Well, up till now Mott’s been batting a respectable but unspectacular 333 — one line drive smash still climbing as it left the park (the first album), one disastrous bush-league strikeout (Mad Shadows); and a long fly ball the center-fielder caught up with some 400 feet from the plate (Wildlife). Maybe baseball images seem out-of-place with a British rock band yet there’s a distinctly American orientation to this band that draws its inspiration (aside from its Kinksiness) from Yanks as diverse as Penniman and Dylan, as disparate as Sahm and Safka and Cher’s Sonny. The boys have fallen on their vaudeville prats and English arses here and there, but at their brash and crashing best, Mott the Hoople rocks as hard and raucous as could be, “backsliding fearlessly” as it were, in their eternal quest for fame, fortune, “Whisky women,” and the elusive “wrath and wroll.”
Now comes album number four, Brain Capers (“dedicated to James Dean”), and I like it. It features two more resuscitations, Dion’s “Your Own Backyard” and Jesse Colin Young’s “Darkness, Darkness,” plus a half-dozen homegrown efforts. As usual, Mott’s covers are better than good, “Backyard” with Verden Allen’s surging, swirling organ and Ian Hunter’s splendid voice taking the lyrics straight (even if you still don’t believe it), and “Darkness” building from Youngbloods-light to Cream-thick around Mick Ralphs’ softer voice and the mysterious Ruffin’s admirably flashing and flailing drums.
The originals are a mixed bag, ranging from a masterful mood-builder, “The Journey,” featuring organ glissandos, downhome piano, and enough Rod Stewart influence to show Mott’s aware of Gasoline Alley’s own as well, all the way to the slow and mournful “Second Love,” complete with Mexicali Brass overlays courtesy of Jim Price. Also, let’s see, oh yeah, great title, “Death May Be Your Santa Claus,” a gangbusters opening cut that goes from random rock sounds to Mott’s very own Kinks-derived wall-of-sound; it’s booms of bass and denizens of drums and ogres of organ and typically unintelligible lyrics.
“Sweet Angeline” and her stomp pie-anner, a loud blend of Texas shuffle and dyspeptic Dylan; “The Moon Upstairs,” more of that amorphous, troglodytic, heavy rock sound, but appealing this time, like the fuzz-tone collapse of Western music; and — the mind boggles — a two-minute fade-in snatch of “The Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception.” After which the album could only die in a blaze of glorious confusion — the impossible wrack and wrock, wrath and wroll captured at last.
Can’t accuse these Brain Caper kids of subtlety or innovation, but they sure do get it on. In fact, their lifetime batting average just soared to .500.