Walking away from Mott the Hoople at the point they were beginning to make their mark in the USA, a lot of people must have questioned Ian Hunter’s desire to make it as a rock and roll star. Apparently he was burnt out, and having finally achieved success in his early 30s, he had seemingly found the rock and roll dream to be rather hollow.
Having made the split from the band that had made his name, Hunter took a little time to recover before heading in to the recording studio with former Spider from Mars, latter day Mott member and all round guitar icon, Mick Ronson and laying down the foundations of his solo debut.
Except that it wasn’t supposed to be. The original plan was for the album to be released as a collaboration between Hunter and Ronson, however contractual and management issues on Ronno’s side would mean that it would be released under Hunter’s name only. This was a great shame, as Ronson’s name alongside Hunter’s would have ensured that it shifted a few more units than it did, but nevertheless Ronno was featured prominently in the credits and the album as a whole confirmed that Hunter didn’t particularly need Mott the Hoople with him to record a genuinely great album.
It opens with an extended version of “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”, Hunter’s only solo hit single here in the UK. It remains a great rock song, starting as a sort of an electric skiffle topped with Hunter’s unmistakable drawl, before a searing Ronson riff makes its entrance just before the two minute mark and the whole song takes off as Hunter kicks the song up a gear. Bowie may have abandoned rock and roll for icy art-rock but “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” is confirmation that Bowie lost a vital element of his sound when he gave Ronson his marching orders.
“Who Do You Love” is another stirling rocker, but this time with more of an obvious debt to the blues, something which is not always immediately obvious when listening to a lot of Ian Hunter’s work. “Lounge Lizard” is a song left over from the Mott the Hoople days, and although it lacks the scruffy charm of the version that has appeared on an early 90s Mott compilation, the album version is considerably more sure-footed.
“Boy” is the album’s epic and a reminder that rockers were just one of Hunter’s specialities, and that he was more than capable of writing more melodic and thoughtful material. His more tender and sentimental side was also evident on “3,000 Miles From Here”, and for me, it’s one of the best songs of his career.
“The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nuthin’ But The Truth” is a slow-burning riff-heavy rocker which, despite over six minutes of run time, doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The siamese-twinned “It Ain’t Easy When You Fall” and “Shades Off” is another lengthy track, but is also the album’s secret weapon. “It Ain’t Easy When You Fall” is a startlingly tender song, combining the sensitive reflection and bombast that had been evident on the album’s other tracks with a killer chorus. It segues into “Shades Off”, a spoken word coda that plays over the repeated chorus as it fades out. It’s the type of song that manages to lodge itself into your subconscious in a way that leads you back to its parent album with increasing frequency.
Closer “I Get So Excited” is a Mott-style rocker with a insistent riff, batteries of drums and a gloriously straightforward chorus. Following “It Ain’t Easy When You Fall / Shades Off”, it’s a breakneck-sprint to the end, bringing the album to the only conclusion possible.
Ian Hunter’s self titled solo debut is as strong as any he recorded with Mott The Hoople and set the gold-standard for his solo work that he continues to work to today. With Mick Ronson as his running buddy, they produced something that was an evolution of the sound of Hunter’s previous band, but also hinted towards where Hunter would head for in the future, without being confused or muddled. This was a self-assured step and confirmation that there was life after Mott.