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Mott the Hoople

Columbia 32425
Released: August 1973
Chart Peak: #35
Weeks Charted: 29

Dale GriffinOverend WattsMick RalphsIan HunterWhat an array of weapons this band has: awesome firepower, an every-increasing depth of expression, timely themes and an artistic way of mixing these qualities on record. In terms of my own bias, Mott the Hople has been the most productive band of the last three years, with only the Rolling Stones -- a significant source of inspiration for Mott -- in the same category. In six attempts, Mott has made four excellent albums, and the latest may be the best.

The band has long ahd a near-obsesive interest in contemporary mythic figures such as Dylan (singer Ian Hunter's chief vocal model) and James Dean, and in contemporary mythic roles, primarily that of the rock & roll band. In terms of the latter, which dominates Mott's work, the subject matter ranges from the trivial to the universal. "Whiskey Woman," one of guitarist Mick Ralph's earlier songs, portrays the virtuous rock star imbued with such a sense of mission that he easily squelches the temptation to be sidetracked by carnivorous young girls, while his "Rock 'n' Roll Queen" focuses more facetiously on the same subject.

Mott The Hoople - Mott
Original album advertising art.
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Ian Hunter's songs take a more metaphysical view of the same general area. Several of them from earlier albums -- "The Journey," "Half Moon Bay," "Waterlow" and "Sea Diver" -- are rock anthems with a double edge: They project power with a sense of anguish, intimate songs colored by a startling sense of mortality.

The combination of the deeply personal and the mythic has never been more fully developed than on the new album, Mott. The album opens with "All the Way from Memphis," a general but still subjective rock & roll chronicle: "...It's a mightly long way down rock & roll/From the Liverpool docks to the Hollywood Bowl/And you climb up the mountains and you fall down the hole/All the way from Memphis..." Like the diary Hunter wrote of Mott's last tour (which will soon be published as a book), Mott's key songs, all written by Hunter and including the one above, are documents of a specific span of time and a specific state of mind. But, like the personal, detailed songs of Dylan and Davies, they expand forcefully beyond the specific. In "Hymn for the Dudes," for example, Hunter's singing of nightmarish lyrics in which a king and a rock star hover above trenches and barbed wire, quits gradually to just above a whisper, and when Hunter describes the place of the star in the overall scheme of things -- "...You aint the nazz.../You're just a buzz..."some kinda temporary..." -- he's suddenly interrupted by a jolting boom of electric instruments. At this pint, the song shoots instantly to the upper reaches of intensity, and the song's concern, the superstar, becomes a supercharged metaphor.

If All the Young Dudes generated an optimism through David Bowie's wonderful title song, then that album's closer, "Sea Diver," provides a bridge to Mott, which is pervaded by the melancholy of defeat and dashed hopes. "Sea Diver"'s simply worded refrain -- "...Ride on, my son, ride until you fall..." -- succinctly encapsulates the story of the band, which is both literalized and mythologized here in "The Ballad of Mott the Hoople." The song unites the native idealism of the rock & roll celebration song (e.g., "Do You Believe in Magic") with the battered voice of bitter experience. The singer knows not only that he's hooked but that he's irretrievably lost -- and he wouldn't have it any other way: "...Rock & roll's a loser's game, it mesmerizes -- I can't explain/The reasons for the sights and for the sounds/The greasepaint still sticks to my face/So what the hell, I can't erase/The rock & roll feeling from my mind..." As Hunter repeats the last three words, the band's dynamic level increases progressively and his straining finally turns into a hoarse scream. It's really something.

The album's final song, "I Wish I Was Your Mother," eschews rock & roll metaphor (and for that matter, rock instrumentation -- the sound is all mandolins and bells) to deal overtly with a love relationship. In this song more than any other save perhaps "Sea Diver," Hunter exposes his romanticism and its corollary, an awareness of inevitable tragedy. He percieves the shape of the traditional loving relationship through the muck of his world and that perception only makes him sadder when considering the future possibilities for his life together with his loved one:
...It's no use me pretending
You give, and I do the spending
Is there a happy ending?
I don't think so
'Cause even if we make it
I'll be too far out to take it
You'll have to try to shake it from my head...

I hope quoting from these lyrics in no way takes away from the music, which greatly expands the power of the words and which is as accessible as the songs are ambitious. Hunter's singing is still another primary aspect of the album. He's used Dylan and Bowie -- each a dramatically offbeat emphasizer -- as explicit sources of inspiration in the past; herre he inflects individualistically and quite dangerously throughout, sounding like a cross between a charged-up Dylan or McGuinn and a distracted Method actor desperately auditioning for "The Glass Menagerie." Despite his daring, I don't consider Hunter's approach excessive because, consciously or intuitively, he's in control of every drawl, mince, pause and mumble.

