[Release Date 16.09.16]
The loss of so many of rock’s greats in 2016 reminds us that we should cherish those still left from the golden generation, particularly those who still have something to say. Ian Hunter falls into this category, not least because he is one of the oldest at a sprightly 77, and because he has never been afraid to plough his own musical furrow or tackle a variety of subjects.
I expected ‘Fingers Crossed’, his first new album in four years and with his long-serving Rant Band, might include some caustic observations on the ever mad state of our world, not least as previous albums have gone by the title of ‘Rant’ and ‘When I’m President’, but instead he chooses a variety of historical and more personal themes.
Having already penned the classic ‘Michael Picasso’ as a requiem for Mick Ronson, it is inevitable that most media focus will be on ‘Dandy’, his tribute to David Bowie- the man who gave Mott the Hoople their commercial breakthrough. As well as numerous lyrical references to his music and personas, the music is a very effective pastiche of Ronson-era Bowie and Mott the Hoople with his mockney vocal delivery and melancholic melodies and chords.
For an artist noted for a preponderance of slow songs, the album is surprisingly uptempo, starting with the rocky opener ‘That’s When the Trouble Starts’ with its Stones-y riff, though the (intentionally?) low budget production makes it sound like it was recorded in a garage. ‘Ghosts’ was inspired by a visit to Sun Studios in Memphis and has a folksy, Americana feel that reminded me of John Mellencamp, perhaps unsurprising given the contribution guitarist Andy York makes to both bands.
The title track is the first historical narrative, a first person tale of an 18th century sailor pressganged into service, and the first genuinely slow song. I expected ‘White House’ might feature some political polemic but in fact the song is a jaunty tale of rustic life, before a return to historical themes in probably my favourite track on the album, ‘Bow Street Runners’, telling the tale of London’s first ever police force. ‘Morpheus’ even dips into Greek mythology but I am afraid it was where my attention always wandered when listening to the album in sequence.
‘Stranded in Reality’ has some typically offbeat Hunter lyrics delivered in distinctive style, while, to a slow reggae start, ‘You Can’t Live in the Past’ begins by seeming to wistfully recall old days but then this septuagenarian advises the rest of us not to do the same. However on ‘Long Time’ he does appear to look back with affection on what I took to be some references to his early career. Musically, it’s also one of the most enjoyable numbers with honkytonk style piano and mandolin giving it a folky feel.
This may have not been the album I was expecting but at 77 ‘Unter has not lost his capacity to surprise and the album is another reason to appreciate one of Britain’s most distinctive musical treasures. ****
Review by Andy Nathan
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