Ian Hunter Never Left the Building

14 10 2012

Ian Hunter was the rock guy who had the strength, the wits, and empathy to wrap a listener in his genuine concern for how you were. He was always on your side, and despite an absence that turns out to not be an absence at all, he’s still standing up and in for the normal folks. 

He’s always been a wordy lyricist, a parallel to Bob Dylan who weaves beautiful stories that no one understands. Hunter is very clear about his subject and his allegiances. That’s not changed from the Mott the Hoople explosion of 1972, when David Bowie threw a scrap to a band he liked, something to cash in on in order to stay in a game the band had been slowly losing over four thundering, little known albums.

It didn’t matter because life for Mott actually began with All the Young Dudes.

The Bowie dividend was huge and the band didn’t waste the opportunity to improve itself, slinging three classic rock records in a row. The Hoople was the last great Mott recording. Hunter didn’t waste a moment in bouncing back with a strong self-titled record that made Mott’s passing easier to take.

Hunter still sings in his own accent, reminding everyone that he, and Mott, are English eccentrics who followed the music and did exactly what they wanted at the time. The phoniness level is and was always remarkably low. He genuinely would have liked to have been your mother.

He’s there still, putting out albums quietly, steadily, keeping the pedal on quality since the mid ’90s. The newest is When I’m President, which is as good as anything he’s done. This one’s also getting way more attention anything of his in the past 15 years. He’s the same; it’s just his time. Again.

And he’s still funny. Being 73 hasn’t slowed him much, seemingly. Here he is kicking it back and forth five years ago with fellow Brit expat Craig Ferguson: 

In 2004, a time of relative obscurity for him, was still a time to talk at length. This 2004 interview shows why he’s a great raconteur and would likely be a better memoirist than many of his contemporaries, Pete Townsend included, unfortunately. Part 2 is right here.

Cleveland looms large in Hunter’s legend. In the early ’70s, the gritty port city had as hip of an audience as you would find anywhere, with a stonkin’, no playlists allowed radio station, WMMS, boosting the careers of many non-US bands, including Mott, Bowie,  Brian Eno, Roxy Music, Jim Capaldi, and Jack Bruce. None of this was lost on Hunter, who loved the town and the people. He wrote Cleveland Rocks to prove it. In this 2008 interview in Cleveland, he mentions MMS and why the city truly mattered.

Here’s a  grainy version of All the Way from Memphis by “The Hoople” band, last Mott mach led by Hunter. The change in guitarists made the band louder, loonier, better: It was the final hot tour of a four-year hot streak.

In 2009, Mott reunited for a series of London-only shows, which were well attended and well critiqued. The adoration of the audience is clear in this encore, Roll Away the Stone/All the Young Dudes. The band’s mutual feeling for the song, the audience, the moment is just as clear. Magic. The footage is from a handheld and the audio is dense, but it’s still magic.

The Ian Hunter blog is updated monthly and reverently. Bookmark and read it from here. 

If you haven’t listened in decades, and you’re still in the majority, then open this discography from AllMusic, close your eyes, choose a title, and enjoy knowing you’re getting a winner whether you know the release or not. Your mother would approve.

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Oldstuff & Oldfellows

3 10 2012

Thirty years ago recorded music fans were liberated from vinyl by the CD player. The Atlantic magazine looks back with care on the digital revolution here.

Some analogers never left, some drifted then returned, many still fly the flag of  warm sound and vow to never change. In exchange for all that clarity and warmth, they get skips, pops, warps, amps, pre-amps, cartridge replacements, and gatefolds. The clarity and warmth is all a matter of preference and there’s no good reason to stand in the way of those who staunchly defend analog, especially Neil Young, who claims to have found analog aesthetics in a download. That’s the grail, along with his electric car, the Lincvolt.

Out There is a fan of both.

Vinyl’s downsides rarely are mentioned: wooden recordings with little depth and a lot of flipping of discs after 15 to 20 minutes coupled with a lot of trouble finding a middle track with a clumsy hand and tonearm. Let’s also not forget hauling peach crates around.

Highly refined analogers claim we’ve plunged into an era of unprecedented audio chaos. Picky, picky, picky.

CDs have plenty of their own problems: the sound is often jagged and thin, and the packaging is a definite downgrade from the mighty gatefold. Buy a few CDs and they take over a shelf. Buy a few box sets and there goes a wall. Then the whole room is swallowed, destroying the Scandinavian ambience that once soothed your inner neat freak’s soul. But the upsides are truly up: longer playing times, few if any skips, ease of track jumping, smaller storage space.

This is all going the way of the buggy whip due to downloading. No storage, no need to keep unwanted tracks or even to buy entire albums, no need to go anywhere to buy anything. Heck, why buy anything at all because evidently the vast majority of it is free.

The eardrum thin mp3, the audio equivalent of a Polaroid, will disappear one day in the near future, replaced by downloads that will have full CD clarity and if Neil Young has his way the analog sound will be tossed in for good measure. When those days arrive, maybe the mp3, vinyl and digital tribes will forgo their differences and gather happily together again.

Ian Hunter has survived format changes and continues to thrive. He went off the radar for about 10 seconds when Mott the Hoople broke up in the mid ’70s. Drifted off it again when he went solo, then again when he sang the praises of Cleveland. Did folks still love him when a hair metal band made Once Bitten Twice Shy an enormous hit? Did anyone mention his name when Drew Carey covered him? No, but his shadow lingered. Those years in between, even for fans, leading up to a few months ago when he began to be interviewed in the British press and retrospectives of his last 15 years popped up, were not silent but certainly not high profile. He has actually been making great recordings in that time, a string of discs that few bought and most didn’t know about.

But his recent release, When I’m President, is changing that. The 73-year-old Brit who lives in America is out there without a cane and playing live. As with anything he’s done, he’s done it better than most. He’s an underrated lyricist, a literate man in an often illiterate genre, and it’s a pleasure to not only see his profile deservedly raised once again but to see him celebrated for the treasure that he is.

The Rolling Stones have been around so long that it’s easy to take them for granted. Even a milestone like having been (sort of) together for 50 years comes off like a shrug. The group is reuniting for some sort of public performance in the coming year, but no one’s saying much about it. There is a new greatest hits coming out that will have two new songs on it, much like the five new songs 10 years ago on 40 Licks.

The Stones have begun one of the dopiest marketing campaigns ever to commemorate the package and anniversary. It also will have another hagiographic documentary on HBO soon.

And will Out There miss any of it? Probably not. Aging well is a progressive act and the Stones have always confounded expectations when it comes to maturing. Can’t wait to see how it all comes out.