Mott the Hoople's path -- from audacity and optimism, through a series of false starts, pitfalls, wrong turns and missed opportunities, to its present point of view, permeated by weariness, sadness and a frighteningly full well of irony -- seems a necessary part of the band's specialness. It's now apparent that Mott the Hoople is not playing out the role it once thought it was (emerging superstars) but that of those who dream and struggle only to watch options run out -- in other words, the loser. That they became aware of this crucial paradox and were able to capitalize on it aesthetically is impressive enough. That they turned what appeared to be just a highly ironic misfortune into a deeply personal, haunting, all but tragic one casts them in a singular light. Literally and symbolically, Mott sounds very much like a terminal statement.

The album is so well done and so absorbing on every level, however, that Mott the Hoople may well have to deal with still another irony: success following a full acceptance of failure -- a success in the very terms by whihch that failure has been defined. I'd welcome that irony, because i would hate to watch this very special band die.

- Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 9/13/73.

Bonus Reviews!

As John Sebastian once observed, trying to tell a stranger about rock-and-roll has never been easy. You'll therefore probably just have to take my word that Mott the Hoople's latest album for Columbia, titled simply Mott, looks as of this writing to be the album of the year, although I'm willing to reserve judgement until I hear the newest Stones and Who releases. Further, with its intriguing new lyrical directions and increasing instrumental sophistication, it may be the group's best album as well.

It seems odd at this late stage of the game to say that the group has found itself, but the obvious influences (Procol Harum, the Stones, Dylan) that made them so much fun on their early records have here finally been absorbed to the point that, as a band, Mott now has a style of its own. The lyrics, which are superb throughout, make this clear. Ian Hunter, who is responsible for the majority of them, has taken the band as an entity for his subject matter, creating a diary-like account of their successes and failures, and adopting a variety of poses ranging from the endearing punk strut of "Whizz Kid" to the strikingly honest self-evaluation of "Hymn for the Dudes." Ultimately, his narrative becomes a metaphorical statement about rock-and-roll itself, and his "Ballad of Mott the Hoople," a concise capsule history, is both a touching examination of the band and its audience and (perhaps) the finest song about rock anyone has written since Lou Reed.

To all this I can only add that the band, despite the departure of organist Verden Allen, has never played better; that Mick Ralphs (the soul of the group) has added touches of Jimmy Page to his already distinctive guitar work as well as contributing another really fine song and lovely vocal ("I'm a Cadillac"); that the single "Honaloochie Boogie" is downright classic; and that the whole is stunningly produced. If rock-and-roll has ever meant anything to you, and if you are not already acquainted with this wonderful band, you owe it to yourself to get this album. It's simply beautiful.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 11/73.

Mott is finally making it, but I have serious doubts about the group's ability to continue without Mick Ralph's plaintive vocals and guitar to counterbalance Ian Hunter's increasing superstar affectations. This used to be a great band, before Bowie got his hands on them; now as much as I love them, they're looking like the Ian Hunter show. Still, even if this turns out to be their creative swan song, they couldn't have gone out any stronger.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 2/74.

For Mott the Hoople fans, this is a combination of both the old and new styles in the group, which means a combination of the early Dylan-esque vocals from Ian Hunter characteristic of their first few sets, and the weirdo talk-sing sound reminiscent of the group's period with David Bowie as producer. In this set they have assimilated both styles, and with Ian Hunter's tap vocals and the band's solid rock background, they have put together what might be their most commercial LP. Several cuts on this set are potential hit singles, something the group has always lacked, and several are beautiful ballads. Best cuts: "All The Way From Memphis," "Hymn For The Dudes," "Ballad Of Mott The Hoople."

- Billboard, 1973.

Ian and the boys are definitely too self-referential, and they don't entirely convince me that they've earned our credence as the great failed band of the new loser mythology. But as rock and roll this is damn near irresistible, sure to stand as a textbook of killer riffs 'n' hooks. Even the throwaways are ace, except maybe for Mick Ralphs's Spanish guitar showcase. And not only has Ian's Dylan fixation become funny, but Ian knows it. A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Ian Hunter loved Bob Dylan too much for his own good, but that didn't stop him from eventually coming up with his own worthwhile ideas. His early albums for Atlantic leading Mott the Hoople (the name comes from a Willard Manus novel) were derivative and a bit tuneless, although some of the cover versions (Doug Sahm's "At the Crossroads," even Sonny Bono's "Laugh at Me") suggested some intelligence at work, and anyone who could think up the title "Death May Be Your Santa Claus," let alone a song that justified that title, certainly had promise.

