Having established themselves in the late 60s as Dylan and Stones infused rockers, Mott the Hoople spent the next few years with a reputation of a storming live act whose studio material failed to capture the magic they routinely produced on stage.
After four albums for Island Records in which they explored hard rock, country rock and heartfelt ballads, but had ultimately resulted in registering meagre sales, Mott the Hoople had called it a day when a fast rising David Bowie offered to write them a hit single if they stayed together. While the resulting hit single, “All the Young Dudes”, and the Bowie-produced album of the same name saw them in the charts, Bowie rapidly moved on to his next pet-project, having advised Mott vocalist Ian Hunter that if the band were going to survive, Hunter would have to take sole charge of their creative direction.
Needless to say, this didn’t go down well with Hunter’s co-bandleader Mick Ralphs, but after organ player Verden Allen had departed, the band reconvened as a foursome to create their first album recorded in the full glare of expectation. If the album flopped, they’d be forever seen as mere puppets of David Bowie, so the pressure was on like never before, and with this in mind Hunter rose to the occasion.
The general consensus of rock historians is that Mott is Mott the Hoople’s definitive album. It’s certainly their most enduring, kicking off with one of Hunter’s greatest songs in “All the Way from Memphis”, a story of life on the road, mislaid guitars and redemption, as Hunter lays to rest any fears that Mott the Hoople were going slip away into obscurity without the patronage of Britain’s hottest musical commodity. Mott the Hoople had arrived, and there was no way that they were going to let the opportunity for medium-sized rock stardom to slip through their collective fingers. Where previously their albums sounded a little fragmented as a result of their individual muses pulling in different directions, Mott is a unified and potent rock and roll album. Yes, the band had a surface coating of the shiny dust of glam-rock, at heart they were as gritty a rock band as you could hope to fine. This combination of glitter and grit resulted in an album with a unique sounding album that achieved a finely honed balance of hard rocking power and pop smarts.
From the hard rocking “Drivin’ Sister”, to the more considered pieces like “Hymn for the Dudes” and “The Ballad of Mott the Hoople (26th March 1972, Zürich)” to the proto-punk of “Violence”, Mott is relatively diverse given its economical length. That said, it’s notable that the only mis-step on the album is the inclusion of Ralph’s overlong “I’m a Cadillac / El Camino Dolo Roso”. It’s not that “I’m a Cadillac / El Camino Dolo Roso” is a bad song, it just doesn’t fit on Mott, as it sounds like a throwback to their Island days. I suppose you could consider “I’m a Cadillac / El Camino Dolo Roso” as being symbolic of Ralph’s position in the band, as it harks back to their earlier sound when he had more input into the direction of the band, and this is the song on the album that is pulling in the opposite direction to all the others. In retrospect it was clear that Ralph’s time with the band was drawing to a close, but it’s also heartening to know that he went on to achieve global success as a founder member of the less interesting, but ultimately more straightforward, Bad Company.
Mott closes with the pretty “I Wish I Was Your Mother”, a dose of mandolin-fuelled heartbreak and resignation. It was the type of song that Hunter had been regularly been penning since the start of the band as a counterbalance to the band’s more hard-rocking tendencies, showing off the band’s more tender and sensitive side. It’s a skill that Hunter retains to this day through his solo work, and “I Wish I Was Your Mother” is one of the best examples of this approach.
So is Mott the band’s best album? It’s certainly their most consistent post-“Dudes” album, and that includes the one that Bowie himself produced. While so many acts of the time were either ‘pop’ or ‘rock’, this album found Mott the Hoople effortlessly bridging both.