Mott – Shouting & Pointing (1976)

Mott_Shouting5 out of 5 Stars!

After legendary Mott The Hoople lost Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, then found a replacement vocalist in Nigel Benjamin and a keen guitarist in Ray Majors, the revised lineup shortened its name to simply Mott and released the album Drive On to mixed reviews. I, for one, thought the album rather disjointed, with some truly brilliant fare mixed with way too many hackneyed moments, but nevertheless showing the quintet’s potential.

The following year, however, after finding its “musical legs” with the new band members, Mott returned with Shouting & Pointing. Not only did that potential displayed on the debut album come to fruition, but far exceeded all of my initial expectations.

In my eyes, Shouting & Pointing is a lost and (mostly) forgotten gem, 5 Stars all the way!

The A Side is a perfect collection of tunes, from the bombastic “Shouting and Pointing,” to the rocking “Collision Course” and “Storm,” to the outstanding ballad “Career (No Such Thing as Rock ‘n’ Roll).” On these four tracks alone, Nigel Benjamin shows his true talent, his vocals sassy and sneering and soaring, while Ray Major also displays his chops with some expert riffs, fills, and power chords. Morgan Fisher’s piano excursions were never more awesome, while the long-standing rhythm team of bassist Overend Watts and drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin kicked butt in the same tight and driving tradition as they did in “Hoople.”

And the B Side is pretty damned good also, and a bit more diverse. With Overend Watts taking control of the microphone, “Hold On, You’re Crazy” kicks off the proceedings, reminding me of the tune “Born Late ’58,” which he wrote and also sung on MTH’s The Hoople album. “See You Again” is a sparse and catchy rocker with wonderfully tasty and countrified guitar fills likening back to Major’s previous group Hackensack, whereas the rip-roaring “Too Short Arms (I Don’t Care)” is pure Mott The Hoople, with a slightly out-of-tune piano tinkling throughout, giving the impression of the band performing in a smoky pub in some hidden corner of London. “Broadside Outcasts” is the strangest song, a tune that, thanks to the chord patterns during the bridge and the overall instrumentation, partially seemed destined to become another teenage-rebel anthem similar to those written by David Bowie for Mott The Hoople such as “All The Young Dudes” or “Drive-In Saturday” (the latter was offered to MTH, but the band oddly turned it down), but the chorus kicks in with tongue-in-cheek vocal silliness and turns the song completely topsy-turvy. And finally, the band recorded a rousing version of Vanda/Young’s “Good Times” to close out the album, which easily blows the original version by The Easybeats to smithereens.

It’s a crying shame that Mott broke up shortly after releasing this album (or rather, it lost Nigel Benjamin and replaced him with John Fiddler, ultimately becoming British Lions). With Shouting & Pointing proving exactly what this lineup could accomplish, I had prayed Mott would stay together forever.

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Mott The Hoople – Brain Capers (1971)

Mott_BrainCapers4.5 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.

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Ian Hunter – Overnight Angels (1977)

ianhunter_overnightangels4 out of 5 Stars!

Although often maligned for reasons I don’t quite comprehend, Ian Hunter’s third solo release is probably one of my favorites from the ex-Mott The Hoople frontman. Indeed, I find this album one of his most “Hooplesque” when it comes to the songwriting and the song arrangements. Additionally, the sound of the instruments are pure Mott, with the tinkling pianos and the stinging guitars.

The tracks here are a fine mixture of rather bombastic Glam Rock (the opening “Golden Opportunities”—in many ways similar in sound and style to Mott The Hoople’s “Marionette”—along with the more experimental title track, the rollicking “Wild ‘n’ Free” and the silly, tongue-in-cheek “Justice of the Peace”) and piano-driven ballads, of which Ian often excels (“Shallow Crystals,” “Miss Silver Dime,” “The Ballad of Little Star,” and “Broadway,” which rivals my favorite Mott The Hoople ballad, “Rose”). Only the album’s closing track, “To Love a Woman,” stands out among the rest due to its more contemporary style, and therefore, seems quite out of place with the rest of the album’s overall “Mottness.”

Generally speaking, much of this collection brings to mind memories of The Hoople album. And the musicians hired for this release, especially guitarist Earl Slick, also have such a “Mott-feel” when it comes to their performances that it’s a wonder why Slick wasn’t hired in Mott The Hoople instead of Mick Ronson to replace the departing Ariel Bender after The Hoople album. Anyway, it’s a shame Hunter didn’t keep this group of musicians together for at least another album or two.

The only true negative aspect of this album for me is the “over production” from Roy Thomas Baker, but I can easily overlook that flaw since the songs are all quite enjoyable and, through Ian Hunter, the undying spirit of Mott The Hoople once again reared its glorious head.

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Mott the Hoople – Honaloochie Boogie / Rose (1973)

Mott_Honaloochie5 out of 5 Stars!

