Saturday, December 16, 2006

Vinyl Tap: Mott The Hoople - Brain Capers

I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #32:

Bowie!? We don’t need no stinkin’ Bowie!

It’s an affirmation of sorts that -- with such classics as Mott and The Hoople -- was certainly evident in the post-All The Young Dudes era of Mott the Hoople’s career after the invaluable David Bowie-orchestrated commercial resuscitation got them back on the radio and record store radar.

But in 1971, a year before Dudes, the group realized the zenith of their early period with the rough-edged and raucous Brain Capers. With no trace of sonic flat-lining anywhere amid the jolting spittle and spirit, the wailing snarl of Ian Hunter’s vocals contends with -- and tries not to get drowned out by -- the front-and-center instrumentation comprised in a big boost of energized Blonde on Blonde-style organ and Mick Ralphs’ propulsive and bristling guitar.

As the madcap chaos and ferociousness of the lead-off “Death May Be Your Santa Claus” promises, if not threatens, the resultant nothing-to-lose push-and-shove sounds like each Mott-top was “Really mad at this outrage” as they advance an unsettling and all-embracing outlook “From the good to the bad to the ugly change.” And it's not a question of if - but when: after all, “How long, how long ‘fore you realize that all’s strange?”

Not that life has to be without healing and solace, as Mott The Hoople takes a detour with seemingly surprising covers of Dion’s “Your Own Backyard” and the Youngbloods’ “Darkness, Darkness,” with the plea to “Fill the emptiness of right now.”

Which Hunter & Company themselves proceed to do -- and then some -- when they get especially back on track with a couple of Full Motty, and foreshadowing, tracks. The nine-minute keyboard-driven “The Journey” prefigures, structurally and thematically, such anthemic grand statements as “Ballad of Mott The Hoople (26th March 1972, Zürich),” and “Ships,” from Hunter’s stellar solo work from 1979, You're Never Alone With a Schizophrenic.

On a more celebratory note, the manic and swaggering “Sweet Angeline” recalls Mott’s “All The Way From Memphis” as much as it does Dylan. But lyrically, it's capable of belying such joyousness; when Hunter entreats, "Oh rescue me or bury me, for I care not what you do / There is just one thing that I want to say, am I really you?" - it evokes one of Hunter’s most poignant songs (also from Mott), the gorgeous and melancholic “I Wish I Was Your Mother.”

Much more ominously, the penultimate “The Moon Upstairs,” suggesting Chuck Berry as channeled by Deep Purple, relates some unhinged episodes of insanity when “I hated them and they hated me and I hated everything," so “they let my body go / But they locked away my brain”:

    And my head is down and I’m called a clown by comedians that grace
    The living stage of every page of worthless meaningless space
    But I swear to you before we're though you’re gonna feel our every blow
    We ain’t bleeding you were feeding you but you’re too fucking slow

    And to those of you who always laugh
    Let this be your epitaph.

But let the two-minute toss-off that closes the album, “Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception,” be Brain Caper’s epitaph as it succinctly, if in slapdash fashion, sums up the preceding listening experience, whether expressly or in sense:
    This has been
    The Mott the Hoople
    Light Orchestra, who’ve been
    Playing some goodies
    And some newies
    And some oldies
    And some filthies
    And some weirdies
    And some queries
    Just for you…

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