All the Young Dudes (1972) ***1.2
Apologies to Cracked.com for borrowing a cartoon I saw the other day:
This sums up the malady Mott's fifth album suffers from: there are quite a few slabs of more than respectable examples of glitzy cock rock (and for once I do not mean that as insult; it's an objective observation) on this disc. But nothing comes remotely close to matching the emotional and melodic power of the title track, a more than generous donation from David Bowie (he should be awarded a lifetime achievement for philanthropy), a song of such anthemic ubiquity it virtually defines the early '70s, and had the double-edged blade of not only breaking Mott in America but having Mott written off as otherwise forgettable one-hit wonders and no-talent puppets of Mr. Ziggy Stardust. Credit good karma to Bowie not merely for penning Mott's greatest hit - he also effectively rescued the band from breaking up, as they were about to do upon returning to Blightey after a disastrous European tour. According to Ian Hunter, the band also took lessons in professionalism from Bowie - for the first time they actually took care in rehearsing and arranging their songs, instead of just "spewing it out like a gig." Thus, their debut for CBS Records crunches sleekly and swaggers tightly in a quantum advance of musicianship over their Island Records albums.
So why don't I rank this a half star ahead of Brain Capers when it's a clear entire star (and maybe a half) step up in musical quality? Simple: it's lacking some crucial elements that endear fans of Mott, despite (because of?) how crappy they could be. To start - emotional heft, for lack of a better descriptor. Oh, and the untamed, desperately unhinged bar-room brawl anarchy that characterized their first four albums. Sure, Mott were a complete mess that failed more often than they succeeded, but they were what modern kids today would call a hot mess. Bowie's tutelage and production reign the band in tightly, but the effect is a little arid and calculated when compared to, say, "Thunderbuck Ram." And with the exception of the title track and the closing piano ballad, "Sea Diver," Hunter the thoughtful and introspective poet of noble loserdom is nowhere to be found. The band simply offer up one tight, hot, crunchy, sleazy glam rock anthem after the other - after a while some of these might seem a little interchangeable, but they're helluva fun while cranked up. Just don't take stuff like the one about a girlfriend's oral skills followed up by the one with jerkin' in its title to heart - geez, maybe Bowie's influence rubbed off (huh huh Beavis) a little too much. The band were mistaken for homosexuals when they toured the States, after all, due to "Dudes," and a juvenile delinquent anthem entitled "One of the Boys". Anyway -
High point: a cover of the VU's "Sweet Jane" that is definitive, despite Hunter being on record as believing that the song was shit, Lou Reed was shit, and the VU were shit, too.
Middling point: Mick Ralphs' "Ready for Love," superior to his later reworking for Bad Company, but unwisely stretched out to nearly seven minutes due to the pointless "After Lights," jam.
Low point: Verden Allen still cannot write songs but he insists on putting them on albums anyway. Worse, he tries to sing "Soft Ground" - if you thought Ian Hunter was a weak singer, you ain't heard nothing yet! Still, the downplaying of his keyboards on this album (in favor of pumped up guitar riffage) is a blow to Mott's distinctive musical identity. After this album, he'd be gone, and thus unable to partake in producing Mott's masterpiece for the history books. This one ain't it, but it does take a few valuable steps in the right direction.