For all the hoopla surrounding the likes of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen still recording and touring into their 70s, consider former Mott The Hoople front man Ian Hunter, who, at age 73 (two years older than Dylan) is rocking harder and writing better songs than at almost any time in his career.
First of all, my love of Mott The Hoople and Ian Hunter is pretty well documented, but I’d like to think that I can still listen to their music with a bit of critical perspective. Hunter’s last few albums have been satisfying affairs, but not the kinds of records to get really excited about…just good, solid songwriting and musicianship. The fans have been happy, but everyone else has pretty much ignored him.
Hunter took part in the Mott The Hoople reunion in London three years ago and blew everyone away with his energetic performance. That energy has spilled over into his solo career making When I’m President his best solo album since his first, which was released back in 1975.
That album featured former Bowie & Mott guitarist Mick Ronson, who worked with Hunter on and off until his death in 1993. For this album, Hunter has recruited guitar player Mark Bosch who, along with longstanding Rant Band member James Mastro, adds some serious rock & roll grit to the proceedings.
The first song, Comfortable (Flyin’ Scotsman) begins with a dirty guitar riff Keith Richards would be proud of. Hunter has always combined the best elements of The Rolling Stones with the spirit of 50s rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard and he continues that fine tradition here as Andy Burton pounds away on the piano.
Fatally Flawed follows and begins as a slow organ-based ballad before Bosch’s guitar explodes into a noisy crescendo halfway through the track. Hunter’s voice is a tad raspier than it used to be, but he has always had a Dylan-esque quality in his singing, and to be honest, he sounds much stronger than Dylan does these days.
The title track is a jangly pop-rocker featuring Mastro’s mandolin. Hunter, who has lived in the US for a number of years, acknowledges his alien status before having a good old rant about what he’d do if he were President. “I’m gonna lean on the 1%…when I’m president I’ll stick it to the fats cats”. He gets my vote! In more musically favourable times this would be a hit. Maybe Beyonce will cover it.
The rock & roll swagger returns on What For where Hunter calls out the younger generation to “get off that cellular phone…ain’t you got a mind of your own”. He may sound like a grumpy old man, but he still rocks like a teenager. Again, Bosch’s guitar playing is excellent, recalling Ronson’s best work. Hunter ends the tune with a brief tribute to his hero, Jerry Lee.
Later on, Hunter reveals his fascination with the Wild West. Wild Bunch is a tribute to the Sam Peckinpah film from 1969 while the simmering Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse) looks at things from the famous Native American Indian’s perspective.
Hunter gets in one more rocker, the bluesy I Don’t Know What You Want, featuring guest guitarist Rick Tedesco before wrapping things up with Life. The song finds Hunter waxing philosophical and sending out a message to his fans, “I hope you had a good time, hope your time was as good as mine…I can’t believe after all of these years, you’re still here and I’m still here.” It has the feel of Saturday Gigs, Mott’s swansong from 1974. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Hunter. If so, he’s going out at the top of his game.
Click here to listen to When I’m President from When I’m President: