Wildlife

Mott The Hoople

Atlantic, 1971

http://www.mottthehoople.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/03/2009

If I could only use one word to describe the state in early 1971 of Mott The Hoople, those star-crossed exemplars of early ’70s Brit-rock, it would probably be “floundering.”

How else to explain Wildlife, an album which in many ways completed the job started by its dizzying predecessor Mad Shadows, of muddying and/or undercutting every element of the band’s musical persona that had made its eponymous debut such a unique and promising effort?  The personnel – Ian Hunter (vocals and piano), Mick Ralphs (guitar and vocals), Verden Allen (organ), Pete “Overend” Watts (bass) and Dale “Buffin” Griffin (drums) might have been the same on all three discs, but the style and tone was all over the map.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For Wildlife the band were more or less instructed by their label not to use their heretofore in-house producer Guy Stevens again.  As a resulted, they ended up self-producing, with mixed results.  The sound is fine -- rather bright and immediate, in fact, and in that sense more accessible than the sometimes sludgy Mad Shadows.  But with no one outside the band directing the proceedings, the boys’ musical ADD went from dizzying to confounding.

Thus you end up with an album that features everything from chord-crunching rockers with Ralphs on lead vocals (“Whiskey Women”) to a psychedelic gospel cover of Melanie’s “Lay Down” (no, seriously), to a dirge-y, string-laden lament (“Waterlow”), to a trio of mid-tempo country-rock numbers.  The latter trio -- “Wrong Side Of The River,” “It Must Be Love” and “Home Is Where I Want To Be” -- also feature Ralphs on lead vox, and while he isn’t a bad singer by any means, the results sound closer to Buffalo Springfield or The Band than Mott The Hoople.

This of course makes it all the harder to figure out what the group was thinking when they closed out this scattershot set with an absolutely piledriving live take on Little Richard’s “Keep ‘A Knockin”; here were the rampaging rock and roll warriors of Mott’s debut, the band that critics and a modest but ferociously loyal fan base both fell in love with.  Where did you reappear from, and why didn’t you do it sooner?

The one other notable track here is Hunter’s charming “Original Mixed-Up Kid,” which upon reflection might have made an even more appropriate title for this LP.  The album isn’t a failure by any means -- experiments are good, but an entire album of them is more of a challenge than most listeners are willing to put up with.  A curiosity rather than the triumph the band was seemingly forever on the cusp of, Wildlife exemplifies both this unit’s very best weapon -- its fearlessness -- and its very worst enemy -- the five guys in the mirror.

Rating: C

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