All American Alien Boy

Ian Hunter

CBS Records, 1976

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


This one begins with a memory: my first music review.  Well, sort of – I was coming out of a record store in San Rafael in 1977 when the Marin Independent Journal’s question man stuck a camera in my face and asked me “What’s the last record album you bought?”  I said “An Ian Hunter album called All American Alien Boy.“  Then he asked me what I thought of it and I said “It was all right, just not as good as I thought it was going to be.”  (And yes, I still have the clip…)

Thirty years later that assessment -- all right, but not as good as I’d thought it would be -- holds up pretty well, but let’s see if we can’t expand on it a bit…

Ian Hunter’s self-titled 1975 solo debut took the critics by storm as his alliance with former David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson produced one of the ’70s’ great rock and roll records.  And yet… within a year he and Ronson -- once rumored to have been a leading candidate to replace Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones -- had split and Hunter had left England for good for a new life and new album in New York.

The details of the split -- which apparently had much more to do with their respective managers than with the two principals -- aren’t as important as the after-effects. For while All American Alien Boy has flashes of brilliance, Hunter misses Ronson -- the best foil he ever had, he’s said so himself -- terribly.  Convening a band of session players in New Yorkmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 , Hunter produced an album that’s largely missing the passion and enthusiasm of his debut.

In place of the drive and energy that fired Ian Hunter, we instead find Hunter indulging in rather maudlin mid-tempo fare such as “Letter To Brittania From The Union Jack,” “Rape” and the too-aptly-named “Apathy 83.”  The band -- Chris Stainton on keys, Jaco Pastorius on bass and Aynsley Dunbar on drums -- has talent aplenty, but the songs the man in charge has delivered for them to play just aren’t up to his usual standards.  Even the witty title track goes on far too long with its explication of Hunter’s “stranger in a strange land” introduction to life in America

Hunter is nothing if not a craftsman, so naturally some of the tracks transcend the lesser material.  “Restless Youth” offers a pleasant throwback to Hunter’s Mott The Hoople days with its anthemic guitar thump and snotty vocals, even if it feels drier than it should.  The otherwise unremarkable “You Nearly Did Me In” benefits from David Sanborn’s snappy sax accents and the fun of Freddie Mercury, Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen sitting in on background vocals. 

But really, there are only two tracks of genuine note on this entire album.  Wouldn’t you know it, they’re both -- to borrow a bit of the vernacular -- bloody masterpieces.

“Irene Wilde,” Hunter’s iconic coming-of-age ballad, is perhaps even more impressive on 1980’s live album Welcome To The Club, but it’s still an amazing piece of work here in its original studio incarnation.  The saga of the best humiliating turndown he ever experienced – the one that set him on the road to songwriting and performing -- Hunter’s narrative retains richness and immediacy while also being leavened by the wisdom perspective brings.  “In my mother’s living room, I composed so many tunes / All the same, just a frame, for her name, and just to say / Gonna be somebody, someday.”  Yeah…

Masterpiece number two comes along in a highly unlikely form for a fellow with Hunter’s admittedly overblown reputation as a rock and roll hooligan.   Always a huge Dylan fan, Hunter offers up another winning homage with the smart, witty and surprisingly moving spiritual rumination “God (Take 1),” which also features one of the great first lines and first verses in the history of rock: “God said to me, gonna kick your ass / ‘Cause all you do is ask, ask, ask / All that energy looking for me / When I’m sitting here inside you, plain to see.”

If the rest of the disc lived up to the quality of these two tracks, it would be a no-brainer “A.”  As it is, All American Alien Boy was indeed “not as good as I thought it would be,” and in retrospect merely the first of two stepping-stones between Ian Hunter’s initial solo triumph and the next stage of his restless post-Mott career.

Rating: B-

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© 2009 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.