Ian Hunter - 2/10
at City Winery New York City
“I’m really proud of the record, and I think that some of it’s as good as I get,” Ian Hunter says of When I’m President (Slimstyle), his 20th album of original songs, and the latest highlight in a storied career that’s produced an impressive array of enduring classics.
As leader of ’70s British rock legends Mott the Hoople and as a hugely influential solo artist, Ian Hunter is widely revered as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most compelling performers and one of its most articulate songwriters. As the author of such immortal anthems as “All the Way from Memphis,” “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” and “Cleveland Rocks,” and the voice of such landmark albums as Mott the Hoople’s All The Young Dudes and Mott and the solo recordings Ian Hunter and You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic, he remains a hero to fans and fellow musicians around the world.
While his achievements during his first decade as a recording artist would be more than enough to insure his iconic status, Hunter has never been one to coast on past achievements, and When I’m President amply demonstrates his ongoing musical vitality and creative restlessness. Indeed, in the past dozen years, he’s made a series of riveting albums that stand with his best and most resonant work, while making a decisive return to touring, delivering incendiary live performances that show his fire to be burning as brightly as ever.
Like such acclaimed recent Hunter releases as Rant (2001), Shrunken Heads (2007) and Man Overboard (2009), When I’m President—his first new recording since Mott the Hoople’s historic 2009 reunion shows at London’s Hammersmith Odeon—ranks with Hunter’s most impassioned and insightful work. The new album’s 11 Hunter originals include such infectious, personally charged numbers as the wry, socially conscious title track, the gently introspective “Fatally Flawed” the bittersweet ballad “Black Tears,” the chugging rocker “Wild Bunch,” the swaggering “I Don’t Know What You Want” (which features a guest vocal by Hunter’s son Jesse) and the vivid, haunting “Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse)”—all of which showcase the jagged immediacy of Hunter’s one-of-a-kind voice and the punchy authority of his longstanding all-star backup combo the Rant Band.
“The songs seem to be more upbeat this time round,” Hunter notes. “The last two albums were pretty political, just because I thought the Bush years were horrible, and thankfully that’s passed. But I don’t go looking for songs; I have to wait for them to come to me. I had a spurt there in the summer of 2011, and that grew into this album. I’d get up every day with something ringing in my head, so I’d try to catch it and get it down. Songwriting’s always been a mystery to me in that way. Now and again you’re nearer the sun, and you have to be ready to capture it.”
The qualities of musical depth and emotional honesty that distinguish When I’m President have been constants in Ian Hunter’s expansive body of work. He was already a young veteran of the London rock scene when he joined Mott the Hoople in 1969, and had recorded four iconoclastic albums — Mott the Hoople (1969), Mad Shadows (1970), Wildlife (1971) and Brain Capers (1971) — with the quintet by the time it rode the glam-rock wave to international superstardom with the David Bowie-produced 1972 album All the Young Dudes and its Bowie-penned title hit. The band’s artistic and commercial success continued with 1973′s Mott and 1974′s The Hoople and Mott the Hoople Live, helping to set the stage for the rise of British punk and new wave before the group disbanded in 1974.
Hunter moved to New York and segued into a celebrated solo career with 1975′s Ian Hunter, quickly building a formidable body of solo releases — including All American Alien Boy (1976), Overnight Angels (1977), You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic (1979), the live Welcome to the Club (1980) and Short Back ‘n’ Sides (1981) — that expanded upon the achievements of his former band. Following 1983′s well-received All of the Good Ones Are Taken, Hunter took an extended hiatus that kept him out of the spotlight for much the next decade, until the 1993 death of his longtime friend and collaborator, guitarist Mick Ronson, jolted him back into musical action.
As Hunter explains, “In the ’80s, when the corporations started taking over, me and Ronson hated it, and we sort of lost track of the right way of doing music. I kind of lost it, and I was totally disgusted with myself for awhile, so I just stopped. And when Mick died, it was a huge wake-up call, and it jerked me back into what I’d forgotten. It was like ‘Whoa, you’re here for a reason, and you should be doing this properly.’ That’s when I started writing proper songs again. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
That creative rebirth has produced some of the best music of Hunter’s lengthy career, and When I’m President continues the remarkable resurgence of this true believer in rock ‘n’ roll’s transformative power.
“To me, music is holy, and it should be treated with respect,” Hunter asserts, adding, “For the first 15 years of my life, I had no idea what I was here for. But then Elvis came out, and it was ‘Oh, that’s what I’m here for.’ Rock ‘n’ roll got me out and gave me a great life, and I don’t know what I’d have done without it. It’s all I know, and my identity is all tied up in it.”