"It seems to take me about five years to get a record together, which is not a clever idea" - Ian Hunter
3000 Miles From Here is a short heartbreaking and most entrancing ballad then we get the insistent tour de force of The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nothin' But the Truth with a searing Ronson guitar solo. Despite that, though, it is probably a minute too long and is, when all is said and done a bit of an unremarkable song, if I'm honest. It Ain't Easy When You Fall/Shades Off is another classic Hunter rock ballad-anthem however, with an archetypal Hunter spoken bit at the end (the Shades Off poem) and the original album ends with the frantic, riff-driven rock of I Get So Excited. Great stuff. I was left very satisfied back then in spite of few comparatively ordinary-ish tracks
** The extras give you Colwater High and One Fine Day, both rockers which should have been included on the original album, I have to say. Both are reasonably short, so they should have fitted on with no problems. This album still sounds good today, although in other ways it is very much of its time. Maybe it is for that reason that I don't seem to play it much these days.
Restless Youth is a searing one-paced rocker about the mob. It is possibly the weakest of the eight tracks but it still rocks, though, with considerable muscle and the weakest track on this album would possibly a stronger one on other albums. The dramatic Rape is a tragic, shameful tale seen from the points of view of both the victim and the perpetrator. Clever. Hunter was extremely brave to tackle this sensitive subject and he, perhaps surprisingly, manages to carry it off. Hunter's old touring mates from Queen are on backing vocals for the unsurprisingly Queen-esque and overblown pomp of You Nearly Did Me In. The wordy Apathy 83 is an almost seventies-era Traffic meets Bob Dylan tour de force. The album concludes with the blatantly Dylanesque God (Take One) that sees Hunter railing at the almighty about their two lives and the conversations they have had. It is full of great lines, beginning with "God said to me 'I'm gonna kick your ass'...".
This remains, for me, one of the 1970s' best albums. I don't believe Hunter ever bettered this. I am probably in the minority with that opinion, as it happens, because many fans and critics alike prefer other albums, finding it too experimental or 'hit and miss' or something like that. Not me, I find it pretty much perfect from beginning to end.
Ian Hunter had teamed up with Mick Jones and Topper Headon from The Clash, as well as Mick Ronson on this album. By now ex-punks like Jones and Headon now freely admitted their love for Hunter. Four years earlier they would have been condemning him as being a "has been". I was never convinced by that, anyway, Jones always loved Mott the Hoople and he would never have dared to insult Hunter.
Theatre Of The Absurd is a favourite of mine. A shuffling cod-dub reggae number with some great dubby guitar lines and some "boing boinging" synth drum sounds back a great Hunter vocal. "There I was stuck in London, part of my history, it was just like being in school again, but I felt something moving in me..". Captivating lines from Hunter and listen carefully you can hear Mick Jones's backing vocals. That was the album's last great point. Leave Me Alone is a bit of a strange song, with Hunter putting on an odd croony deep voice over an upbeat, vaguely disco-style backing. It doesn't sound like Ian Hunter at all and the chorus is awful. Keep On Burning starts with a promising organ and guitar slow burn intro and a typical dignified, soulful Hunter vocal and you think "this is going to be a great one", with Hunter in Dylanesque-Steve Harley mode, and, to be fair, is is pretty good, almost anthemic in places. I am sort of reassessing it, it now sounds better than I remember it. It is spoilt by its frenetic, pace-changing, piano-boogie ending, which is completely needless and incongruous. Overall, this was a patchy album, and Hunter would not release any really good material for another fifteen years or so. Next up was a truly dreadful album - Hunter's nadir.
All Of The Good Ones Are Taken (1983)
By 1983, unfortunately, my musical love affair that had begun as a teenager with Mott The Hoople in 1972 was completely on the wane. The previous album had been patchy - half inspired, half poor - and this one was much, much worse. It reflected the absolute worst characteristics of eighties music in its grating, tinny, synthesiser-dominated sound and, to be honest it had nothing going for it at all. I remember hearing it in a record shop and just thinking “oh dear Ian, how has it come to this?”. Time hasn’t softened my stance either. It brings to mind The Clash's 1985 Cut The Crap album. Similar awful albums were put out at the time by The Rolling Stones (Dirty Work), Elton John (Leather Jackets) and Rod Stewart (Body Wishes and several more).
