Saturday, February 24, 2007
Mott the Hoople - Brain Capers
Mott the Hoople achieved its greatest commmercial success after David Bowie "discovered" them, gave them the song "All the Young Dudes," and produced the album on which that song was included. But I believe Mott was at its best on the four albums prior to that, culminating in Brain Capers, released in 1972, an album that is, in my opinion, a hard rock classic. (Hard rock was a genre, not a casino hotel in Vegas, in those days. I don't remember exactly how it was defined, except that hard rock meant good rock, and plain rock could mean anything from America to the Grateful Dead. I don't think the term soft rock had been invented.)
Mott was never a band that could be easily classified. Their first album, called Mott the Hoople, came out in 1969 on Atlantic Records, and I suspect that the record company thought they were getting the next Humble Pie or Spooky Tooth. However, one could see that Mott was anything but the standard issue English blues rock band ( even if they did do an instrumental version of "You Really Got Me"). Their albums were chaotic and messy, with instruments and vocals flying all over the place, sometimes out of tune, sometimes buried in the mix. Their frontman, Ian Hunter, was a sunglass-wearing keyboard-playing Bob Dylan wannabe with a punk sneer. Their choice of covers reflected a post modern sensibility years before anyone but Lou Reed had the right to lay claim to that term: Sonny Bono's "Laugh at Me!" Doug Sahm's "Crossroads!" Melanie's "Lay Down!" Plus, their bass player's name was Overend Watts!
(I saw Mott at the Boston in the summer of 1970 at the Boston concert venue, The Ark, opening for Ten Years After. Of course, Mott blew them away. I remember I had to dodge Hunter's piano, which fell off the small stage during "You Really Got Me.")
Brain Capers captured all the joyous chaos of their previous albums, and yet rocked even harder. The vocals were more intense, the guitars shrieked with more urgency, and the rhythm section pounded away with more fire and assurance.
More importantly, Brain Capers also marked the maturing of Hunter as a songwriter. The obvious Dylan references were there, but they were clothed in truly great pre-punk rock music.
Brain Capers, like the previous three Mott albums, was produced by Guy Stevens (who appropriately enough produced the first three Clash albums). His ability to communicate the sense that the music was this close to flying completely out of control, and yet never allowing that to happen, was one of the reasons the Brain Capers may be one of the hardest rocking albums of all time, unmatched except by a few classics like Raw Power and The Clash.
"The Journey" is the centerpiece of Brain Capers. It is over nine minutes long and is, in some ways, a classic power ballad, with a long intro, slow build-up and several big crescendos. But one of Ian Humter's songwriting gifts, clearly evident in this song, was his ability to stay very personal even when the power chords were flying. That's why the song still sounds fresh.
Mott the Hoople - The Journey
Brain Capers is available from Itunes and Amazon.com