Mott The Hoople pulled off a true rock & roll resurrection in 1972 with the help of David Bowie. The group returned to the record racks with All The Young Dudes on new label Columbia, earning their first hit single, respectable album sales and a new lease on life as a touring act. Follow-ups are often easy in the wake of such success but this was Mott The Hoople, so immediately things got difficult.
For starters, the mercurial Bowie moved on so it was up to the band – specifically, main songwriter Ian Hunter – to come up with more hits. Concurrently, the group’s new manager, Bowie svengali Tony DeFries, departed after quickly growing apart from the democratically-minded group situation of Mott The Hoople. Keyboardist Verden Allen also left when leadership became an issue for the now-successful group and tensions began to develop between Hunter and guitarist/other key songwriter Mick Ralphs.
They almost broke up again and initially Hunter began recording potential solo recordings with his Mott bandmates backing him up. However, Hunter and the others ultimately decided to make these recordings into a new group album. Management issues were resolved and the group ended up handling production themselves. What they came up with was Mott, which not only produced more U.K. hits but also became a bigger enduring fave with fans than the All The Young Dudes album.
The most important part of Mott from the survival-of-the-band aspect was that it proved Hunter could write singles capable of scoring on the U.K. charts. In fact, he served up two on this album.
The first was “Honaloochie Boogie,” an impressionistic evocation of rock & roll’s rough-and-tumble early days that plays as a midtempo piano-pounder with grand electric guitar lines and a sing-along chorus. Even better was “All The Way From Memphis,” a witty travelogue of the group’s recent adventures on tour in the U.S. that doubled as one of Hunter’s trademark cynical commentaries on the rock music biz. Both feature some excellent saxophone work from guest Andy Mackay of Roxy Music. They respectively hit #12 and #10 on the English pop charts.
But there’s much more to Mott than just tunes aimed at the hit parade. Hunter’s keen interest in the mythology of the rock musician resulted in two key tracks. The first was “Hymn For The Dudes,” another of the band’s tributes to the fans done with an operatic grandeur (dig those leather-lunged backing harmonies from U.K. backup trio, Thunderthighs). Allen co-wrote this one with Hunter, making it his parting gesture to the group.
However, the second track in this vein was one of the band’s all-time greats, “The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople.” It uses the band’s pre-All The Young Dudes breakup as the springboard for Hunter’s vision of rock music as a glorious but doomed pursuit where you’re more likely to lose than to win. It’s pessimistic but still quite honest and the band conveys a few lifetimes’ worth of experiences with their deeply-felt performance. You could also argue this is the song when Hunter takes the Dylan-isms of the past and truly makes them his own.
The tracks between the hits and mythmaking add a steady dose of rock to flesh out the album’s richness. “I’m A Cadillac” is the one true Ralphs vehicle on this album, a sturdy rocker with good chorus hooks and plenty of stylish, hearty guitar work. It’s also a kind of a stylistic sequel to the last album’s “Ready For Love/After Lights” because it adds a tasty instrumental coda called “El Camino Dolo Roso” that allows Ralphs to show off his acoustic skills in a way reminiscent of Wildfire.
You also get a technically complex heavy glam number in “Whizz Kid” and a good old-fashioned riffer in “Drivin’ Sister,” a kick-out-the-jams number that was perfect for concerts. However, Schlockmania’s favorite amongst the stack of rockers is “Violence,” a chillingly theatrical number about an inarticulate dead-end kid who can only find a satisfactory self-expression while dealing out the titular act of aggression to the others. This Hunter/Ralphs collaboration is a perfect marriage of the group’s rock and theatrical elements, spiced up with shivery violin lines at chorus time from guest musician Graham Preskett.
In a moment oddly fitting for this tempestuous band, Hunter and Ralphs got into a fight during the recording of “Violence.” This incident illuminated the writing on the wall: the chemistry of opposites that allowed these two to fuel the band for so long was coming apart, with Ralphs soon decamping after the album’s release to form his subsequent band, Bad Company.
Thankfully, their last album together remains the best of Mott The Hooples’s post-Island era, an album where this hard-luck crew struggled past obstacles that would kill lesser bands to create a recorded testament that perfectly depicts their cynical yet passionate take on the genre. No collection of glam rock is complete without its 43 minutes’ worth of bitter wisdom.