Ian Hunter

Ian Hunter

CBS Records, 1975


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Remember back in the "good old days"…?

Yeah, I know, it's a rant you're really not supposed to be giving until you're fishing your teeth out of a glass every morning.

But damn, they just don't make albums like this anymore. Albums completely free of anything artificial. No slick production values; no manufactured hipness directed by a smug A&R guy; no poseurs with skin-tight costumes or embarrassingly obvious gimmicks. No overdubs or synthesized strings or indistinct choruses of triple-tracked background vocalists giving a steroidal punch to the "star" who can't sing. Just raw, smart, ballsy rock and roll, the way it was meant to be.

I made my original acquaintance with Ian Hunter in the same way as many others… I listened to my radio in 1979, heard "Cleveland Rocks," and thought, "That's pretty cool." I wasn't satisfied with just picking up his '79 disc You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic, though; I wanted more. So I went back and picked up this, Hunter's first solo album after parting ways with the infamous Mott The Hoople, the British glam-rock cult heroes for whom he was lead vocalist from 1969 through early 1975.

On his departure from Mott, Hunter brought along guitarist Mick Ronson, with whom he would share a 25-year musical partnership that included Ronson co-producing and arranging the bulk of Hunter's solo work until Ronson's death in 1993.

Ian Hunter, from the cheeky "'Allo" that opens the proceedings, is filled with a breezy confidence that swaggers without being cocky, and rocks with matter-of-fact authority. "Once Bitten Twice Shy" is a brilliant opener (later savaged by pop-metal hacks Great White; try to put that version out of your mind), a cautionary tale about the rock and roll life that starts out tight and restrained before exploding into a full-on jam.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

From there, the brilliance just keeps on coming. "Who Do You Love" is the ageless, bitter question Hunter asks of a lover/betrayer. It thunders along steadily with Hunter's piano giving the proceedings a sarcastically festive air even as he demands "I wanna know… Make up your mind, are you his or mine?" The rest of side one (sorry, had it on vinyl for years) is equally strong, featuring the taunting "Lounge Lizard" and the slow-building, fervent "Boy" (said to be a critique of Mott booster David Bowie's style-over-substance tendencies).

Side two is where things really take off, though, starting with the delicate, heartfelt "3,000 Miles From Here."  Next, I remember running into some kind of high school romantic tangle around the time I picked up this album that caused me to listen to "The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nothin' But The Truth" roughly 247 times in the space of a week. As its title implies, it's another intense interrogation, full of controlled fury, its coiled cadence threatening again and again before finally erupting into a scorching Ronson guitar solo that releases every ounce of pent-up frustration.

Piling on emotionally, Hunter follows with "It Ain't Easy When You Fall," simply one of the most remarkable ballads I've ever heard, a "hang in there" message to a fallen friend in need of someone to stand by him/her. Starting out with woodwinds and acoustic guitar, it builds steadily, Hunter's wavering, empathetic voice reminiscent of Warren Zevon or Bruce Springsteen at their best; a deeply human voice full of vulnerability. With no explanation necessary, this powerhouse track's closing chorus cross-fades into "Shades Off," a soul-baring spoken-word piece that Hunter essays with a gentle intensity. It closes with the lines:

"It is here I see pictures and my madness is clear / And there's no longer logic and therefore no fear / And I'm almost dead with uncontrollable light / Sometimes when I've written a song - it's alright."

Words for any creative person to live by. And you get about a millisecond to absorb them before Hunter and band blast off "I Get So Excited," an explosion of rock and roll ebullience that bounds and bubbles and froths until the only thing left to do is just hit "Stop" -- there's no crescendo, no fadeout, just music one second and nothing the next. Absolutely bloody brilliant.

Here's the ultimate compliment -- while scrutiny reveals this entire album was arranged with great care, it feels spontaneous every step of the way. There's a raw energy running through these nine tracks that spoke to a generation of ambitious young bands ranging from proto-punks like The Clash to future stadium-rockers like U2. It's a true artist's wet dream -- a creation that succeeds as both art and entertainment, that's brave and sad and cranky and sweet and wise and delirious… and rocks.

If that's old-fashioned, I don't want to be young.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2004 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of CBS Records, and is used for informational purposes only.