“I got a big mouth,” Ian Hunter warns on the lead track to his latest album. To Hunter’s credit, when he has chosen to open it lately, he has made it count.
The former Mott the Hoople singer has just released what is, amazingly, just his fourth studio disc in the past 24 years (one of which, 1997’s Artful Dodger, was not released in America).
But his new Shrunken Heads (Yep Roc Records) — much like 2001’s excellent full-fledged comeback effort, Rant — shows the 67-year-old Hunter still has plenty to say, and that he is in fine form as a lyricist.
It also finds Hunter, though sandpaper-voiced as ever, sounding much like a classically styled pop singer at times. The slick production and moderate tempos favored on the disc may surprise fans of the looser, bar-band brand of rock Hunter scored with in his 1970s heyday with such staples as “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” and “Cleveland Rocks.”
On the album’s economical 11 cuts, Hunter slings well-aimed arrows at politicians (“Fuss About Nothin’ “), our information-obsessed society (“When the World Was Round”) and also references the plight of Hurricane Katrina victims (“How’s Your House”). But Hunter never resorts to the self-righteous or ponderous treatment that these well-worn topics would probably suffer from in lesser hands. For instance, instead of a straight-up rant about his dissatisfaction with government, he offers the deftly phrased observation, “I don’t see no Washington taking the strain/No Jefferson, Adams, Franklin or Paine.”
If the mood is kept somewhat light across the disc, a major reason is that Hunter spends just as much time expanding on his own flaws, whether offering an extended apology for hurtful words to a loved one or closing the record with a song of personal vulnerability, the stirring piano ballad “Read ’em ‘n’ Weep.”
For someone whose career has spanned some 40 years, Hunter weaves a frequent theme through this batch of songs: that he not only does not have all of life’s answers, he somehow seems to grasp fewer of them as he matures. “I’m the original mixed-up kid/I ain’t proud of what I did,” he sings. “Now I’m older, calmed down some/I hate what I used to be when I was young.”
If Hunter sounds far removed from the man who belted out the enduring rallying cry of “All the Young Dudes” more than 30 years ago, on Shrunken Heads he is indeed a much older dude, but one who is still relevant — when he so chooses.
— By George Henn