Graded on a Curve:
Mott the Hoople,
The Hoople

If news of the first U.S. Mott the Hoople tour in 45 years doesn’t have you digging your knee-high platform glitter boots out of the closet, well, I guess you’re just not a hopeless old glam geezer like me. Mott the Hoople ‘74 will feature core members (Ian Hunter, Ariel Bender, and Morgan Fisher) of the Mott that toured America way back in 1974, and will give their legions of lucky faithful the opportunity to swoon to all of their old favorites.

The bad news? Mott’s eight-city tour will begin in lovely Milwaukee on April 1 and end in New York City on April 10, so your opportunities to see one of England’s premiere bands of the early seventies live and in person are limited. But if you love Mott the Hoople–and you really should love Mott the Hoople–you’ll do what it takes to catch one of these shows because let’s face it, boys and girls, Mott the Hoople is THE NAZZ.

As everybody who was alive in the early seventies knows, Mott the Hoople were a hard rock band distinguishable from the pachydermal herd mainly by Ian Hunter’s lyrical (and hyper-self-aware) flights of fancy and Dylan meets pub rock vocalizations who were at the point of breaking up because nobody was buying their records when David Bowie more or less brought them back from the dead by handing them “All the Young Dudes,” which the Hoops turned into one of the most glorious anthems to teen solidarity in the face of parental sneers and fears of growing old you ever will hear. Turn twenty-five? Never! I’d sooner kill myself!

After that they cut a pair of simply extraordinary LPs in the form of 1972’s All the Young Dudes and 1973’s Mott, both of ‘em packed with songs so great you’d break your granny’s arm if she dared besmirch ‘em. You get everything from lethal stabs in the eye like “Sucker” and “One of the Boys” to big rock myth deconstructions like “Hymn for the Dudes” and “All the Way from Memphis” and “Ballad of Mott the Hoople (26th March 1972, Zurich)”, on the latter of which lets you know he knows a rock star is a rather shabby thing to be. Oh, and he also has a sensitive side; who else would have dared to produce a song (and it’s pure dead brilliant) called “I Wish I Was Your Mother”?

As for 1974’s The Hoople it was the first to feature Bender–who came to bat after former guitarist Mick Ralphs left to join Bad Company–and the last to feature Hunter before he split to go solo, and it isn’t as strong as its predecessors. In fact I spent years wanting nothing to do with it, because I thought it demonstrated a marked turn toward camp and made me wonder whether Ian and the boys hadn’t suddenly decided they wanted to be The Sweet or Queen or something.

Now of course that’s why I love it. “The Golden Age of Rock ’n’ Roll” is every bit as campy as Blue Oyster Cult’s “The Golden Age of Leather” but has better piano, some really snazzy horns, and is truer to the spirit of good old Chuck Berry. Meanwhile, “Marionette” is a mini-operetta of sorts, and chock-a-block with slashing guitars, horns, and weird voices that come in from nowhere. I ain’t no marionette swears Ian, and no teacher’s pet neither, but in the end he is, he is! And Bender’s guitar solo from some other planet far from ours is to die for. Inspirational line: “And when the coffin comes make sure there’s room for two.”

“Alice” features Hunter aping Dylan while Fisher goes heavy on the old eighty-eights, and as for Alice herself she’s a Manhattan streetwalker; it’s “a long way to Broadway for a forty second lay” sings Ian, but is he talking about a quickie or citing a street address? “Crash Street Kids” is a crash course for the ravers and a hard rocker of the sort Mott used to make before they dressed themselves up in Glam clobber. And while jailbait anthem “Born Late ‘58” may have been written and sung by bassist Pete “Overend” Watts, it sounds just like a Hunter song, and works largely on the strength of Fisher’s pounding piano and Bender’s over-the-top (and very in yr face) guitar wank.

“Trudi’s Song” may well be the loveliest song Hunter ever writes–”She’s a right-on child, she goes smilin’” sings our hero, while the melody gently rocks you and why do I suddenly feel like crying? Meanwhile, “Pearl ‘N’ Roy” is a raucous working class clout to the nose that opens with Ian shouting “Shut up!” before going into some real gone speed jive about how the rich dudes are living in the sun and the Eton boys got no chins but always win anyway and he even gives the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street a shout out while he’s at it.

Which brings us to “Through the Looking Glass” which ain’t no rocker but a big slice of melodrama that kinda reminds me of Elton John in a lugubrious state of mind but is really vintage Ian insofar as he’s talking about the dark side of being a “rock star.” He’s getting older and life on the road is hard and he can’t look in the mirror without seeing the “the bitter truth”– that his teeth are green and his eyes are red and all he can say is “seven years bad luck ain’t that long” (but it is, it is!) before smashing that damned betrayer of a looking glass out of sheer self-loathing.

As for closer “Roll Away the Stone” it’s another rollicking camp-fest and glamtastic look backwards at rock’s origins that features this great moment in the middle where one of the boys and backing vocalist Lynsey De Paul have this very fey back and forth that goes: “There’s a rockabilly party on Saturday night/Are you gonna be there?” “Well I got my invite.” “Gonna bring your records?” “Oh will do.” “Made it!”

Mott the Hoople’s forthcoming reunion tour will be a bittersweet one; Watts and drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin have both gone to that Great Glam Show in the sky. But you’ll still want to go because here’s the thing: it’s a mighty long way down rock’n’roll and I can’t think of another band that so carefully delineated the costs of the journey, or did so with such wit, grace, verve, panache, and plain old good humor.

Mott the Hoople fought the good fight and they kept their principles intact, along with their sanity and the knowledge that it was all a show–”You look like a star but you’re still on the dole,” sang Ian Hunter, who knew better than just about anybody what a sham world of make-believe he was inhabiting, and how easy it would be to see it all come crumbling down.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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  • http://www.morgan-fisher.com/miniatures/ Morgan Fisher

    My name is Morgan Fisher not Matthew Fisher. Also I played all the piano on this album, not Ian Hunter. Otherwise, a fine write-up! I thank yew!

    • http://www.thevinyldistrict.com/ Jon Meyers

      Well, please accept our sincere apologies. The piece has been updated.

      • http://www.morgan-fisher.com/miniatures/ Morgan Fisher

        Thanks, Jon!

    • Michael Little

      Morgan: My humblest apologies. The fault is all mine. Please allow me to say your piano playing is brilliant and makes the album. Please allow me to also say I LOVE Mott the Hoople and I really should have known better. Perhaps you would be up for an interview at some point before or during the tour?? A fan, Michael Little

      • http://www.morgan-fisher.com/miniatures/ Morgan Fisher

        Hi Michael,
        No harm done mate! I’m up for an interview… can you send me a message via Facebook? Or contact our agent: https://www.jcplmusic.com/contact/

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