Dirty Laundry

Ian Hunter

Cleveland Intíl Records, 1995

http://www.ianhunter.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/23/2009

The idea of getting back up when you get knocked down is as ingrained a part of Ian Hunter’s character as his hair or his sunglasses or his fetish for early Stones and Dylan.  But not surprisingly, it took him awhile to right himself again after the 1993 death of his good friend and musical partner Mick Ronson.  That was more than your average knock on the chin; more like a kick to the gut.

When he did get back up, he -- and after all, what else would you expect -- did it in a totally unexpected and idiosnycratic way.  Receiving an invitation from punk veteran and longtime admirer Casino Steel to come round and record a bit at Abbey Road, he said sure, why not, and fell in with a crew of seasoned British punk rockers and New Wavers -- “a right unsavoury lot -- I loved every minute of it!” (or so he’s quoted in the liner notes).

The lineup included keyboard man Steel, guitarists Honest John Plain and Darrell Bath, drummer Vom Ritchie, and on bass none other than the Sex Pistols’ own Glen Matlock.  This crew proceeded to jam to their hearts’ content, building a catalog of 18 backing tracks in two weeks before decamping to Norway to record the vocals.  The resulting disc -- a band album that was nonetheless dominated both artistically and figuratively by its leading man Hunter -- was released as “Ian Hunter’s Dirty Laundry.”

The 12-track album features seven Hunter lead vocals (three solo compositions and four co-writes), two each from Bath and Plain and one from Steel.  The seven Hunter songs are a spotty bunch, but they have one thing going for them -- they sound more like classic Mott The Hoople than just about anything else he’s released in his entire solo career.  And why wouldn’t they be -- his nbtc__dv_250 Dirty Laundry crew were all big Mott fans.

“Dancing On The Moon” is pure silly fun, with the band playing it heavy and raw and clearly out to push one another and maybe even to pick Hunter up (though the too-loud-in-the-mix female backup vocalists, it must be said, are over the top).  The revved-up British-Invasion-times-Dylan pastiche “Another Fine Mess” -- referencing the famous Laurel & Hardy line -- is the closest Hunter comes to acknowledging his missing mate Ronson, with whom he issued YUI Orta -- referencing the Three Stooges line “Why you, I oughta…“ – in 1989.   “Scars” is a solid Hunter ballad, as is the closing “The Other Man,” though “Red Letter Days” feels rather predictable for a writer of his caliber.  And “Invisible Strings,” for all its energy, is not one of IH’s more impressive lyrics.

So how do the others in the band fare?  Bath’s “Never Trust A Blonde” is a blast and one of the most Mott-like tunes here, even if they took it a chorus past where they needed to.  The group-written “My Revolution” is another concoction containing a heavy dose of Mott in the way it surges and falls back, with nice Hammond work and a big, bold, theatrical feel to it.

Plain’s very fun “Psycho Girl” takes a Buddy Holly beat in a New Wave direction, while his “Good Girls” swerves into bar-band territory for a sweaty homage to “Peggie Sue, Maggie Mae, Sheila too” and all the other classic girl-songs of the 60s.  Bath’s “Everyone’s A Fool” is very, very, very Stonesy and sounds like fun, which is perhaps more than I can say for Steel’s “Junkee Love,” which tries to meld a rockabilly beat with snarly George Thorogood guitars and misfires.

In the end, this album racks up a lot of good songs, but no great ones.  Usually with Hunter you get a bunch of good ones and at least a couple of just unbelievably amazing ones.  The thing is, Hunter’s best tunes really matter, and these songs don’t.  He’s not digging deep, he’s just blowing off steam and learning how to enjoy making music again.  I mean, “Dancing On The Moon” -- how deep is that?  But it’s not supposed to be; it’s supposed to be a fun song to play, and it sounds like it probably is. 

The best thing you can say about this album is that Ian Hunter got through it.  He wasn’t done mourning Mick Ronson, but he was done with avoiding the recording studio.  He’d made another album, it wasn’t half bad, and it got the wheels moving again.  He was on a climb from here, and while Dirty Laundry was nowhere near the heights he would once again ascend to, this bout of musical therapy was a meaningful first step onward and upward. 

Rating: B

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