Mott The Hoople: Mental Train (The Island Years 1969-1971) – album review
MOTT THE HOOPLE
MENTAL TRAIN (THE ISLAND YEARS 1969-1971)
6CDs (+ 50 page book in the box set) from the early days – pre glam – Mott The Hoople. Surely one of the key British rock bands when it comes to Judgement Day. Join us on a pre-‘Dudes’ journey of discovery.
A bit like how Ian Anderson being viewed as ‘the’ Jethro Tull, Ian Hunter has more often than not been viewed as the man who personifies Mott and how easy it is to overlook Mick Ralphs’ contribution in the formative years. Years covered by this collection before Mott were well served by Bowie and hit paydirt in the glam years of the mid seventies when they evolved into an outfit that gave birth to and inspired a generation and beyond.
So we get four album from the period with complementary bonus tracks beginning with 1969’s eponymously titled album that kicks off with a grinding instrumental of You Really Got me before some Dylan influenced mid Sixties reedy organ fuelled material. What the maestro called his ‘thin wild mercury sound’ and was showcased on Like A Rolling Stone, a fragment of which appears on the Ballads disc. However, despite the period nature of the sound, up pops Rock And Roll Queen that hints at the way forward. The bonus tracks, as throughout, are typified by the usual single versions, mono mixes and the Rock And Roll Queen ‘kitchen sink’ (?) instrumental…
We’re off though and Half Moon Bay seems almost timeless for a 50 year old sound with hardly a wrinkle visible. The organ is more restrained and the Dylan influence less as the aptly titled Wrath And Wroll sees the album out on a psych wig out.
A blast of heavy rock opens 1970’s Moon Shadows – Thunderbuck Ram could easily sit in the NWOBHM done by Saxon but by the time we’re at Walking With A Mountain, the Mott signature is emerging via a hint of Bowie in a set of vibrant rock and roll with some mid paced intervals. Not the fully formed article of course, but with the benefit of hindsight, you can see the gestation of the familiar chart busting outfit. Bonus material sees some enthusiasm from the BBC crew – referring to the band as “the new progressive crew” although by comparison, 1971’s Wildfire was relatively dour affair. The lack of commercial progress before the Bowie input, starting to impact on a set that lacks that initial rush and finds the band in limbo.
Maybe the shit or bust approach to Brain Capers might have led to the indulgence in doing what the heck they wanted while they could. Just read the song titles – Death May Be Your Santa Claus, The Wheel Of The Quivering Meat Conception – hinting that they were going to go down fighting and with tongues buried firmly in cheeks. But then a glance though the bonus tracks and there’s One Of The Boys and a hint that though the tunnel may appear deep and dark, there’s a candle of hope flickering at its end. We all know how the next chapter of a long story goes which makes it even more fascinating to drink in this collection with hindsight and a rather large amount of music to evaluate and enjoy.
A disc of ballads follows, perhaps not always their forte when compared to the It’s Live And Live Only disc that combines live September 1970 material with some 1971 Radio One in concert recordings. More in the unheard and unreleased bracket but the fun is in the live material; unrefined and at times a little discordant but clearly no frills, warts and all and all in the spirit of Mott and Roll.
And with that, it brings us nicely full circle and handy that we can shout out about the Class of ’74 Tour which has six dates in the UK next April. ‘rubs hands with glee’
Thunderbuck Ram from 1970’s Mad Shadows :
You can find the Mott website here