Mad Shadows

Mott The Hoople

Atlantic, 1970

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Both fans and critics (and just to be clear, I’m both) have puzzled over the years at Mott The Hoople’s failure to make it big.  A group with this much passion and power and attitude -- not to mention a pair of excellent songwriters in lead vocalist Ian Hunter and guitarist Mick Ralphs -- coulda shoulda woulda been as big as Led Zeppelin.

The thing is, there was never anything particularly groundbreaking about the group’s sound; for the most part it was amped-up blues-rock with a heavy Dylan-Stones influence.  And they were certainly never -- other than for a brief moment at their Bowie-influenced glammiest -- the least bit trendy.   Mott were all about a defiant attitude and a total sweaty commitment to live performance; their ten-years-after musical descendants were The Clash, not Blondie.

But the other factor in their failure to catch fire must also be acknowledged -- they were just so damned unpredictable.  Chaos might be entertaining onstage, but not so much in the record bins where buying decisions were made back in the day.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

All of which is to say, albums like Mad Shadows help to explain why Mott was destined to self-destruct.  Keep in mind, all you raving fans of MS – and there are those, make no mistake – that I’m not saying it’s a bad album.  It’s just not very consistent either internally or with the expectations a listener would have had after catching the group’s incendiary self-titled debut.

Mott The Hoople, despite its moments of musical anarchy, felt like a guided missile aimed at the listener’s solar plexus.   By contrast, Mad Shadows careens all over the road like a drunken lunatic, from virtual heavy metal (the Black Sabbath-meets-Bad-Company opener “Thunderbuck Ram”) to ringing piano ballads (“No Wheels To Ride”) to Stonesy jams (album highlight “Walkin’ With A Mountain” even dips into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” in the late going) to plodding blues (the painfully overlong “I Can Feel”).

With the exception of the relatively concise “You Are One Of Us” and “Walkin’ With A Mountain,” there isn’t a song here under 4:50 in length, and while Mott were a dynamite musical ensemble, most of these songs would fare better in the final evaluation if the band had reined in their tendency to want to jam to the close of every single tune.  It’s exhilarating once and energizing twice.  By the fourth or fifth time you start to ask yourself when they’re going to get on with it -- nowhere moreso than toward the end of “Thread Of Iron,” whose extended closing jam rides the song right off the rails into utter chaos.  This might have been exciting to watch on stage, but on a studio album it simply makes them sound careless and sloppy.

Probably the most notable thing about this album in the end is Ian Hunter’s emergence as a songwriter.  After penning just one and a half songs on the group’s debut, he writes four of the seven tunes on this disc, including his first real triumph in the powerhouse “Walkin’ With A Mountain.”

Mad Shadows is a ramshackle charmer of an album that tries to get by on a sloppy grin and pure will, but doesn’t ultimately achieve any sort of musical focus.  If your thing is musical anarchy, early ’70s style, this might be more up your alley than mine.  If so, though, you were in the minority in 1970.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2009 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic, and is used for informational purposes only.