Many of the bands I listened to in my younger days now constitute the unheard music. They just haven’t made it onto my I-pod. Presumably, as one grows older and wiser, tastes change. But when you find an artist who evolves with you, you stick with them. Ian Hunter’s 2007 disc Shrunken Heads is a just reward for hanging in with the man.
Ian Hunter fronted Mott the Hoople from 1969 to 1974. After the demise of that band, he embarked on a solo career. It’s possible that you’ve never heard of Mott or Hunter. Neither reached the level of success they should have. Despite a fat-bottomed backbeat and barroom-friendly power chords, Hunter’s lyrics occasionally required a sliver of thought. While songs like “Drivin’ Sister” and “Just Another Night” were hedonism, others such as “Momma’s Little Jewel” jumped with societal bite. Two lines of lyrics and you see the girl: “Momma’s little jewel just left school/fresh from the nuns that made you.” You probably even know her.
The songs don’t crank on Shrunken Heads. They do reverberate, however. A young man’s swagger has been replaced by an older man’s wisdom. That’s not to say they don’t rock. The backbeat remains, but instead of exuberance there is reflection. With wiser eyes behind his ever-present shades, Hunter takes a look at the world around him; he also finds a mirror.
He apologizes for himself in “Words (Big Mouth).” In “Fuss About Nothin’,” “Shrunken Heads” and “How’s Your House” he sees a civilization come askew. Hunter looks forward by looking back in “When the World was Round” and describes us all in “Brainwashed.” Alarms go off, however, when a song titled “The Soul of America” appears in the queue. Here’s the big idea, which usually insures cliché and pretension. Instead, Hunter explores and exposes; the soul of America isn’t exactly where one would imagine it.
Unfortunately, Hunter does take a cliché-powered tumble-down-the-stairs in “Guiding Light,” which could be an allegory for Jesus or the woman in Hunter’s life. Whoever it is, the subject is no “Irene Wilde”, the source of some of Hunter’s most detailed and passionate songwriting (from Hunter’s 1976 release All American Alien Boy).
Shrunken Headshits the jackpot in “I Am What I Hated When I Was Young.” The narrator scoffs at the piercings, tattoos, and sulking that mark today’s teens and twenty-somethings, and punctuates this by ending the first verse: “I am what I hated when I was young.” Naturally, if you’re enjoying your first legal drinks and are at all worthwhile, you have no use for an old crank like Hunter—or myself. Hunter relishes the virtues of youth. In a tasty cocktail of irony and black humor, he concludes the song with the lines, “Now I’m older, calmed down some/ I hate what I used to be when I was young.”
If you’re at an age where you sigh when someone in their forties strikes up a conversation with you, put off Shrunken Heads for a few years. But do yourself a favor and pick up Mott the Hoople’s Mott or Ian Hunter’s live Welcome to the Club. Enjoy them. Shrunken Headswill be waiting for you when you need it.