4.5 out of 5 Stars!
On Brain Capers, a musical time-capsule, we bear witness to a band on death’s doorstep (well, not actually, but the band members thought so anyway). Here we see Mott The Hoople, made up of five talented yet underappreciated musicians, rebellious to the point that they symbolically screamed, “Screw the record company, we’re creating the type of album we f*cking want to release!” and in the process, producing a borderline masterpiece, thus making enough of a “statement” to draw the attention of David Bowie, who went on to “resurrect” Mott The Hoople and ushered the band into several years of success.
This is undoubtedly one of my favorite Mott The Hoople releases of all time—it’s rebellious and sleazy, beautiful and raw, not to mention gaudy and jarring as all hell, especially since it came only eight months after the wimpy and countrified “tang” of Wildlife, an album I truly detested. And Brain Capers is certainly the best of the four pre-Bowie albums, even though it also contains several actual flubs—such as the rhythm section making a noticeable goof in the middle of the otherwise wonderful “Sweet Angeline”—left fully intact and uncorrected, the musicians prioritizing the “feel” of the song over perfected performances. This further shows a band that didn’t give a damn at this point in their “failing” career, which somehow adds to the album’s everlasting charm.
On the frantic opening track “Death May Be Your Santa Claus”—a track originally recorded as “How Long?” but revised and played in a different key—you can almost feel the venomous blades being hurled by Ian Hunter’s forceful vocals, a man lashing out at an unfair music industry. The same can be said for the raging “The Moon Upstairs,” where I can imagine the band members smashing their instruments the moment they’d finished laying down the tracks.
But the album is not all riotous in its intensity. “Darkness, Darkness,” a cover of a tune by The Youngbloods with Mick Ralphs on lead vocals, is one of the less caustic songs on offer and has a similar flavor to the following album’s “Ready For Love,” while “Your Own Backyard” could have easily been an excerpt from MTH’s debut album, with Ian Hunter doing his best Bob Dylan impersonation.
But for me, the highlight of the album is “The Journey,” a lengthy semi-ballad written by Ian Hunter (who typically excels at these piano-driven pieces). Indeed, Hunter’s emotional delivery (with his voice cracking on numerous occasions—certainly no polished performance here) gives the track a “live in the studio” feel, while the chord patterns of the verses, Hunter’s beautiful piano with Verden Allen’s haunting “Procol Harum-like” organ in the background, and the pompous arrangement all bring to mind another of my favorite Hunter ballads—”Rose”—only on a much grander and furious scale. Simply marvelous!
Too bad Mott The Hoople didn’t last forever, but at least the world has several musical time-capsules like Brain Capers and the subsequent post-Bowie albums to help us remember all the rock ‘n’ roll fun this group brought to the table.