't even the song itself, nor, of course, the irritating sound of telephone dialing in the beginning: it's the lengthy metallic coda a la 'Helter Skelter', with Ian suddenly finding some devilish pleasure in his reveling in the studio and evil screaming 'I'm just ONE OF THE BO-O-O-OYS!' If anything, this song could have become the ultimate teenage anthem - with its 'know that I grow my hair just to scare my teacher' lyrics. Thanks the good God that it hasn't, because, to my mind, while the song is less musically challenging than 'All The Young Dudes', it really epitomizes the young generation's state of mind at the time. Well, let's just hope Ian didn't take it all that serious... There are still some thoroughly unimpressive performances on the album, which is why I simply can't award it a 10. The cover of 'Sweet Jane' doesn't work, not for me, at least, and Verden Allen's 'Soft Ground' is a waste of tape - it's a good thing the boys didn't give him too much to record in the first place. He'd gotten fed up with this in the end and quit, but fortunately, that was not a very big loss - he's buried so deep on this album that it hardly made any difference. And, while Ralphs' primitive delivery of his best-known song ('Ready For Love') is hard-hitting, hey, you just gotta love that three-chord riff, it ends in a pointless and meaningless jam ('After Lights') that they were just not skilled enough to pull off. Oh, well, could you imagine a Mott The Hoople record without its low points? From all points of view, though, this is the most unique record the band ever recorded - a serious departure from their original style and an entertaining attempt to redefine the sound according to the glam norms. Their next record would try to marry the new approach with the old 'intellectual research', but here they just rock out and flirt with gays - so this record's for you, my dear fan of David Bowie and Alice Cooper!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 11
Combination: 'newly-found glam image' + 'newly-recovered social commentary stuff' = 'the best they could come up with'.Best song: ALL THE WAY FROM MEMPHIS
Track listing: 1) All The Way From Memphis; 2) Whizz Kid; 3) Hymn For The Dudes; 4) Honaloochie Boogie; 5) Violence; 6) Drivin' Sister; 7) Ballad Of Mott The Hoople; 8) I'm A Cadillac/El Camino Doloroso; 9) I Wish I Was Your Mother.
David Bowie was no longer holding his hand on the pulse this time, and the boys were left all alone in the studio - with no-one to tell them where to go and what buttons to press. It shows. Good as the Dudes were, the album suffered in one direction: it changed the band's image a bit too much. With all these excourses into the life of perverts, sods, prostitutes, young dudes, suckers, Jerkin' Crocuses, etc., they stood on the threshold of becoming a real glam band - you know, not just wearing flashy costumes on stage, but completely forsaking the ultimate search for truth in favour of a commercial future, spending their time picking guitars with their teeth on stage and penning songs with no subjects different from the ones treated in so much details on their previous record.Nobody understood that danger better than Ian Hunter, of course (Mick Ralphs understood it too, but he never really flirted with glam in the first place, hardcore boogieman as he was), and so their fifth album, simply titled Mott, changes directions again. This time the boys decided to combine both approaches: the traditional Dylan-balladeering style of Hunter, somewhat revised, polished and subject to higher production values, would now be combined with the grittier, glam-rockin' style of Dudes, so that they could both appease the glam-hungry audiences and satisfy their own ambitions as well. Amazingly, it works, and the band is rewarded with its arguably best album. 'Arguably', I say, because melody-wise the album is a wee bit less strong than Dudes: as you know, I've never been a fan of Hunter ballads, and although there can be no question that his style had vastly improved since 1969, he's still as far from matching Dylan as possible. On the other side, lyrically the album is a big step forward - all these sexual references on Dudes can really get on your nerves now and then. So for some time I was in debate with myself - whether to view this or the previous album as the pinnacle, but finally my devotion to 'serious' music won over 'simple enjoyability' considerations. Not that Mott ain't enjoyable, of course - it's just not as flashy or hard-hitting. Still, don't be surprised if one day you'll see that my ratings have shifted... The album is not as heavy as its predecessor, although Mick is still keen on inserting a heavy riff now and then, and the songs are, as usual, heavily spiced with horns - the necessary attribute of the glam scene. There is, however, at least one heavy rocker here that blows all the previous ones away - Hunter and Ralphs' 'Violence': the opening chords might be just a simple rehashing of the 'Ready For Love' riff, but the message is much more entertaining - an ironic commentary on street riots that condemns all those young suckers who bash everything in sight just to spend their energy. The most impressive part about the song, though, is Paul Buckmaster's masterful violin solo (hey, is it a pun? 