Respectful Insolence

It should come as no surprise that I’m a bit of a rock critic wannabe and have been for a long time. Indeed, very early on in my blogging, I did a “top ten” list for the best music of 2004. As far back as high school, I wrote a couple of music reviews that, in retrospect, weren’t very good. Fast forward over 25 years later, and what makes me think I could do better now?

Nothing, really, but it’s my blog and I feel like indulging my rock critic fantasies today. Besides, if I totally suck at it, you know that tomorrow I’ll just go back to doing what I do best–until the next time the critic wannabe urge strikes. So what is Orac listening to these days?

i-5e53aba20add3da76f8cb3104eec21cf-512gsdVnziL._AA240_.jpgIan Hunter has always been one of my favorite rockers, someone who deserved more success than he ever actually attained. Whether he was with Mott The Hoople or solo, he had an ear for a sharp lyric and even sharper hooks. Like many peformers whose heyday was the 1970s, he pretty much faded into oblivion by the mid-1980s, after a string of sub-par albums. Most such performers stay in oblivion. In essence, so did Ian Hunter. His latest CDs aren’t exactly big sellers.

But they’re some of the best stuff he’s done in his career.

Let’s face it. Rock music for the most part is a young person’s game. Few are the performers who can keep rocking convincingly well into their 60’s, and fewer still are those who can not only keep performing but also continue to write good music. Bob Dylan comes to mind, with his late career renaissance. The Rolling Stones sort of come to mind with their return to form, A Bigger Bang, but even with that album most of their output over the last 15 years or so has simply just not been that good, leaving them to be primarily an oldies act, where they trot out their old hits to adoring audiences for large sums of money.

So how to explain Ian Hunter, who is now 68 years old?

I recently picked up Hunter’s latest CD, Shrunken Heads. I was wondering if he would be able to match or exceed his 2001 masterpiece Rant. Rant is an album that truly lived up to its name with wonderfully cantankerous and impassioned songs that are by turns rants, wistful, defiant, sarcastic, and sometimes just straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll. Wash Us Away and Death of a Nation pined for an England that never really was while Ripoff bemoaned what it had become, while songs like Morons and Purgatory gleefully attacked the hypocrisy and stupidity that Hunter saw everywhere, the latter to a funky bass line. Combining classic 1970’s rock with British invasion pop, with folk-rock troubadour echoes, Rant was arguably one of Ian Hunter’s two or three best works ever. Not bad for a an old dude (as opposed to a young dude), indeed.

i-646dea5a5b9013c7b81e23ebb853383e-41GFVW6JBQL._AA240_.jpgIt becomes obvious that Shrunken Heads is in essence Rant II, and that’s not a bad thing at all. In fact it’s a very good thing indeed. The same pristine production is there, as are the lyrical flourishes. The sarcasm has been toned down a bit, while in some songs the piano comes to the forefront more than any time since All The Way to Memphis, to the point where parts of the title track definitely reminded me of Tumbleweed Connection era Elton John.

Like Rant, Shrunken Heads ranks among the best work Ian Hunter has ever done. Taking the best elements of his 1970s oeuvre and expanding on them, with guest appearances by Jeff Tweedy and Soozie Tyrell. Opening with the biting Words (Big Mouth), Hunter pleads with a woman not to leave, admitting that he has a big mouth and that it’s the booze talking. From the personal, Hunter moves to the political, with Brainwashed, Shrunken Heads, and Soul of America, in essence a trilogy lamenting the state of affairs in the U.S. and the world today, throwing in the pointed How’s Your House?, which wonders how the response to hurricane Katrina could have been so anemic. Through it all, Hunter rocks hard, sings hard, infuses the ballads with wistful emotion, and maintains a self-deprecating sense of humor best exemplified in I Am What I Hated When I Was Young:

Well I don’t follow any trend
I don’t sulk for hours on end
I don’t wanna reach out ‘n’ punch someone
I am what I hated when I was young
I don’t wear designer clothes
I ain’t got pins in my nose
I ain’t got a tattoo on my bum
I am what I hated when I was young

Poverty was a wonderful thing everyone enjoyed
We were eatin’ grass not smokin’ it
Wasn’t like this when I was a boy
Wasn’t like this when I was a boy

Yeah, I feel your pain, Ian.

Ian Hunter has described Shrunken Heads as “the American Rant,” and that it is. Perhaps it takes an Englishman to see what’s right under our noses. At times rocking, rollicking, sad, frustrated, and wistful, it’s definitely one of the best albums released thus far in 2007 and has a good chance of ending up at the top of my yearly Top Ten list for 2007.

Not bad for a guy pushing 70. He’s old enough to be the grandfather of some of the kids out there who can’t write songs half as good or rock half as hard. Here’s hoping Hunter keeps rocking until he’s 100.

Comments

  1. #1 Brian W.
    July 4, 2007

    he gets bonus cool points in my book for being on the Yep Roc record label. Lots of my favorite bands are on Yep Roc, such as Rev. Horton Heat, The Sadies, Southern Culture On The Skids, Los Straitjackets and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers

  2. #2 notmercury
    July 5, 2007

    I’ll have to check it out. You’ve turned me on to some pretty good stuff before with your music posts.

    I checked my iPod and the only Ian Hunter I have on there is “We gotta get out of here” with an Ellen Foley cameo. I always liked her voice but she looked and sounded like a girlfriend I had in the 80’s always nagging me to dance, (NO!)dance, (NO!) dance, dance, dance…

    I guess you’d have to know the song.

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