At the age of seventy-seven a lot of rock stars are thinking of putting their feet up, having their slippers brought to them and settling into their favorite rocking chairs. Not Mr. Ian Hunter. The chair has been chopped up for more firewood and the slippers have been thrown in the general direction of anything that draws his scorn.
During the Eighties and early Nineties Ian Hunter’s career, whilst not shuddering to a halt entirely, did slightly hit the doldrums. But the tragic death of his long time friend, sideman and partner-in-crime Mick Ronson in 1993 inspired Hunter to not waste his talent but instead share it willingly with the world. In his own words, he decided to “charge ahead”.
Things really kicked into gear with the arrival of John Mellencamp’s guitarist Andy York, acting as a sort of musical director. The creative juices started to flow again and the albums, probably the highest quality of his career, started pouring out. It started with the splendid “Rant” in 2001 and continued with “Shrunken Heads” in 2007, “Man Overboard” in 2009, and “When I’m President” in 2012.
Between all this Ian Hunter toured constantly with his group, The Rant Band, and twice reformed Mott the Hoople, once in 2009 for five sold-out shows at the Hammersmith Odeon (or whatever moniker they have given that building these days. Always be the Hammy Odeon to us of a certain age) and then again for a tour of the UK in 2013. Now we get the cherry on top of the rock cake, the album “Fingers Crossed” in 2016.
There’s no need for crossed fingers literally on this occasion as this is a sure fire hit recording and it’s difficult to choose which song will get the most radio play. The album kicks off in fine style with “That’s when the Trouble Starts” – a cautionary tale to the callow youths of today starting out in the world of rock and roll, with all its pitfalls and unscrupulous management.
The music rattles along at a fair pace with long time drummer Steve Holley keeping the beat while the twin guitars of James Mastro and Mark Bosch put up that wall of sound favored by Ian Hunter and his Rant Band. Paul Page has the bass notes down most precisely and Dennis DiBrizzi is a class act on keyboards, switching between piano and the heavier organ depending upon the song’s need. It’s Dibrizzi’s first album with Ian Hunter and the Rant Band and a source close to the group told us that he was glad to finally make an album with them as it made him feel more part of the family.
Second track up is the most talked about one on the album, “Dandy”. This is Ian Hunter’s tribute to David Bowie who sadly passed away last year. Of course Hunter and Mott the Hoople owed Bowie a huge debt of thanks as he gave them their breakthrough hit in 1972 with “All The Young Dudes”. Sadly Hunter and Bowie had not been in close touch for over forty years, so to keep things in perspective Hunter wrote “Dandy” from a young fan’s perspective, with Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars era. The song, with its lead guitar riff, sweeping choruses and spoken outro could easily be a follow up to “All The Young Dudes”. It’s a track that is going to become a ‘must play’ in every future Ian Hunter live set list.
Moving further along and “Ghosts” was inspired by Ian and the band going down and jamming in the old Sun Recording Studios in Memphis while the title track is written about a British seaman press ganged into the Royal Navy in the 1750s, the lyrics reflecting his desperate desire to survive and it is certainly the album’s emotional high point.
Other subjects covered on the album are very eclectic: “Bow Street Runners” is inspired by London’s first police force while “White House” is an amusing poke at the pornography scene, rather than at the current political goings on in America.
My personal favorite is “Stranded in Reality”, a mid tempo rocker with the tongue placed firmly in cheek for the opening lines: “I bought my spaceship second hand. Should have known better, now the steering is jammed and I’m looking for somewhere to land”.
Another track “Morpheus” grabs inspiration from the dreams invading a Greek god while on the smoldering “You Can’t Live In the Past”, Hunter even brings into focus his own age, striking out with the lines, “You can never go back, those days are gone, you gotta’ move on”. The album romps to a fitting end with a proper blast through “Long Time”, Hunter looking back on his heroes of rock and roll from his teenage years.
There is one more track, “Seein’ Red” (called the Incentive Track) and you only get it if you buy the full album package with all the bells and whistles. To be honest it’s a bit of a throw away acoustic number.
It’s been a busy last 12 months for Ian Hunter and the Rant Band, with a world tour being undertaken and a 30 (yes, that’s right 30) disc/CD collection that was released in October last year and titled “Stranded in Reality”. It includes all his solo work since leaving Mott the Hoople in 1974 plus a swathe of out-takes, alternative recordings, rare songs, promotional DVD’s and recordings of concerts from down the years. You also get a signed portrait, books, posters and more. At just under two hundred and fifty pounds sterling it’s really something you would want as a birthday gift or in your Christmas stocking!
Apparently this collection has been limited strictly to 2,500 boxes (are there that many Ian Hunter fans with nothing better to do with their money?) The box set was preceded by an EP of 7 songs on a CD called “Sampling in Reality”.
But back to the album under review “Fingers Crossed”, and this stellar offering is unlikely to be the last you hear of the unstoppable force that is Ian Hunter.
That’s When The Trouble Starts
Bow Street Runners
Stranded in Reality
Living in the Past
Seein’ Red (Incentive Track)
(Written by Hells Bells and Mott The Dog).