Sunday, 28 October 2018
Ian Hunter - Short Back 'N' Sides (1981)
Released in 1981
Having bought this album excitedly upon day of release, back in 1981, I have always had a mixed opinion of it. Some of it is superb, some decidedly ordinary.
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. The album starts with one of my favourite Hunter solo songs of all time - the vibrant, rocking "Central Park And West", which has a killer opening riff and some great Hunter vocals. "I Need Your Love" is a saxophone and guitar-driven, Springsteen-esque singalong number. "Lisa Likes Rock 'n' Roll" was written for Mick Ronson's then young daughter. It is a fine song for a four-year old, but it doesn't really cut it as a copper-bottomed Hunter rocker. It is ok, I suppose, with its Bo Diddley rhythms, and there are some mildly amusing lyrics.
Nobody does an evocative, heart-rending rock ballad like Ian Hunter and he gives us a classic here in "Old Records Never Die", written in the wake of John Lennon's death. It does not directly mention him, but when you know the subject matter, it makes a moving song even more poignant. It has a killer sliding guitar riff which makes the song, as well as some fetching violin from Tymon Dogg (who featured on The Clash's "Sandinsta!"). "Noises" is a strange, experimental track and in many ways it is pretty pointless. It has a funky, rocking beat when it eventually gets going, but it goes on for over five minutes not really getting anywhere, with Hunter griping about noises, often in spoken passages, a bit like Mick Jagger on 1983's "Too Much Blood". There is some brief interesting, Mike Garson-ish piano, but not enough to really rescue it.
"Rain" actually follows the same sort of pattern - an extended number with Hunter's vocals semi-spoken over a chugging beat. This one has a slightly more appealing instrumental backing, however, and, due to that, is far more attractive as a track. "Take your washing off the line...it's gonna rain" beseeches Hunter. It is no work of genius, but has an odd appeal. "Gun Control" is more of the solidly rocking Hunter we have come to expect. A throbbing bass line powers a cynical song about the "gun lobby" movement in the USA. It could be interpreted as Hunter supporting the movement, but in fact he is singing wryly from their point of view.
"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.
- October 28, 2018