I don’t typically buy singles, unless they include a hard-to-find track or tracks not included on any album. And so I purchased this single, not for “Honaloochie Boogie” itself, which is a catchy, fun, and decent track in its own right (but since I have the album Mott, I didn’t need the track), but for the excellent B-Side “Rose.” Why this track was never released on the Mott album is a mystery to me.

I’m a huge fan of most Ian Hunter ballads, and “Rose” (along with “The Journey” from the Brain Capers album) is probably my favorite. As with many of Hunter’s ballads, this one is also crammed with emotion and features beautiful piano-playing during the verses. The touch of organ during secondary verses adds extra mood, and when the entire band kicks in during the choruses, the power is grand! The track sort of reminds me of the equally impressive “Broadway,” from Hunter’s solo Overnight Angels album.

Anyway, “Rose” truly shows the flip-side (no pun intended) of Mott The Hoople, a band that could turn out both killer rockers and stunning ballads with ease.  I love this track!!!

British Lions British Lions (1978)

BritishLions_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

As a lifelong rock ‘n’ roll fan, I learned at a relatively young age that, when it comes to my favorite bands, life can be both cruel and play nasty tricks. Take the group British Lions for example…

Back in 1974, I was sinfully obsessed with Mott The Hoople, replaying the band’s albums continuously, especially its most recent studio effort, The Hoople. Within months, learning of the loss of guitarist Ariel Bender came as a blow, for certain, but since the band had survived without the previous guitarist Mick Ralphs, I didn’t worry too much, especially since the announcement arrived rather quickly that the group had snagged longtime David Bowie cohort Mick Ronson to replace Bender. And since I was also a huge fan of the Bowie albums on which Ronson appeared, I considered the shake-up only a mild distraction. But then, horror of all horrors, shortly afterward, the band announced its actual demise. What? Talk about a cruel rock ‘n’ roll world. Well let me tell you, I was beside myself for months.

But thankfully, the world did not come to a fiery end as my fourteen-year-old self had woefully predicted during my mourning period, but soldiered onward—like the band itself—as a name-shortened “Mott” swiftly appeared the following year with a new singer and guitarist in tow to replace the departed Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson. The world was miraculously saved from disaster, I thought, and I could also soldier onward.

But then, another devastating blow came just after the relatively new Mott released a killer sophomore album in 1976 called Shouting & Pointing when a second “death notice” arrived, claiming that Mott was also no longer in existence. But then, what did the band do? Yes, the remaining four musicians once again roared back with a brand new name this time (British Lions), another lead vocalist in the form of John Fiddler (Box of Frogs/Medicine Head), and a new lease on life.

But would British Lions still retain the same character and style as Mott The Hoople or Mott? Well, I was happy to discover that the revamped band’s debut was a better than average release. I recall cruising with my buddies, playing the album continuously on the car’s cassette player, so it was definitely a rather popular collection when it came to my group of friends. Of course, we were all Mott The Hoople devotees, so it’s no shock that we took interest in this release when it popped up in the record stores.

Granted, to us, John Fiddler was no Ian Hunter, or Nigel Benjamin (from Mott), but Fiddler had that same occasionally wild/bizarre/not-quite-accurate quality that wasn’t too dissimilar from his predecessors—in other words, we accepted him as a replacement, so this album will likely be fun material overall for most other Mott (The Hoople) fans who are still unfamiliar with this debut. Additionally, tracks such as “One More Chance to Run,” “Break This Fool,” “My Life’s in Your Hands,” “Wild in the Streets,” and “Fork Talking Man” are all Mott-like in many respects, with bassist Overend Watts and drummer Dale Griffin delivering their usual solid performances, and guitarist Ray Majors adding some particularly wicked leads. And not to be forgotten, keyboardist Morgan Fisher (in my mind, probably the most unheralded group member and its most gifted) laid down terrific grand piano accompaniment on the mammoth “Big Drift Away” and the song “International Heroes” (an anthem-like ditty not too far afield in atmosphere from MTH’s “All the Young Dudes” or Mott’s “Broadside Outcasts”), which might have been a huge hit had it been given the right promotion.

The only track that did not originally interest me was the album closer “Eat the Rich,” which I believed didn’t fit the overall style of the other tunes. But please note, an alternate/demo version of this track—a wonderfully fun “Mott-type” rendition—was finally made available as a “bonus” on an expanded edition of the album, and this version puts the original track to shame. Yet sadly, please also note, the other “bonus tracks” are, unfortunately, not even close to quality.

Regardless, British Lions went on to release a second album, 1980’s Trouble With Women, before finally splitting up. But frankly, the second album—one of those “nasty tricks” I mentioned earlier—is well below quality, completely disjointed, and one of those albums that should have never seen the light of day (indeed, in interviews throughout the years, various band members expressed a similar assessment). Nevertheless, at least the band’s eponymous debut was enjoyable enough for all of us hungry Mott (the Hoople) fans who just couldn’t face a cruel rock ‘n’ roll world devoid of one of its favorite acts.


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