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Ian Hunter
Columbia PC 33480
Released: May 1975
Chart Peak: #50
Weeks Charted: 14

Ian HunterIan Hunter seems to have reached that point in his life and career where he feels the need to talk to the listener directly: He begins his first solo album with a spoken "Hallo" and toward the close of the LP takes over from the music altogether to read what sounds like a late-night page from some haunted diary. All of this is not surprising, given Hunter's recent sudden departure from Mott the Hoople, a concurrent nervous breakdown, the formation of a partnership and new band with Mick Ronson and the highly confessional nature of many of his later Mott songs. "Sea Diver," "Hymn for the Dudes," "Ballad of Mott the Hoople" and the extraordinary "I Wish I Was Your Mother" are works so drenched in introspection and relative defeat that it is no wonder he has to talk about it.

After a singular lack of commercial success with their four Atlantic albums (Mott the Hoople, Mad Shadows, Wildlife and Brain Capers), many wondered what could be left for an obviously talented but troubled band that, up until this point, had not shown the stability to concentrate their strengths into a coherent whole. If all things come to those who wait, the Hoople have surely paid their dues; and the answer came with careful reevaluation, a label change and -- most importantly -- David Bowie, who took over from Guy Stevens as the group's producer. Bowie immediately channeled Hunter and Mick Ralph's rock & roll chaos into constructive, comprehensible musical energy, arranged and tightened their songs, had them record Lou Reed's classic "Sweet Jane" and wrote a hit single with them -- the title song on Columbia's All the Young Dudes. Fame came but it was apparently a case of too much too late.

Ian Hunter - Ian Hunter
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"Sea Diver," Hunter's final song on Dudes and one of his most telling, could serve as a primer for the heavy concern with the meaningless of success, which compromises much of Mott, the band's self-produced sixth LP. The singer's heartbreaking depiction of an almost untenable position -- "I'm like a sea diver/ Who's lost in space/ Oh Lord, I wish I could escape this iron veil/ Ride on, my son.../ Ride until you fail" -- leads him, in "Ballad of Mott," to question the validity of the whole "rock & roll circus": "You know all the tales we tell/ And still I feel somehow we let you down." On Mott, Hunter seems to feel about rock & roll as a moth does about a flame:


Rock 'n' roll's a loser's game
It mesmerizes and I can't explain
The reasons for the sights and for the sounds
The greasepaint still sticks to my face
So what the hell? I can't erase
The rock & roll feeling from my mind

Fully half the album's songs reflect a growing dissatisfaction with his and the group's profession. The LP closes with what is arguably the high point of the writer's career, "I Wish I Was Your Mother," a love song so emotionally powerful and unique it defies any satisfactory summation. The outlook is bleak, however. "Is there a happy ending?" Hunter asks. His answer, "I don't think so."

If Hunter reached his peak thematically, musically and lyrically on All the Young Dudes and Mott, two of the greatest LPs in rock & roll history, he does not fall very far below it on his initial solo effort. The Hunter/Ronson production is spare and muscular, Ronson picking his holes with care, pile driving the guitars and relying on few overdubs. Ian Hunter lacks the calculated, tragic/triumphant, guitar-textured majesty of the aforementioned classics but its crafty fusion of often foreboding, straight-ahead rock & roll with tense, exhilarating songs of self-redemption carries a considerable, rogue Lazarus charm of its own. Perhaps psychologically wary, the singer mesmerizes but does not always explain, sometimes preferring to keep a careful esthetic boundary between himself and feelings that may run too dangerously deep. Thus, the album begins with Hunter in a casual, untroubled pose, the "Once Bitten Twice Shy" lover dealing cannily with women ("Who Do You Love," "Lounge Lizard") in three terrific, basically nonserious rock & roll songs.

But Hunter was always more concerned with philosophy than sex, with his own perceptions of the world rather than the world itself. In "Boy" he discards Dionysian revelry for Apollonian self-examination and the mood quickly darkens: "Genocidal tendencies are quite silly to extreme.../ Boy, you're getting out of hand." The singer's predicament worsens ("You're number one and your hands are shaking") and Hunter implores, in a case of remarkable musical self-therapy, "Stand and deliver.../ Shoot a rocket clean out of your brain," i.e., if one has the courage to take an impossible risk, one may realize one's goals -- an altogether different conclusion from that of "Sea Diver" and most of the early songs.

Side two opens with two unhappy love songs -- an acoustic, Dylanesque ballad, "3000 Miles from Here," and a real slammer, "The Truth, the Whole Truth, Nuthin' but the Truth" -- but the anxiety level has been lowered again. "It Ain't Easy When You Fall" is reminiscent of both "The Journey" and "Boy." The singer tries to same someone -- a friend? himself? -- and once again deploys the somewhat evangelical strategy of the latter song, everything building into an uplifting, one-must-not-fail crescendo before Hunter pulls the plug ("But now it's too late") and starts reading a macabre page from that late night diary ("Shades Off"):

For it never was easy to live with a head
So I've kept to the back room and live there instead
It is here I see pictures, my madness is clear
And there's no longer logic and therefore no fear
And I'm almost dead with uncontrollable light
Sometimes when I've written a song -- it's alright

From this stark poetry, Hunter moves into the exuberant, Slade-like "I Get So Excited" an the singer's salvation through rock & roll is apparently complete. But only apparently. "Get off of your past," he exhorts himself but the joyful raucousness of the music shifts suddenly from a mood of outrageous contentment into one of encapsulating terror. Things are frantically, ominously out of control and the LP ends with some omniscent power savagely cutting short the last song in midchord frenzy.

If the spiritual odyssey of Ian Hunter has produced a slightly schizophrenic album -- part rock & roll, part psychological pep talk (but "Once Bitten, "Boy," "It Ain't Easy" and "So Excited" are near masterpieces) -- one can be thankful his intelligence has not waned and he is still mining the vein of his richest subject matter: himself. He still gets excited, not matter the cost, and Ian Hunter would seem to be well worth it. Best of luck to him.

- Paul Nelson, Rolling Stone, 6/19/75.

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Former Mott The Hoople lead singer ventures out on his own with some help from Mick Ronson and comes up with a set of the good old rock and roll he's most skilled at. There are also a few ventures into an area that might best be called "weirdness," but the strongest things are the cuts that find Hunter sticking to his basic sound. A few things here that sound like early Mott, particularly the "Half Moon Bay" period. Good production from Hunter and Ronson, with nothing overproduced. And a return in spots to the Dylan-esque vocals that Hunter has used from time to time. LP as a whole is a bit better than the past few. Best cuts: "Once Bitten Twice Shy," "Who Do You Love," "It Ain't Easy When You Fall," "Shades Off," "I Get So Excited."

- Billboard, 1975.

"Once Bitten Twice Shy" and "I Get So Excited" are rockers as primo as any but the greatest Mott the Hoople songs, and as a bonus the latter is about something besides rock and roll. Hunter and coproducer Mick Ronson's passion for that subject is justified by the rest of the music, even the poetry-with-rock episode. But Ian should remember that it's a mighty long way down rock and roll, because as your name gets hot your heart gets cold. Then your name gets cold. B

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

A spotty debut, but "Once Bitten Twice Shy," "Who Do You Love," and "I Get So Excited" rank with the best Mott The Hoople material. * * * *

- John Floyd, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

On his solo debut, Ian Hunter, Hunter sounds like a man with something to prove and comes out gangbusters with "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," "Who Do You Love" and the expansive tone poem "Boy." * * * *

- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

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