Soundchecks Music Reviews

When I'm President by Ian Hunter and the Rant Band

Proper Records PRPCD104

Ian Hunter & the Rant Band

review by Andrew Darlington

"Ello," Mr 'Unter positions himself between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the run-up to the White House, and states his manifesto in no uncertain terms. It's a mighty long way down rock 'n' roll from his Mott The Hoople hit-making days, but Ian Hunter's 20th album still carries the distinctive charge of his finest work. He was part of the first postmodern rockists, steeped in rock 'n' roll so its rhythms and references come as naturally as breathing. Ignited by 1950s rockabilly, sharpened by 1960s R&B grit, topped off with 1970s mix-and-match sensibility, it's achieved its own timelessness, folding in slight quotes and nods to what had come before without effort, almost without pre-thought. It is his first language, his vocabulary of choice.

Both fan and practitioner he was always one of its finest chroniclers. He's always stayed true to his calling, and seldom strays from its poles. But if anyone captures the sheer essence of the rock 'n' roll life better than All The Way From Memphis or Once Bitten, Twice Shy I've yet to hear them. And if you've not been fortunate enough to catch him doing, say, Cleveland Rocks in concert, I'd direct you to the live and studio versions on the expanded CD-version of You're Never Alone With A Schizophrenic (1979). You'll be glad you did.

So, all the kit and caboodle is here intact, but is there anything as strong as what's gone before? Well, even after the first few plays of these 11 new cuts, there are promising contenders. First he slips into something perfectly Comfortable, with familiar honking riffing backdrop and rock-solid drums, a punchy authority based around his long-standing Rant Band back-up group, allied to a nudge at Chuckleberry's All Hail Rock 'n' Roll.

Fatally Flawed does the soft-loud, soft-loud thing with contemplative picking book-ended by dense walls of thunderous guitars. Then comes the strong muscular guitar figure that introduces the title-track itself. Unlike the more heavy-handed political content of his 2009 Man Overboard, its wry socially-conscious lyric is laced with vicious humour. Once in office he's gonna "stick it to the fat cats," the thieves and pirates still whining about their bonuses, he's "gonna lean on the one-percent," even as he's throwing in an autobiographical nudge back to "feel like an (All-American) alien," delivered in his skewed Dylan-raw vocal intonation. Bruce Springsteen would be justifiably proud to write a song as strong as this. "Pigs are gonna fly," he yells, "Look at 'em!"

With Ian are guitarists Mark Bosch and James Mastro, keyboard-player Andy Burton, underpinned by the rhythm section of bassist Paul Page and drummer Steve Holley. The core of Holley and Mastro go back to 2001's Rant, with Burton and Bosch joining in time for 2007's Shrunken Heads. Co-producer Andy York is also on hand to add backing vocals as required. They acquit themselves admirably as What For rails against trash-TV and tabloid-sleaze to a Stones-Ramones hybrid rumble that's unmistakeably Mr 'Unter. "What for? What for?" his snappy chorus demands, "I'll give you what for!" Then he slings in the "you shake my nerves and you rattle my brain" borrowed from the 'original punk of all time', Jerry Lee Lewis. His smart rock-literate informed lyrics effortlessly touch all the right connections. He knows this game too well to fault. With the bittersweet ballad Black Tears he sucks soul into each note. Barry Manilow - no less, scored big with Ian's Ships. If he's hunting a new hit he need look no further.

Just The Way You Look Tonight takes an old Fred Astaire celluloid smoocher and twists it around, staking Ian's claim for working class hero status. Then, with Saint, he throws in his outlaw lot with Frank and Jesse - the James gang, a theme picked up by the chugging rocker Wild Bunch, replete with western movie visuals conjured by barroom piano clear through to its boisterous tongue-in-cheek closing gospel sing-along of "we shall gather by the river," to scattered applause. But - perhaps finest of all, heartbeat tom-toms lead into the vivid haunting Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse), lamenting the ghosts of Native Americans blowing like tumbleweed across the prairie, slow-burning verse broken by electrifying guitar. Bury this man's heart at Wounded Knee.

Retrieving the earlier mood, the strutting swaggering I Don't Know What You Want introduces an effective vocal split supplied by Ian's son Jesse Hunter Patterson. Finally there's a slow closer, Life, which teeters just on the right side of maudlin. "I can't believe after all these years, you're still here and I'm still here." Own up, he might not be about to get his 'ugly mug' carved into Mount Rushmore any time soon, but - aged 73, with the audacity to write songs as good as this, Ian Hunter's sure putting all the younger dudes in the shade. These truths I hold to be self-evident.

Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press