Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hey honey, I shrunk Ian Hunter

On Ian Hunter's latest studio album, the phenomenal 'Shrunken Heads', what you get is a collection of confession songs fueled by acoustic and electric guitars, piano and heartfelt sentiment. This is Hunter at his most outspoken. It's his take on Americana but done in his own style, and it's brilliant.

It's been light years since his days in Mott The Hoople, and even the distant thunder of one of his first solo albums - 'All American Alien Boy' featuring the classic ballad 'Irene Wilde' - it's a sequin footnote to the grassroots of 70's glam rock rock'n'roll history.

'Shrunken Heads' could possibly be Hunter's most convincing solo album to date. Always a Brit at heart, the new album is a golden snapshot of America, the good, the bad and the ugly (but predominantly the bad and the ugly).

"Nothin' matters any more," growls Hunter during the start of the title track. "The rich get richer, and the poor get sorer. This house is haunted and the streets are dead. We're all at the mercy of shrunken heads." The song is another disfunctional ballad from rock's greatest wordsmith. It's emotionally compelling, and it makes you start thinking about how fucked up living in the USA can be.

This is the kind of album where it's difficult to encapsulate into a short review, mainly because every song is fantastic. Ian Hunter doesn't know how to write a bad song. He delivers a rock'n'roll dirge anthem in the shape of 'How's Your House' - an insight into the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "Crept across the border, got a mobile home," sings Ian. "Hurricane Katrina sunk me like a stone yeah. Now I'm runnin' outta water, there's nothing left to eat. Kitchen's on the car 'n it's floating down the street."

Guilty pleasures creep in with 'Stretch', a bar room rock'n'roll throwback to Hunter's seminal 'Overnight Angels' album. The drums are pounding, the guitars could have been played by the late Mick Ronson, while the ragtime piano is classic Hoople. Then suddenly you get visions of his earlier Hoople classic, 'All The Young Dudes', and that's when you begin too realise that's it's a no-brainer. Ian Hunter is a genius.

He closes the album with a simple, poignant, piano and vocal ballad 'Read 'em 'n' Weep'. It's a typical relationship gone bad song, but it's sung from the heart. While a lot of today's new bands try their best to impress, the one key thing they all lack is the ability to write consistently compelling songs. Where will Brandon Flowers be 30 years from now?

Ian Hunter's been doing it for 35 years, and while other artists like the Stones ran out of steam in the mid 70's, Hunter continues to get better with age. 'Shrunken Heads' is a milestone.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I'm in love with the idea of Siouxsie Sioux

It's probably been a long time coming, but Siouxsie Sioux has finally swept the Banshees under the floorboards and she's checked the Creatures into her local vet. Siouxsie has gone solo. Surprisingly, her debut album, 'Mantary', is a joy to behold... well, almost.

Before the Banshees split up years ago, they released a cool song entitled 'Peek-A-Boo' which featured the catchy lyric, "Jeepers creepers, where'd you get those peepers?" The track was a departure from the Banshees signature distorted guitar sound. 'Peek-A-Boo' was a chopped up, beat-driven burlesque monster whose signature instrument was an accordian. The band seemed to be moving in a new direction, but sadly, their audience did not.

Similarly, on her new solo album, Mantaray, Siouxsie tends to put less focus on guitars. From track 3, Here Comes That Day, she delivers a song that is faintly reminiscent to Peek-A-Boo. But it's track 4, Loveless, that starts to give the album a life of its own. "It's a sick and twisted game. To and fro and back again." In comes the glorious tones of the glockenspiel that Siouxsie first experimented on the Creatures' debut album, Feast.

For an album that starts off with two cliche guitar songs, the predictable Into A Swan and the no-name pop rocker About To Happen, Siouxsie moves on from her Banshee roots in favour for something a bit more personal and experimental. If It Doesn't Kill You is a haunting ballad that sees our beloved Siouxsie steeped in a golden liquid vocal. It's gorgeous.

One Mile Below sees Siouxsie in Creatures territory with a Phil Spector wall of sound driven by a burundi rhythm track. Drone Zone shifts the album into a shuffling, jazzy swingbeat mode. It's eccentric, quirky and addictive to listen to. While Bjork tends to go for high drama, Siouxsie's more like a kitten with a whip.

Marvel at the pop perfection of They Follow You. It starts off with a marching drum beat and breaks into a colour musical arrangement that sounds both hopeful and momentous. It's Siouxsie's swansong. It's cool, Pan European, cinematic and sexy.

The album closes with the sparse piano track 'Heaven and Alchemy'. "I'm in love with the idea of you in rush reality," sings Siouxsie. And so she should be. The album's a wake up call and will hopefully kill off the old punk rockers who thought they were going to get Arabian Nights II.

With all the recent spate of reunions, not to mention the desperate return of the Sex Pistols, its nice to know that Siouxsie isn't reforming the Banshees. That chapter is over.

Shirley 'Garbage' Manson may have a hard time following this with her highly anticipated solo album, but for the moment, Siouxsie is still sitty pretty.