Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mott the Hoople – Mad Shadows & Brain Capers

When I first heard the first Sex Pistols single, my initial reaction was, “hey, these guys sound like early Mott the Hoople!” These records are the ones that I was referring to – this is true proto-punk heavy metal! Yes, Ian Hunter’s Dylan-esque tendencies show their face now and again, but overall, these are very hard rockin’ records!

Mad Shadows, their second release, opens with the massive “Thunderbuck Ram”, a Mick Ralphs offering. Starting with a truly pretty guitar/piano interplay, Ralphs then slams into huge power chords and the energy never stops! This is another MTH classic – crazed, on-the-edge r’n’r as it should sound! Each band member really works together to create the whole. Love it!

You need to take a breath after that madness, so Hunter’s “No Wheels to Ride” comes as a relief. But, while quieter overall, this song does build into what was later called a power ballad, though unlike most of those, this is actually a good song! Mick has a strong guitar solo, as well.

Hunter gets a little heavier with “You Are One of Us” with its big chords and inclusive group chorus. It is also incredibly short! It barely gets started before it is gone! But, then they move into another of their toughest tunes and a live fave for years to come, “Walkin’ With a Mountain”. This is Ian’s take on piano-driven 50’s r’n’r and in the fade out it gives kudos to songs like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” while Mick wails on his guitar.

There true ballad on this record is “I Can Feel”, a piano, orchestra and choral tour-de-force. Ian’s sensitivity and honesty is undeniable, but quite frankly, I prefer when the band rocks!

Ralphs comes back with the mid-tempo “Threads of Iron”. Good guitar parts and a somewhat darker chorus compete with poppy verses until it ends with a terrific, wild, extended guitar/piano jam! This turns out to be the best part of the song!

More introspection in the album’s closer, “When My Mind’s Gone”, another piano ballad. This is strong and emotional and lets Ian show off in this solo enterprise. Actually a nice ending to the record.

As I discovered recently, Wildlife came between Mad Shadows and Brain Capers, but I think that MS & BC are close companion pieces in a very similar mode. If the rockers were separated and put into one compilation, these songs could easily fit in with the recent crop of punk’n’rollers like the Hellacopters, TurboNegro, etc.

Brain Capers opens with the wonderfully named “Death May Be Your Santa Claus”. Organist Verden Allen co-wrote this blistering number with Hunter and this is one of their best! Super heavy organ and guitar fights for dominance and we are the winners! Totally insane hi-energy at its best! The band integrates wonderfully, the song is damn catchy and it rocks like crazy! Whew!

Oddly, they cover a tune by 50’s rocker, Dion, in “My Own Back Yard”. Nice melody in this slow-to-mid-tempo number that grows a bit as the band comes in and everyone adds their own two cents to the mix. One of their best covers is “Darkness, Darkness”, written by Jesse Colin Young for the Youngbloods. Ralphs sings this one in his light, delicate voice and the quiet verses contrast with the with incredibly heavy chorus sections. This turns into a powerhouse solo section that crashes out of the speakers before moving into one last, very strong verse and ending jam. This definitely out-does the great original. Amazing!

“The Journey” is a musical journey as well as a lyrical one. Starting as a quiet ballad, this builds into one of their toughest numbers, with a massive wall of sound. They come back down to start building all over again – nice aural waves! Again, everyone works together to make this a true masterpiece.

The band creates a pop-rocker with “Angeline” – extremely melodic, but with a good, rockin’ beat. I definitely prefer this to the mellower version from the live album a few years later. I dig the band interaction here and it sounds as if they are truly enjoying themselves while they play. Allen writes a Hunter-esque song, “Second Love”, a ballady tune that is augmented by a horn section as it intensifies. The horns actually give this a nice flavor – somewhat Stones-y, with a Sticky Fingers kinda feel, which is interesting as that was almost the name of the Mad Shadows record before the Stone co-opted it.

Another of their superb rockers is the Hunter/Ralphs collaboration, “The Moon Upstairs”. This damn near defines heavy rock – more huge guitar & keyboard chords as Ian practically screams on top of the roar! Magical stuff – cool lyrics, wild sounds, great changes! This epitomes everything that I love about MTH!

I think that someone was listening to Frank Zappa when they titled “The Wheel of Quivering Meat Conception”, credited to Hunter & Stevens, this is another concept ala “Wrath’n’Roll” – Stevens obviously just let the tape roll as the band jammed out on the fade out of “The Journey”. Terrific ending to this raucous record, though!

Bowie definitely cleaned up the band and their sound for the All the Young Dudes record and while I am a huge fan of that sound, these early record are raw and psychotic and really define 70’s rock’n’roll. Get ‘em if you love your music teetering on the edge of madness!