1974 was quite the year for Mott the Hoople.
(Not before Mott had turned down another offered song from Bowie though… a certain little ditty entitled “Drive-In Saturday“)
Late 1973 saw the band having to live up to a “glam” moniker that they were never really happy to embrace. They were always lumped in with the likes of Slade, T.Rex and the plethora of bubblegum glam bands who filled the charts in the early 70’s and this only served undermine the stronger songs the band put out. (If Mott were considered “glam” I’ve always questioned why Deep Purple were never tarred with the same brush?… big hair, satin trousers, slightly androgynous appearance etc)
Tensions in the group began to surface, various members leaving and joining well into 1974, the most notable of which was when Bowie’s guitarist Mick Ronson replaced Ariel Bender.
Despite all this, and at the start of 1974, Mott issued what was (and is) for me their finest album… even if other fans disagree with me, often citing it as uneven and “too much Hunter, no Mick Ralphs”. (Ralphs had left the band following the release of the previous album, “Mott”, leaving Hunter as the prime songwriter)
The Hoople kicks off with a spoken word intro into “The Golden Age of Rock & Roll” a celebration to the band’s craft which goes out of its way to suggest Hunter was giving more than just a cursory nod to the style their famous benefactor had offered them with “All the Young Dudes”. Other than the gregarious boogie-woogie piano, the song structure with its brass elements and guitar riffs could most certainly have come from Bowie’s pen.
“Marionette” remains one of my very favourite non-single Mott songs. It’s an ambitious dig at rock & roll management and how they always try and manipulate artists to do what they want rather than what the artist wants to do themselves. Lyrically it’s admittedly a bit suspect, but the song itself thunders across your eardrums from the get-go, going off on several rhythmic (almost operatic) twists and turns on the way. The manic laughter halfway through never fails to slightly un-nerve me.
Those pair of adrenaline-infused numbers then morph into “Alice” a pretty standard ‘rock song’ about a New York hooker which is saved from obscurity ( at least for me) by the lyrically-wonderful chorus of
“Alice you remind me of Manhattan,
the seedy and the snaz,
the shoe boys and the satin”
The listener is quickly revived by “Crash Street Kidds” a fierce guitar-riff led rocker, albeit one with a silly and somewhat unnecessary ‘false ending’ after just a few minutes and the questionable ‘dalek-voice’ ending
“Born Late ’58” is the only song on The Hoople not written by Ian Hunter. Pete ‘Overend’ Watts’ tale of escaping a one-night stand with an underage teen “jailbaiter” is infused with a guitar riff to die for, some fabulous boogie-woogie piano (a Mott trademark) and just rocks and rocks
“Trudi’s Song” is Hunter’s soppy little tribute to his wife, replete with a Bowie-esque “woah-oh” opening and a song structure that somehow reminds you of many other ballads, not least of which is Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe“. It seems heartfelt enough though.
“Pearl’n’Roy (England)” has apparently become something of Mott “classic” over the years. Personally I’m a little at odds with this. It’s a good little rocker packed with good moments and I think it fits into The Hoople’s line-up of songs wonderfully, but if I were to hear it out of context I would consider it average.
For me, the worst song on the album is “Through the Looking Glass“. It feels like Hunter channeling Bowie again.. and failing miserably. It’s certainly not helped by its weak symphonic structure, electronic string section and Ian’s peculiar vocal phrasing.
Clutching victory from potential defeat however is the album’s closer, the utterly magnificent “Roll Away the Stone“. The album version is different from the single release which had already been a hit in 1973, Mick Ralphs guitar contribution having been replaced by Ariel Bender’s. Admittedly there’s not much to pick between the two, however trivia freaks may care to know that the vocal bridge on the album version (the “well I got my invite” lyric) is spoken by none other than waif-like 70’s folk-pop singer/songwriter Lynsey De Paul
So, The Hoople starts well, ends well and only has couple of dodgy tracks along the way. As I said I know many people prefer the previous year’s “Mott” album, but for me “The Hoople” triumphs.
The album went to #11 on the UK chart and #28 on the American chart.
A live Mott the Hoople album was also released in 1974. Ironically, its release coincided with the announcement that the band had broken up. Mick Ronson collaborated with Hunter on his follow-up solo projects and the pair continued to work together on and off right up until Ronson’s untimely death in 1993.
Here in 2009, and Ian Hunter already having celebrated his 70th birthday (yes, really), the band reformed – for the first time in all these years – to play three sold out “40th Anniversary” concerts at London’s Hammersmith pre=”Hammersmith “>Odeon (I refuse to call it the “HMV Hammersmith Apollo” unless I can do so derogatively).
I will settle for having seen the band play at the Southampton Guildhall in 1974. As if to horrify myself however – and my readers – I recall that I was actually more impressed with the support band Sailor than I was with Mott and… left the gig early. (Yes, I may need shooting)