Monday, April 22, 2024

Ian Hunter - Defiance Part 2: Fiction

There’s a promotional chat by Ian Hunter for Defiance Part 2: Fiction on YouTube, during which he says “I tell you what, I know something. They’re all going to go, it’s not as good as the last one. ‘Cause they’ve only heard this one five minutes, and they’ve heard the last one for a year.”
I’ll tell you what – he’s right. But then Defiance Part 1 set the bar incredibly high.  It was a late career slam dunk of an album for anyone who loves proper rock’n’roll.  And if . . . Fiction doesn’t hit the same heights from start to finish, it still has more than a few peaks.
One of those peaks is the opener ‘People’, which grabs the attention with a “na-na-na” singalong and doesn’t let go.  It bounces along on a pounding beat and churning rhythm guitar as the basis
Ian Hunter - still dishing out hope and anger
for some typically acid Hunter lyrics about the influence of modern marketing, amid crashing cymbal punctuation:  “’We know what people want.’ No you don’t – you make me wanna throw up,” he protests.  The backing features Cheap Trick stalwarts Robin Zander, Tom Peterson and Rick Neilson, and the latter provides the icing on the cake with a splintery solo.
At the other end of the album, penultimate track ‘Everybody’s Crazy But Me’ also does the rocking business, Hunter teasing with an opening call of “’Ello, ‘ello, ello” as Taylor Hawkins kicks off a clever, shuffling rhythm and Waddy Wachtel adds a grinding, irresistible guitar riff.  It’s tense and pushy, and after a minute and a half leaps to another level, a deeply Ronson-like guitar line prefacing the chorus, which eventually amasses shoutalong proportions.
But there are reflective songs too, ranging from ‘The 3rd Rail’, a sad tale of subway tragedy with musical echoes of ‘Sons And Lovers’ from way back, to which Jeff Beck adds subtle curlicues and flourishes.  ‘What Would I Do Without You’ is a simple, direct love song with a vaguely Celtic air to its swaying melody, with Lucinda Williams’ worn voice providing a suitable counterpoint to Hunter himself.  The closing ‘Hope’, meanwhile, is a gentle dream of being able to welcome a new dawn after recent years' turmoil, with rippling piano from Benmont Tench, while Lucinda Williams and Billy Bob Thornton add soothing harmonies.
‘Fiction’ itself rides a rolling piano groove,  to which Hunter adds a considered vocal, creating a hypnotic vibe which is gradually augmented by strings, at first just throbbing along but gradually becoming more elaborate and serpentine in the arrangement by Dylan sidekick David Mansfield.
‘This Ain’t Rock’N’Roll’ is a more uptempo, sprightly affair, on which Hunter pays tribute to the rockers of days gone by, and perceives a lack of fresh personalities and sounds of the same calibre.  It is, of course, a splurge of old-fashioned rock’n’roll itself.  ‘Precious’ is a jaunty, happy-go-lucky expression of affection, perhaps a bit less substantial but still with an infernally catchy chorus, while Brian May eventually weighs in with some characteristic, squelchy guitar licks en route to a slowing, fairground hall of mirrors outro.
Contrastingly, ‘Weed’ may open with sweet, Beck-like slide guitar from Stone Temple Pilots’ Deon Deleo, but it’s actually a caustic portrayal of the pernicious influence of today’s ‘Masters Of The Universe’, who can holler “Let ‘em, let ‘em, let ‘em smoke weed” in an ironically anthemic chorus, offering opium to the masses while growing their power.  ‘Kettle Of Fish’ is darker still, a brooding beast that foregrounds rumbling bass from Tom Peterson over Taylor Hawkins’ lurking, behind the beat drums, while Hunter curls his lip at “these troubled times,” observing that “This is a fine kettle of fish, I can’t drink the water.”
I tell you what - listening to it again as I write, Defiance Part 2 doesn’t fall that far short of its predecessor at all.  Recently I said that on their latest album I reckoned The Black Keys displayed a loss of edge.  Well that ain’t true of Ian Hunter.  Not likely.  He may not be one of the young dudes any more, but he’s still got rock’n’roll fire in his belly.
Defiance Part 2: Fiction
 is out now on Sun Records.

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