All Of The Good Ones Are Taken

Ian Hunter

Columbia Records, 1983

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The difference between a decent Ian Hunter album and an excellent Ian Hunter album has almost always been the same – while he’s a remarkable songwriter and performer, the quality of his output has often corresponded directly with the quality of his collaborators.  In particular, Hunter’s best solo work has usually featured a musical foil of one sort or another whose function is to push and prod Hunter into delivering the great work he’s capable of.

From 1975 to 1993, more often than not that foil was former David Bowie guitarist and longtime pal Mick Ronson.  Ah, but All Of The Good Ones Are Taken features Ronson on exactly one cut.  It’s tempting to end this review right there -- the evidence is that compelling -- but that would be cheating.  The thing is, every single one of Hunter’s album-length collaborations with Ronson has been superb, without exception.  Think about how remarkable that is -- I mean, even Jagger and Richards and Taupin and John have had their lapses in quality; not Hunter and Ronson, not once.  Musically, those two completed each other.

Thus, on relatively Ronson-less albums like AOTGWAT, a lot rides on the producer and players, and Hunter unfortunately does not have a sympathetic producer here.  To the contrary, Max Norman (Ozzy Osbourne, Y&T) tarts the album up with a series of overcooked ’80s production touches -- too many synthesizers, too much echo on the vocals and altogether too much slickness for a veteran barroom basher like Hunter.

The title track at least offers you a little sax appeal courtesy of guest Clarence Clemons, but neither it nor the following “Every Step Of The Way” ever really ignite like they might with tighter, rawer arrangements, and from there things deteriorate rapidly.  “Fun” and “Speechless” show a definite new wave influence, with bouncy Blondie-ish beats and chirpy synths and a bunch of other ’80s twaddle that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  Honestly, this stuff sounds more like a parody of Ian Hunter than the real thing.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Having said that, the one thing Hunter can always be counted on for is a good rant.  “Death ‘N’ Glory Boys” is one of his better ones, and Ronson’s epic lead guitar rises above the poor production for the most part… it’s just hard to escape the fact that the drums sound less like actual drums than like someone hitting a large piece of fiberglass with a sledgehammer inside an echo chamber.  Surprisingly, the best song here is perhaps not the one with Ronson on it, but the one after that.  “That Girl Is Rock and Roll” feels like a particularly tasty leftover from Hunter’s work with Clash guitarist Mick Jones on 1981’s Short Back 'n' Sides, with a satisfying edge and sass, if you can just manage to ignore the Culture Club synths on the verses.

Just when you wonder if the album might be salvageable, though, along comes “Somethin’s Goin’ On.”  You know you’re stuck in a classically overproduced ’80s tune when you can no longer distinguish whether the noise that is the song’s melodic hook is being made by a guitar or a synthesizer; it sounds so processed-and-programmed it could be almost anything at all.  The sinking feeling continues as “Captain Void ‘n’ The Video Jets” earns my vote for the worst Hunter song ever, an apparent attempt at parodying empty-headed electro-pop that is virtually unlistenable.  (This is one of those cuts that one suspects, if you asked Hunter about it in an interview today, he might walk out.  If you listen hard enough, somewhere deep in the mix you can hear Mick Ronson’s voice saying “Ian!  Listen up, mate!  What the bloody ’ell’s going on with this track?  If it’s supposed to be a joke, why isn’t it funny?”)

For the sake of 180-degree contrast, “Seeing Double” starts off with a sweet Clarence Clemons sax solo and blossoms into a pleasant ballad, marred only by too much echo and over-the-top background vocals.  The album closes with an alternate version of the title track, which suffers much the same fate as the original, i.e. it’s a passable, rather wistful pop song, but the production is horrific.  The CD bonus track “Traitor” tries to be rant-worthy, but -- again -- the wheels-o-cheese ’80s production clutters it up irredeemably.

The best thing I could say about All Of The Good Ones Are Taken is that it has a handful of songs strong enough to quite nearly overcome the producer’s butchery of them, and a greater number that unfortunately aren’t of that caliber.  The problem is context as much as anything; it’s one of the most unspectacular albums in the catalog of a man who’s made quite a number of spectacular ones.  Which certainly helps explain how six years passed before Hunter issued his next album, and why when he did return, it was in full partnership with his old mate Mick Ronson. 

Rating: D+

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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 Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.