On Mott The Hoople’s 1974 classic The Hoople Ian Hunter had us look a bit closer at ourselves on “Through The Looking Glass.” The underlying sense of denial in the lines, “Do you have to paint teeth green, when they’re snowy, white and clean?” and “Do you have to make eyes red, when they’re clear and fresh instead?” made it clear that we never really want to hear or see anything that make us stare too closely at ourselves and, more importantly, the truth. Some thirty three years later, Ian Hunter once again lends a prophetic and sarcastic elbow nudging us to re-examine how we look both in our own mirrors and to the rest of the world. Shrunken Heads is Ian’s first studio record in six years and is full of the introspective and thought provoking lyrics that we’ve come to expect from one of rock’s finest troubadours. “Words (Big Mouth)” opens the record with an apology that comes in the form of true regret. But this is mixed with a warning about how much trouble a few misplaced, “cruel little clusters” can wreak unintentional havoc on the ones we love.
“When The World Was Round” is a glorious ballad that laments for the simpler past that we grew up with to return in time to save our own children’s memories of their youth. The accuracy of internet and television news is questioned brilliantly when exposed in the line “There’s too much information but not enough to go on” revealing a growing sense of mistrust with what we are fed along with our daily bread. The title track’s political feel is timed perfectly for the ’08 correction… Sorry, I meant election. “Nothing matters anymore, the rich get richer and the poor get sorer” seems to reflect public opinion and sadly there’s no mistaking the message contained within “You took our loyalty and you tore it to shreds, we’re all at the mercy of shrunken heads.” For a pioneer of the British glam scene in the ’70s Ian’s interest in America present is quite the lesson in true patriotism for all of us lazy commoners. “Soul Of America” is a tongue-in-cheek rallying cry for the defense of policies abroad and the toga party chant of “How’s Your House” turns the Hurricane Katrina tragedy into a wonderfully perverse taunt delivered with a sarcasm and wit that is much dryer than any bus load of blankets sent in by the good folks at F.E.M.A.
But it’s not all doom and gloom on Shrunken Heads, songs like “Brainwashed” and “Fuss About Nothing” have the same piss and vinegar that you’d expect from the author of such rock and roll classics as “All The Way From Memphis” and “Once Bitten Twice Shy.” “Stretch” has one of the best James Bond-like guitar riffs ever recorded and is more than likely to end up on a future 007 soundtrack. It’s pure infectious fun propelled by Ian’s trademark wit, simple as that.
Some of the finest moments on any Ian Hunter record are the introspective ballads. Barry Manilow even scored a huge hit with his version of “Ships” from Ian’s brilliant, You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic and this sensitive and sincere touch is just as golden today. “Guiding Light” and the albums closer “Read ’em ‘n Weep” are two of his most personal and melodic to date. When Mott The Hoople burst onto the scene with “All The Young Dudes” back in 1972 few would have expected that some thirty five years later Ian’s career would be as relevant today as it is appreciated. But after decades of critically acclaimed work that reflects an impossible integrity to his craft, he’s become a bit of an elder statesman for rock and roll and for the people. With something to say and the chops to still play it, we all should be listening, or at the very least, be honest with what we see in our own reflection.
Ian Hunter: www.ianhunter.com