People who are too eager to criticize the vocals of the indiesphere for being too generic (Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, the Stone Roses’ Ian Brown) or too copecatty (Interpol’s Paul Banks taking after Ian Curtis, the Rapture’s Luke Jenner taking after Robert Smith, Arcade Fire’s Win Butler taking after Bono, Silversun Pickups’ Brian Aubert taking after Billy Corgan, etc.) should really take a step back and aim all their anger at Ian Hunter. Because seriously, fuck him. When he’s not busy imitating David Bowie or Lou Reed (at David Bowie’s behest), he’s busy being completely nondescript. Which is especially troubling in a genre like glam rock that practically relies on the lead singer’s theatricality (see: David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Bryan Ferry, Elton John, etc.).
Their cover of “Sweet Jane” is okay – it has exactly two things going for it: 1. the chiming guitar climbs (the first time it appears is at the 0:48 mark, right before the chorus) and 2. they use cowbells for percussion, an instrument which I find incredibly hard to criticize. The only reason the additional guitar is needed at all on their cover is because while Ian Hunter successfully imitates Lou Reed’s lazy delivery of the verses, he can’t be bothered with how Lou Reed filled in the empty spaces of the chorus in the original with his most passionate singing ever – “Get it ready ah! – SWEET JANE! – COME ON BABY DOLL! – SWEET JANE! – OH! WOAH!” Meanwhile, you really have to squint to hear the drums. I don’t know if that blame is due to Dale Griffin not banging them out loud enough or David Bowie’s thin-as-fuck “production” (he was obviously saving his best work when he produced Lou Reed’s Transformer shortly after this). And despite dropping the majestic intro of the original (an understandable move) and speeding up the tempo, this version feels incredibly longer because of how there’s no difference between the bulk of the song and the outro, which they turn into a standard affair. If there are people in the world who criticize Loaded for its normal-ness and praise this thing, they should probably get their ears checked. Or donate them to the deaf.
Ian Hunter had this to say about the Velvet Underground after hearing “Sweet Jane,” “When I heard the Velvet Underground, I thought they stunk.” I’m guessing it’s more a result of David Bowie’s presence, both on production and inspiration, but the irony of the statement seems lost on Hunter, because a lot of All the Young Dudes is so obviously Velvet Underground-inspired. Before David Bowie came along, Mott the Hoople had exactly four influences: Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan and Robert Zimmerman. But look at their subject matter now! “Sucker” has Ian Hunter singing about S&M (well, blimey, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Regardless, “Sucker” is a solid track – the drumming is energetic and David Bowie’s saxophone coloring is one of the few times he’s actually doing anything more in regards to production that simple microphone setup. But there’s two problems. The band err in thinking that a song is nothing more than its hook (80% of “Sucker” is “My baby call me when she want a tale” being repeated). Meanwhile, Ian Hunter doesn’t do the lyrics any justice. When he sings, “Well look what’s here! Maybe if we take it slow,” I just don’t believe he’s about to get it on with a girl – he sounds more like he’s about to get it on with himself. Even dumber, the boring rocker “Jerkin’ Crocus” is exactly 3 out of the 4 chords used in “Sweet Jane” in the exact same strum pattern? Fuck that noise. (Fun backing vocals though.)
I’m equally not a big fan of the album’s final stretch of songs. Verden Allen’s “Soft Ground” seems to think all that’s needed in a rock song is heavy instruments, and I get the feeling it was only included because the band felt sorry for him – he must have got the same vibrations, because he soon quit the band (If you want to play a game, just try and spot his organ-work on the album or on his own song! It’s impossible I tell you!). Mick Ralphs’ “Ready for Love” has both a sizable three-chord riff and hook, but the addition of the instrumental “After Lights” tacked at the end is inexplicable. And to close the album, Ian Hunter takes the lyrics of “Space Oddity” and puts them on top of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide”’s structure (David Bowie even grabs Mick Ronson to help its arrangement). It’s exactly what that sounded like, and frankly, there are much better places to look for if you want a “Space Oddity”-inspired song from that same year.
That’s enough bitching, because there are some good stuff to be found. “One of the Boys” works because of Ian Hunter, rather than despite him as on the rest of the album. He offers his most energetic performance ever to match the sheer visceral energy of the rest of the band as they recreate “Helter Skelter,” straight down to the outro that seemingly ends the song and then crashing back in right after the Mayor called for them on the telephone as if they were Batman & Robin. Finally, there’s “All the Young Dudes.” It’s a good song, certainly (though I find it hilarious that David Bowie had first offered them “Suffragette City” – an infinitely better song – and they refused!). The opening guitar line is gorgeous, and the chorus has the most melodic singing on the album. But the best part is David Bowie’s shouted backing vocals in the song’s outro, which turns the song into a homosexual anthem, “I WANT HIM RIGHT HERE BRING HIM COME ON […] I’VE WANTED TO DO THIS FOR YEARS!” George Starostin wrote that this song “summarizes glam rock,” but notes that the song’s homosexuality “was just a part of the glam image – nothing else.”
Yup. I shake my head quietly at people who criticize modern music’s concern for image over music but simultaneously praise stuff like this from the 70s.