Friday, July 5, 2013

Mott the Hoople - Wildlife

Wildlife (1971) **

 Sneeringly dubbed "Mildlife" by the band themselves, Mott's third failed bid at basic competence consists mostly of stiffly performed, stalely written country-rockers (we'll get to the one notable exception at the end, don't worry).  After the mindless, aimless, directionless downer Mad Shadows, the band overreacted wildly with a 180 change of direction - with equally disastrous results.  And did I say country-rock?  Actually, there are only two full-fledged rockers amongst these 9 tracks:  the opener, "Whiskey Women," serves up lukewarm hard-rock riffage and groupie bashing lyrics to rock quite mildly.  It's servicable but banally bog-ordinary early '70s rock, like a Bad Company side 2 deep track.  It's sexist garbage and on most any other album wouldn't stand out in any memorable way, but in this context it does because it starts the album off on a deceptively energetic note.  From that point on, we proceed to encounter a string of stone-faced, leaden ballads that are pleasant enough taken one by one, but in slowly torturous succession snooze me snuggily.  The low point is either Ralphs' "Wrong Side of the River," a Neil Young ripoff that makes "Horse With No Name," sound like a boldly innovative stroke of inspiration; or the white hippie soul cover of Melanie's "Lay Down."  The latter isn't as offbeat as it may seem - Mott were fond of covering contemporary hits live, from "American Pie," to CSNY's "Ohio," to Mountain - but this particular choice was completely inappropriate for the band's gritty hard rock talents and working class British attitude.  The album is roughly split between Ralphs and Hunter sung tunes, and at this point, it's clear which one is the superior songwriter:  all of Ralphs' songs more or less suck.  Scratch that more or less - they suck emphatically with a capital E.  Despite the band's genuine black country roots, they have as much genuine feel for American country music as Tom Jones.  Hunter's tunes, on the other hand, ain't half bad.  "The Original Mixed Kid,"  would've made a dandy contribution in a better context, and might be the best original composition here.  "Waterlow," takes that honor, but it's problematic:  it's a case of knowing the autobiographical circumstances (Hunter losing his wife and children due to divorce) giving the song that much more emotional heft.  Taking that into consideration, his shaky singing and cracked voice add to the fragile tear-jerk power; on its own objective merits, however, the tune is a bit too wispy and the arrangement too murkily misty to hold together that memorably.

All that out of the way, we stumble upon the final track, and I do mean stumble - one can only guess at the shock of unprepared listeners in 1971 when the needle grooved onto #9.  After an entire album of pleasantly bland soft country rock, appended as almost a bonus track is a 10-minute boogie medley of '50s rock'n'roll classics.  It seems to have rudely barged its way in from another album, and in fact did - given that Mott were routinely selling out shows in Britain due to their intense live performances, it was proposed that a live album be their next release.  If only - it would've made a smashing idea, but sadly only this 10 minute remnant survived to be tacked on to Mott's mellowest album.  Whatever - it demonstrates that Mott were indeed one of the hottest live acts of their era.  It's not enough to make up for the soporific offerings of the preceding half hour, though.

Trivia note:  Hunter incorrectly credits Ray Charles' "What'd I Say," to Jerry Lee Lewis.  Not that it matters - Hunter's enthusiasm is clear.  Not like Frank Sinatra introducing "Something," as by Lennon/McCartney.


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