The group (among the members, guitarist Mick Ralphs, later of Bad Company, provided some crunchy, witty riffs, but Hunter clearly pulled the strings) grew immensely when it moved to Columbia. Its first LP for the label was produced by David Bowie, but for once the then-Ziggy Stardust did not turn out thin hard rock masquerading as thinking man's hard rock. Bowie gave the group one of his best songs ever -- "All the Young Dudes" -- and introduced them to the Velvet Underground, yielding a definitive version of Lou Reed's romantic "Sweet Jane."

Having upped the ante (and wisely dropped Bowie, whose production effectiveness was always a question mark, especially two LPs in a row), Mott the Hoople promptly cut a great album, Mott. The sound was crisp and detailed: the piano on "All the Way from Memphis" jumped between the cracks in the drums of Dale "Buffin" Griffin. Hunter's singing had gained enough emotion for its distance to seem less off-putting (the Pet Shop Boys do the same thing nowadays) and Ralph's guitars were now part of the song, not a barrier to them. "All the Way from Memphis," a tale of spiritual and geographical dislocation that was featured prominently in Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, set the tone for an album of inspired self-reverential songs ("Hymn for the Dudes," "Ballad of Mott the Hoople," and many more) and also set the stage for future spirited self-chroniclers like the Replacements and the Mekons.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review:
All the Young Dudes

Album Review:
The Hoople

Album Review:
Mott The Hoople Live

Album Review:
Greatest Hits

Album Review:
Ian Hunter

"Glam Rock 101"

Mott The Hoople Lyrics

Mott The Hoople Videos

Ian Hunter Mugshots

Some of the songs on Mott are generalized and chilling ("Violence" and "I Wish I Was Your Mother"), but it's "Ballad of Mott the Hoople," a cockeyed statement of purpose, that means the most today. Over backing that is somewhere between sloppy and nonexistent, Hunter lists all that he feels is wrong with his career, his band (he names his compatriots), and the absurd idea of being a grown-up in a touring rock-and-roll band. He talks about his stupid predicament, but adds that he could never do anything else. Hunter was in a fix, but even in his despair he knew that hopelessness could generate great songs. Still, none of these great songs was a hit, and the band soon fell apart.

- Jimmy Guterman, The Best Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time, 1992.

Regarded by many to be their finest album, this self-produced effort was a loosely conceived concept album about the ups and downs of rock & roll success. Mott contained two U.K. hits with "All the Way from Memphis" and "Honaloochie Boogie." Other highlights were "The Ballad of Mott the Hoople," "Whizz Kid," "Violence," and "Drivin' Sister." The sound of this reissue is a little on the muddy side. Nevertheless, of their Columbia-period albums, this is the one to get. * * * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Even if he hated to be involved, the last album with Mick Ralphs -- Mott -- is a splendid example of crunching, post-Bowie British rock. * * * * *

- Leland Rucker, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

David Bowie's "All the Young Dudes" had revived Mott's career, but Ian Hunter "wanted people to know that David didn't create this band." Producing themselves, they weathered skepticism and studio fistfights to record this self-referencing examination of rock as "a loser's game"; Mott became their greatest success.

Mott was chosen as the 366th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

The chemistry between Mott the Hoople singer Ian Hunter and guitarist Mick Ralphs threatened to explode during the recording of 1973's Mott, the band's only UK Top Ten album. Hunter had originally joined Ralphs' small-time band, Silence, as a keyboard player, but came to exert a greater grip on both singing and songwriting following their David Bowie-produced hit "All The Young Dudes."

First single "Honoloochie Boogie" saw the band augmented by cello and Andy MacKay's saxophone. (Roxy Music were recording For Your Pleasure next door in London's Air Studios at the time, and MacKay was allegedly keen to join Mott.) Opening track "All The Way From Memphis" remains one of Hunter's finest moments and would be edited for single release. Brian May, whose Queen supported Mott round the United States, recalls a performance of said song in said city as "a great moment of reconnection to the original capital city of white rock."

Mott The Hoople had not forgotten their wilder side, even though Bowie had temporarily coached it out of them, and "Violence" would put evidence of their pre-punk rudeness back on vinyl. Ralphs enjoyed his only moment of solo glory with an automotive-based number, "I'm A Cadillac," which segued into the slide-guitar-laced instrumental "El Camino Dolo Roso" (literally "The Road of Sadness").

Mott was for Ian Hunter, "the most complete album we did, but it was tinged with tragedy because Ralphs was leaving." He now had the spotlight to himself, but he'd lost his soulmate and would soon seek another in Mick Ronson. He never beat Mott, though.

- Michael Heatley, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

 Reader's Comments


A great album, with an all-time favorite song ("I Wish I Was Your Mother"). Thanks.

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