Mott the Hoople

All the Young Dudes [Box Set]

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For a group whose living legacy stretched to just seven albums (and one live set), anthologizing Mott the Hoople has proven extraordinarily problematic. Few bands, after all, have meant so many things to so many people, while two very separate career trajectories -- a bluesy Dylanesque bar band on one hand, glammy post-Bowie storm troopers on the other -- ensure that even devoted acolytes will never agree on what constitutes the band's very best. Single disc retrospectives are ten-a-penny and satisfy nobody; a two CD collection left too many gaps; All The Young Dudes tries to fit everything onto three, and still comes out short. What the devil is going on? No complaints about the actual contents on the set, though. Documenting the 1969-1971 (Island/Atlantic) and 1972-1974 (CBS/Columbia) periods in best-ever sound, the first two discs take a more or less unimpeachable stroll through the regular catalog, tweaking a few rough spots with unobtrusive remixes, plugging some holes with demos and rarities, and going beyond the basic catalog with well-chosen excerpts from the early-1980s Two Miles From Heaven outtakes collection. Allied with the Walking With a Mountain collection, these two discs do indeed tell the Mott story in all of its glory. More problematic is disc three. The need for an all-encompassing latter-day Mott rarities collection grows stronger all the time -- spread across maybe half a dozen different CDs, the past decade has seen at least one full album's worth of previously unissued material surface, ranging from the live "Here Comes the Queen" which closes guitarist Luther Grovesnor/Ariel Bender's Floodgates Anthology, to the handful of outtakes scattered across the Ballad of Mott collection. Add the Bowie-produced version of "Sweet Jane" featuring Lou Reed's original guide vocal, live recordings from the band's Mick Ronson-fired dog days, and the unreleased remainder of the 1974 Live album, and, clearly, you'd have a killer collection. The box set, however, eschews almost everything the demanding obsessive could ask for, in favor of nine tracks which aren't even Mott the Hoople. The forerunning Buddies, Shakedown Sound, and Doc Thomas Group, and the post-Ian Hunter Mott and British Lions concerns all require anthologizing, of course, and the U.K.-based Angel Air label has made a good start on that quest. Random insertions sandwiched between some genuinely hot Hoople cuts, however, do not make the grade, rendering almost half of this disc a wasted opportunity at best. Scratch those cuts out of contention and what we do get is priceless. A reconstructed version of "All the Young Dudes" places Bowie's original demo vocal over a full-blooded band backing track; "Honaloochie Boogie" resurfaces with its original lyric (before it was changed at Bowie's suggestion); an unreleased Verden Allen-penned track, "Nightmare," proves that the group's original keyboard player was at least as visionary a songwriter as Hunter; while three loose-limbed rock & roll oldies recorded with long-serving roadie Stan Tippins on vocals offer a gleeful glimpse into a moment of studio downtime during the Dudes album sessions. Finally, the disc ends with a clutch of recordings from the group's 1974 King Biscuit broadcast, including Hunter's spectral recitation of the opening lines from "American Pie," feeding into the cataclysmic intro to "The Golden Age of Rock'n'Roll." Indeed, if anybody ever asks you what made Mott the Hoople so special, the moment where the band comes in for the first time answers the question in unequivocal style. And the fact that it takes you almost three discs to get there simply confirms what we've known all along. Trying to anthologize Mott the Hoople is a lousy job -- but someone's got to do it.

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