Many moons ago, I was a huge fan of Ian Hunter – from his days with Mott the Hoople and through the early days of his ensuing solo career. But following the release of his 1983 album, ‘All The Good Ones Are Taken,’ he effectively took a ten-year hiatus from making music until shaken back into action by the death of his long-time friend and collaborator (and former Spider From Mars) Mick Ronson.
Unfortunately from my point of view, it was a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ and I effectively took a twenty-year hiatus from the music of Ian Hunter! (Shame on me, I know!)
In recent years though, I have dipped in and out of his more recent work, but while I still enjoyed it, for me it was (certainly the bits I heard) were a bit on the downbeat side. But Ian reassures me (through the Press Release … it’s not as if we’re best buddies / buddies / he even knows me!) that
“.. the songs seem more upbeat this time round”
So, until now my rather selective memory always reverts to the Mott / Bowie-esque sounds of the Seventies when thought turns to Ian Hunter.
Not any more though – ‘When I’m President’ is a real ‘dirty’ R&B (in the proper sense of the expression) rock album. It’s also pretty varied in mood and style – especially in the vocal department.
I think it’s important to highlight for people like me that this is not a sort of reincarnation of the Mott the Hoople sound. There are little flashes, granted; especially so when the saxophone gets involved in the more rocking numbers, and in particular at the very end of the opening track ‘Comfortable (Flyin’ Scotsman) which is a dead ringer to the close of ‘The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” All that’s missing is the latter’s little piano roll – but my somewhat anally retentive memory inserts it anyway!
That particular track is one of the strongest on the album. Initially I had a problem with the vocals ‘scanning’ and it seemed as if they were hurriedly crammed in, but the more I listen, the better it sounds. ‘Fatally Flawed’ is the first of a few tracks where I hear Ian’s vocals take the form of another. In this case, he sounds rather like a Bob Dylan / Keith Richards hybrid. It’s a rasping drawl, sounding ever so slightly flat (in a good way) in parts. The song itself is slower than the opener, but erupts briefly at the mid-point before reverting to its original form.
‘When I’m President’ is like a soft-rock pop song. The vocals are still slightly rasping and the backing harmonies really strong and warm. You know (and I mean this as a compliment) if this were recorded by someone like Boyzone, then it’d be getting loads of airplay and shifting plenty copy.
‘What For,’ sees Ian back on the Rock vibe. It opens in a Rolling Stones style and kicks its way through four and a half minutes of good old-fashioned R&B with great guitar, pounding drums, bar-room piano and gang backing vocals.
‘Black Tears,’ pares back on the pace and is a soulful, bluesy number, before it’s all cranked up a notch again with ‘Saint.’ I can’t help thinking of John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp when I hear this one. (Just as well that I like him, then.)
‘Just The Way You Look Tonight,’ has a bit of a folk-rock feel at the opening with the mandolin to the fore and the gently rocking rhythm. Yeah – there’s definitely a touch of Americana about this one, and it sounds so familiar! (I’m no Bruce Springsteen fan, but it could bear some fleeting similarities to ‘Glory Days.’ Don’t shoot me though …..) Whatever, this song comes complete with added handclaps and is a prime sing-a-long candidate.
The feel-good, rock ‘n’ roll mood continues with the bar-room stomper, ‘Wild Bunch’ – a song that would not be out of place in a Faces anthology. There then follows the brilliant and inspired ‘Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse.) Tashunka Witco was the Sioux Chief more famously known as Crazy Horse, and this track takes the form of a Native Indian chant, with the deep tom drums echoing the beats of the American West. It’s all very atmospheric, and is one of those songs that actually force you to stop what you’re doing and actively listen to the music and lyrics. (For those of you into your British Blues artists, I think the vocals here, because they are more rasping than on the other tracks, sound a little like Glasgow’s Dave Arcari.)
‘I Don’t Know What You Want,’ features a guest vocal from Ian’ son Jesse, and is another of those excellent, dirty, blues-rock numbers that sounds like a really tight jam that’s just been accidentally captured when someone forgot to switch the ‘record’ button off! Brilliant!
‘Life’ closes the album in a bit of an introspective mood – and this time there are shades of the Mott days. Think along the feel of ‘Ballad of Mott,’ and you won’t be far away. Ah … the memories come flooding back!
You may have guessed by now that I like this one!? Damnn right!
Class never fades!
(‘When I’m President’ is released through Proper records on September 4th 2012)
(10 / 10)