The opener, All Of The Good Ones Are Taken, is easily one of the better tracks, with a catchy melody and more guitar and drums than synths. Its cheery poppiness harks back slightly to Mott The Hoople's Roll Away The Stone. The song also appears as a bonus track in a slow version, which is ok too. The otherwise riffy and pounding Every Step Of The Way suffers in that it sounds dreadfully muffled and muddy. It is an ok rocker, however, despite that. The sound improves, thankfully, on the chunky and energetic Fun. The song is spoilt, though, by an awful chorus as Hunter enunciates "funnnn" in very hammy fashion and the fact that it just sounds dated, now and back in 1983 as well.
The new-wavey and honestly quite poor Speechless also suffers from a poor production. The vocals and synthy backing make it something of a relic of its time. One of Hunter's worst songs. It is a bit like The Rolling Stones' Shattered but not nearly as half-good as that one was. Death 'n' Glory Boys is a thoroughly unremarkable chugger. At times when listening to this album I can't really believe it is Ian Hunter. Its bloody awful in comparison to most of his other work. As for That Girl Is Rock 'n' Roll - oh dear. Sub-T. Rex rhyming lyrics and synths turned up to the max reach another new low. Now the sound quality is down again on the slightly McCartney-esque Something's Goin' On. It doesn't really matter as it's another clunker.
The dreadfully-titled (another T. Rex thing) Captain Void 'n' The Video Jets is eminently forgettable while the once more muffled Seeing Double is a reasonable ballad enhanced by some fine saxophone from The E St. Band's Clarence Clemons. Along with the title track it is probably the album's best song on what was a tragically underpar album. Hunter’s worst by a country mile.
* The bonus track, Traitor, a vaguely funky rock slow-paced number, is better than most of the material on the actual album, although its rap section is pretty dire.
The Artful Dodger (1997)
This is a relatively good album that suffers from a bit of a muddy production (as quite a few of Hunter's albums have done, unfortunately) but that doesn't disguise the fact that there are some great songs on here. Some really moving ones too.
Too Much is a brooding, sombre opener with an evocative, quiet vocal. Hunter's voice is starting to sound somewhat old and shaky now, in that sort of adds to the song's pathos. It was an odd choice to begin the album with, I have to say. Now Is The Time is also a low-key, laid-back number with a slow, shuffling backing. Something To Believe In gets Hunter's rock juices flowing a bit on a typical mid-pace organ and guitar-driven Dylanesque number. It is one of the best ones on here. Resurrection Mary is in the same vein too and is also impressive. Laid-back but powerful. Walk On Water is a fine, riffy rocker but it suffers slightly from a muddy production.
Now come two really good ones - the urgent, oh so typically glorious, uplifting Hunter rock of 23a Swan Hill and the heartbreaking tribute to old mate Mick Ronson, Michael Picasso, a song so sad that I simply can't bear to listen to it. Open Your Eyes is an understated but attractive slow number with Hunter once more sounding very quietly emotional. The Artful Dodger is a muscular Stonesy rocker blighted by some hammy lyrics and vocal delivery. Hunter tries (and fails) to re-create the "'ello" intro to Once Bitten Twice Shy. Skeletons (In Your Closet) has a strange sort of jazzy vibe backing and uses more theatrical cockney-style vocals. In places it is unfortunately quite awful. These latter two have lowered the overall quality of the album. The ballad Still The Same redeems that, however, as does an even better slowie in the moving Fuck It Up, a song that defies its vulgar title and chorus. As I said, there is some good stuff on this album, but mainly in its first half.
Shrunken Heads (2007)
This is a little mentioned album in the canon of Ian Hunter’s work, but it is a really good one, and puts several earlier ones to shame, particularly All Of The Good Ones Are Taken (admittedly that one was from nearly twenty-five years previous).
