While Ian Hunter’s self-titled solo debut was met with enthusiasm, the increasingly muted reception that met his next two albums must have been disappointing for the former Mott the Hoople frontman. Reconnecting with regular collaborator and general guitar genius Mick Ronson, while also engaging the services of three members of the E Street Band, two of whom had backed Meat Loaf on the mega-successful Bat Out of Hell, along with backing singer Ellen Foley, Hunter ensured he was backed by a crack set of musicians as he headed into the studio to attempt to regain the lost ground.
There’s a strong case to be made that 1979’s You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic is the best Ian Hunter solo album, and it certainly has a particularly high concentration of his career-best songs, with at least two thirds of its nine tracks being among the best material he has ever written. Opening with “Just Another Night”, a crowd pleasing slice of commercial rock, ostensibly co-written with Ronson, though legend has it that Hunter offered him that credit in exchange for the memorable album title. Either way, it’s a song that Hunter still plays live today to great effect and it kicks this album off with a suitably memorable tune.
The tone is maintained with “Wild East”, a solid enough tune, but in the grand scheme of the album, it’s not one of its most memorable numbers, especially as it is immediately followed by one of Hunter’s most enduring numbers, the raucous air-puncher that is “Cleveland Rocks”. While there was an earlier incarnation of “Cleveland Rocks” on Hunter’s previous album, it arguably didn’t reach its full potential as a rock classic until it was re-recorded for You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic by Hunter and arguably the best studio backing band from the first half of his solo career.
You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic then completely changes gear with “Ships”, one of Hunter’s trademark ballads, and one with which no less a discerning balladeer than Barry Manilow would cover to considerable success. While it may seem a little bizarre that Manilow would enjoy a hit single by covering an Ian Hunter number, it really does underline what a great songwriter Hunter is, specialising in all out rockers and durable ballads.
The first side of the album closes with “When the Daylight Comes”, another solid song which just struggles to stick in the memory like the best numbers on You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic, but I’d be distinctly lacking in generosity if I considered it filler.
If the first side of You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic declared that Ian Hunter was anything but a spent force, then it’s second side outright confirmed that that was the case.
“Life After Death” is an arresting way to open the second half of You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic and halts the minor lull at the end of the first side. As great a song as it is though, it’s immediately (and somewhat ironically) overshadowed by one of Ian Hunter’s greatest moments, the immense “Standin’ in my Light”. Pathos has always been one of Hunter’s strongest suits, and nowhere more than “Standin’ in my Light”, an anthem for those sick and tired of being overshadowed by lesser individuals who talk a good fight, but never deliver. It’s one of Hunter’s most impassioned performances and an absolute show stopper.
On any other album, “Standin’ in my Light” would have made for an awe-inspiring closing track, but You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic is not just any album, so it follows it up with the furious and seething “Bastard”, a suitably sinuous and sinister rocker which absolutely delivers on it’s angry and bad tempered title.
You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic eventually closes with “The Outsider”, another righteous bellow of defiance against an uncaring world, and a show stopping tune of equal magnitude to “Standin’ in my Light”. Hunter’s cracked and beaten, yet still continuing on nevertheless, vocal style comes into its own on tracks like “Standin’ in my Light” and “The Outsider”. No one else could have possibly performed them with such impact, something which once again underlines the fact that, while Hunter may not be the most technically gifted vocalist, almost nobody matches his ability to inhabit their own songs.
You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic pretty much resurrected Ian Hunter’s career, and it is arguably his most consistently pleasing studio album. It remains his finest hour, with or without Mott the Hoople.