Ian Hunter

Shrunken Heads

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Even when he was a young man Ian Hunter was the crankiest guy in rock & roll, so old age suits him, since it gives him a guilt-free license to be a curmudgeon -- but that doesn't mean he's settling into complacency. Far from it, actually, as his absolutely tremendous 2007 album Shrunken Heads proves. Hunter is thrillingly alive on Shrunken Heads, producing an album that's as vital as the best of his work with Mott the Hoople. His achievement is all the more remarkable because it has nothing to do with musical reinvention but rather reclamation, as he finds new depths in his signature rock & roll, equal parts Dylan and the Stones but sounding not quite like either. That's always been true of Hunter, but there's a down-and-dirty, lived-in depth to Shrunken Heads that gives it muscle and immediacy as pure music. On that level alone the album would be more than worthwhile, but there's also a reason that his backing band -- featuring producer/guitarist/keyboardist Andy Burton, drummer Steve Holley, keyboardist Andy Burton, bassist Graham Maby, guitarists Jack Petruzzelli and James Mastro, plus cameos from Jeff Tweedy and Soozie Tyrell -- sounds so vigorous: they're playing one of Hunter's best sets of original songs. With its crunching hard rock and handful of wistful ballads born out of Blonde on Blonde, the album may stir up memories of his older work, but this is surely a contemporary record, roiling with anger at the state of the world today. Perhaps it took a songwriter born in Britain to see the soul of modern America as clearly as Ian Hunter does, for no other songwriter in the 2000s has addressed the disarray of modern life as directly, or as savagely, as he does here. He bristles at consumer culture, seethes about the celebration of stupidity, rails against disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina, gripes about how he liked it better "When the World Was Round," since there's too much information now, finally coming to the self-deprecating conclusion that "I Am What I Hated When I Was Young." This is furious stuff, but in typical Hunter fashion, it's witheringly funny, tremendously hard rocking, and above all, a whole bunch of fun, even when things get serious. That's because Ian Hunter always plays for keeps: he's always been a true rock & roll believer. It's what's sustained him throughout his career, and it's what makes him capable of delivering an album this timely, this fearless, and this good as he approaches his 70th birthday.

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