Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sony/Legacy reissues

Posted By on Wed, Mar 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

In 1973, after four go-nowhere Atlantic albums (including the essential self-titled debut and the great Brain Capers), Mott the Hoople found success with its smart and witty drink-along hubbub in David Bowie, who resurrected the band's career producing the glitter bootprint All The Young Dudes. The record revealed Mott's advancing cultural and musical blueprint, one that connected rock 'n' roll from American R&B to Dylan and the Kinks, to glitter and punk rock and beyond. And those aren't overwrought signifiers; it'd be hard to underestimate Mott's importance in the history of rock 'n' roll (ask Mick Jones — there'd be no Clash without Mott). It took an opportunist like Bowie (despite his sometimes gnarly production strokes) to see this.

The band's primary colors of keys-guitar-bass-drums was spare, and main man Hunter's collaborator Mick Ralphs' weighty and deceptively simple power-chording provided stiff backbone for the singer's Dylanesque singsong. Both ATYD and Mott show just how Hunter was perennially underrated as a writer; Mott's sheer volume and glam élan masked a deeper sensitivity and observational wit; his melodies and wordplay were more often than not lost in the perception of the group as rock 'n' roll stars — you can't be the New Dylan if your band is wearing platform boots, period. The juxtaposition was brilliant. Hunter was a well-read high priest of the bordello, a Dickensian voice of a generation nobody cared about — those kids who had little in common with art school or prog rock or fading hippie utopian ideals. He was a star on the dole with a gift to make you believe. His lines, which often bared a fanaticism for the celebration of life's grit, had longing and wisps of images that could resonate. As well, Hunter sung Bowie's lines in "All The Young Dudes" — possibly the most melancholy anthem ever written about the pubescent yearn — with certain ache. (As evidenced by a bonus track here, the Bowie-sung version pales by comparison, smothered under Thin White affectations.) The acoustic-driven "Sweet Jane" trumps any other recorded version aside from Lou Reed's on Rock 'n' Roll Animal. In Hunter's English drawl, the song has believable compassion.

The self-produced Mott is Mott at its apex, with sensibly added strings and horns. Opener "All the Way From Memphis" was a self-defining call-to-arms anthem to American kids that tipped its hat to the American South with gentlemanly class. Me-and-the-boys pathos lit up "Hymn For the Dudes" and the sad, lovely "Ballad of Mott the Hoople." Underground cultural commentary drove "Drivin' Sister," "Whizz Kid" and the knuckle-jacking pop hoopla of "Honaloochie Boogie."

These two reissues give you most of Mott's disheveled beauty in context, a band calling the shots in, as Hunter would say, "the Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll." Each album a classic and peppered with bonus live takes, demos, B-sides and alternate shots.

Side note: Sony in-house engineer Vic Anesini is an unsung hero at the console. He's one of a handful of "artful" mastering engineers (Bob Ludwig, Steve Hoffman, Dennis Drake and a few others) working today who eschew song-destroying digital maximizing and volume overload when remastering vintage tapes. Here you get the sense that Anesini actually cares about the music and its sonic quality; he captures the recordings in their warmth and musicality — nailing the actual dynamic range in the analog tapes — without stepping on them with heavy-handed compression and EQ.

The only complaint is why did Sony go the extra effort to remaster the third essential (1975's great The Hoople) in Mott's Columbia era only to relegate it to online release status only? That means you can download the album in a crappy compressed file, thereby mooting its sonic enhancement and sense of in-hand context. That's no way to treat the Mott.

Brian Smith is the music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to bsmith@metrotimes.com.

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