Words (Big Mouth) is a nice, organ-powered piece of archetypal Dylanesque Hunter. His voice sounds even older, but its croakiness adds to the appeal, rather in the same way that Dylan's did as it aged. This is a really good track, featuring some solid guitar. It is one of those later-era Hunter songs that I like a lot. Fuss About Nothin' rocks in a riffy Tom Petty style and When The World Was Round is an appealing slower song with one of those programmed "contemporary" backings to it. Brainwashed is a somewhat raucous, punky rocker. Hunter has always had the ability to pen a hard-hitting, cynical but attractive ballad and he certainly does this here on the lengthy Shrunken Heads, putting his heart and soul into it, as well as some typical piano-pounding near the end, sounding like Mott The Hoople circa 1971.
Soul Of America is another great later-era Hunter rocker, with pounding drums and infectious harmonica together with lyrics on one of his favourite subjects - the history of America. This really is a corker of a track. Hunter at his best. How’s Your House is a big, clunky heavy piece of granite-hard rock. Guiding Light is another of those typical Hunter slow rock numbers while Stretch rocks solidly, as also does the country-ish fun of I Am What I Hated When I Was Young. The album ends with the plaintive evocative Read ‘Em And Weep. Hunter does sad songs like this so well.
Man Overboard (2009)
The Great Escape is a robust acoustically-driven with a bit of a feel of Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions about it. It does sort of fizzle out at the end, though. Arms And Legs is the sort of song that has populated Hunter’s albums since 1997 - songs with vague hints of Dylan and Springsteen and a harmonica-driven slow but solid roadhouse-ish sound. You know it when you hear it. Up And Running is more of a thumping rocker with one of those catchy choruses Hunter often comes up with. There are a few moments on every Hunter album that just make me feel warmly affectionate to him and realise why have stuck with him for fifty years. The atmospheric and uplifting Man Overboard is one of those occasions.
Babylon Blues is another rousing tub-thumper and Girl From The Office is quirkily amusing. Flowers is both catchy and cynical although Feelings is pleasant enough but ultimately less memorable. The same can be said about Win It All, although it is plaintively sad-sounding. The album has tailed off a bit with these few slower numbers, joined by the melodic but low-key Way With Words but it ends on a high point with another of Hunter’s American history songs in the wonderful River Of Tears, a song based around the struggles of Native Americans. This is one of my favourite latter-day Hunter songs. While this was a good album, it was more understated than its predecessor. They both have good points, but overall I prefer the more consistent, rocking Shrunken Heads.
What For is a typical Hunter rocker - riffy and taking no prisoners. "I'll give you what for..." he barks, evoking an old fifties-sixties saying. Black Tears is a potentially impressive ballad a bit overwhelmed by its chorus, not unlike the way Fatally Flawed was also, well, a bit "flawed". Saint is a good one, acoustic and electric guitars merging well on this slightly country-ish rocker. Just The Way You Look Tonight is up there with the title track in that it gives us one of those magic Hunter moments - "Julie Christie jaw - full of them pearly whites...". Another of those classic lines he keeps coming up with. It has a great hook to it and an anthemic feel all over it. Wild Bunch is a Stonesy, riffy rocker that would have made a good Mott The Hoople track. There is excellent rollicking piano from Hunter here, too.
Fingers Crossed (2016)
Stranded In Reality begins with some very U2-ish guitar and a rhythmic bass line. It has a great backing but the song itself is just a bit so-so. You Can't Live In The Past, Ian tells us on the next track, played over a late seventies Police-style white reggae groove. The thing I love about Ian Hunter albums is that they allow me to live totally in the past. "You can never go back.." sings Hunter, as I sit here getting extremely nostalgic just listening to him. His voice, the way he delivers the songs, it just takes me straight back to the mid-seventies. Long Time is a lively, folky romp of a singalong number to end on. Again, it is drenched in nostalgia. Thanks for the great trip, Ian.