'Violin-ce', eh?) and the quiet, almost sweet chorus that make a groovy contrast to the rip-roaring verses. And if you're looking for something simpler, something you won't need to wrack your brain about, take 'Drivin' Sister', an intoxicating piece of boogie - and nothing else? Its two interlocking guitars create an almost Stones-like melody, and in fact, the Stones certainly nipped off the song for their 'Dance Little Sister' a year later - their 'dance little sister dance' can't but be a copy of Mott's 'drive little sister drive on'! More boogie arrives in the form of a magnificent piano rocker, the album opener 'All The Way From Memphis' that narrates the story of Ian Hunter losing his guitar (what guitar, dude, weren't you playing the keyboards?); it'll get you going in no time, and the tinkling piano chords and blistering saxes make it no less of a glam anthem than 'All The Young Dudes' - it's just that the lyrical subject is a little far away from glam rock. And if you're hungry for a harmless pop ditty, you got your 'Honaloochie Boogie' that also sounds anthemic, but this time in a more pop sense. Besides that, Mick Ralphs adds an independently-penned rocker ('I'm A Cadillac'), but it's stupid and recycled, and I don't like it at all. Not to mention that the lyrics suck, suck, suck - it was just one album ago that Ralphs proudly announced that he's 'Ready For Love', and here he suddenly felt the need to confirm his young stallion status. The moody, Spanish-style instrumental that the song flows into ('El Camino Doloroso') is quite pretty, though, if technically unimpressive. Now the Hunter epics are a little harder to judge - like I said, I can feel their being superior to older garbage like 'Laugh At Me' or 'The Journey', but this is not a general feeling. Thus, 'Ballad Of Mott The Hoople' is truly good, a moving ballad that tells about the band's unfortunate history and their coming close to disbanding at an unsuccessful Zurich gig in March 1972; Hunter sounds sincere and truly moving as he complains of his misfortunes and explains that 'rock'n'roll's a loser's game/It mesmerizes and I can't explain'. The big problem is that he's really much too self-indulgent: after all, it's no big secret that the band's misfortunes lay primarily in their lack of talent and solid songwriting and nothing else, certainly not the public's or critics' coldness. So the ballad is actually a put-on, but it's possible just not to pay any attention to it - why should you, when the arrangement's so professional and the guitar break so emotional? On the other side, 'Hymn For The Dudes' is dang near atrocious, an excellent attempt to recapture their glorious days of boredom. It's so swooping and grandstanding that it doesn't even evocate visions of Bob Dylan - rather those of Elton John. I won't even discuss its failures: a song by Ian Hunter that begins with the words 'God ain't jive/For I can see his love' cannot be good theoretically, and this can be proved with some elementary logical deduction. You do that yourself, woncha? And the closing 'I Wish I Was Your Mother' is also weak, a somewhat out-of-place country send-up in the style of Wildlife. Nevertheless, it is this record that should be everybody's starting point with Mott: it neatly summarizes most of the band's facets and, well, it's their most consistent effort, after all: the songwriting is solid throughout, a thing which could never be said about the pre-1972 records, and the intellectual content is at least several levels ahead of All The Young Dudes. If you don't like this record, no need to bother with further Mott acquisitions. This is also where my Mott collection comes to an end - from what I've read, they had at least one more more or less decent record (The Hoople) recorded after the departure of Mick Ralphs, after which Hunter quit as well and the remaining members carried on under the name 'Mott' (without all the Hoople, see) for two more bleeding years and two more so-so albums. If I see any of these records, I'll review them, but I'm not going to race to the bottom of the sea to save them from being lost to mankind. My love for Mott is just not that strong, see?
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