As we approach the year end best-of lists, I’ll post reviews of a couple of more contenders for best of 2009. This review ran in the print edition of Bucketful of Brains.
Man Overboard continues the winning collaboration between Ian Hunter and producer/guitarist Andy York. And while a notch below the brilliant Rant and Shrunken Heads – two of the best albums of the decade, mind you – it’s another consistently strong effort that grows with repeated listening.
The album is a juxtaposition of sorts – half angry social observation, half resigned acceptance – with music to match. “Way with Words”, “These Feelings” and “Win It All” find Hunter in his best balladeer mode, sensitive and emotionally naked, sentiment highlighted by supportively organic instrumentation. The closing “River of Tears” uses swelling piano and organ to understate its emotional message. It’s another reminder that Hunter doesn’t get enough credit for his storytelling. Even a tossed-off shanty like “Girl from the Office” is clever enough to hook you beyond the catchy refrain, much like the tale of the leaping lothario in “The Great Escape”.
But even if the musical pyrotechnics are mostly toned down, the emotions aren’t. Railing against hypocrisy, politics and the dumbing down of culture, he asks us “leave me out of this”. His Dylanesque moments used to be blatant, but decades of artistry have reduced them to ingredients rather than recipes. If Sir Bob spewed any vitriol as caustic as “Up and Running” or “Babylon Blues” lately (“don’t try pulling me down to your level / there ain’t nothing worse than a phony ass rebel”) I haven’t heard it.
“Hope I die before I get old”. You were wrong, Pete. There’s no hit single here, but Ian Hunter, at seventy, is at the top of his game.