Ian Hunter: Shrunken Heads


As leader of Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter was as vulnerable as he was acerbic, seeing rock and roll as a metaphor for all facets of the human condition. The perpetually-shaded iconoclast has continued this work through a dozen post-Mott solo albums, the success of which has depended, as is the case with most literate songwriters, on the balance between musicianship/production and the material as means to a message.

Shrunken Heads achieves that balance, its quieter moments as on “Guiding Light” only comparative to the clatter of tracks like “Stretch.” Hunter here runs the risk of some listeners hearing him basically rewrite his own discography, but given the album was produced (tellingly, in collaboration with musicians involved) and recorded independently (then licensed to the label), Hunter’s iconoclast persona is genuine. It’s the difference between style and a shortage of ideas.

Ian reworks themes of isolation and faith into a contemporary framework. On a tune such as “How’s Your House,” he hardly risks sounding dated because he long ago became so credible in the voice of the underdog. To rediscover this veteran may be a means of rediscovering the power of rock and roll in general, the sound of Chuck Berry guitar, acoustic textures and Hunter’s own slightly hoarse voice combining for an effectively weathered style that dates no more than the historical references in “Soul of America.”
It’s easy to hear Hunter playing some of these songs solo, but the clarity of the full arrangements here only add drama to the density of tracks like the latter, ultimately rendering them uplifting and, taken to their logical extension, empowering. Ian may go against the grain of culture with a vengeance on “Brainwashed,” but his point’s well-taken: fashion and consumerism are not exclusive to one demographic or another.

Unlike his similarly sharp-witted English expatriate kindred spirit, Graham Parker, Hunter may be a little too comfortable in the role of self-styled curmudgeon on songs like “Words (Big Mouth).” Yet “I Am What I Hated (When I Was Young)” belies the sentiment in its title by the very fact of its reflective nature.  It may be no accident at all that the title song of Shrunken Heads, its pounding piano played off against resounding drums, echoes every ballad Ian Hunter’s ever written and performed: somebody’s got to speak out and it may as well be someone like this guy who knows whereof he speaks.

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