Mott the Hoople

Friends and Relatives

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Fans of the rock family trees produced by British historian Pete Frame will already have some idea of what a daunting task faced the creators of this collection. As much as any band of their age, Mott the Hoople's story touched so many other careers and concerns that a multi-disc box set could not truly do them justice. The parts played by a few bands are already well-known -- Spooky Tooth, Bad Company, and David Bowie are all integral to the saga, while the succession of archive exhumations issued by the U.K. Angel Air label have gone some way toward filling in the gaps that have long haunted devoted collectors -- primal '60s recordings by the Doc Thomas Group and the Silence, obscure '70s releases by British Lions and the Paper Bags, and sideline curiosities by Luther Grovesnor, the Rats, and Deep Feeling. Drawing from this stockpile alone, Friends and Relations could readily have proven an album of immense importance. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have worked out that way. The absence of the bigger (read "major label") names is the most immediate downfall, rendering the story only half-complete before it's even started. The preponderance of post-Ian Hunter Mott material, too, places the collection on shaky ground -- without a doubt, both that band and the succeeding British Lions did have some moments of fleeting magnificence but, equally doubtlessly, none of them are here. Rather, the heart of the collection relies on late-in-the-day solo recordings by founding members Mick Ralphs, Verden Allen, and Overend Watts (but no Ian Hunter -- can you imagine?); odd bits and pieces by later associates Morgan Fisher, Ray Majors, John Fiddler and Steve Hyams; two tracks apiece from sundry pre-Hoople concerns; and way too many live substitutes for unavailable studio material. Musically, Mott the Hoople stuck to a very clearly defined path, the band's magic lying in the deviations which took them in so many different directions at once, but still returned them to home base at the end of the day. That magic is discernable here, but it is diluted almost beyond recognition. From Watts' "Caribbean Hate Song" to Ralphs' "All Across the Nile" to Hyams' "Treat Yourself Right" to Fisher's "The Sleeper Wakes" -- they're all very nice and, occasionally, even great. But there's no sense of community, no notion of continuity, and certainly no hint of family. They're all friends and relations to be sure, but the thickest blood is nowhere to be found.

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