Mott the Hoople should’ve come to a grinding halt the moment Ian Hunter walked out on them in December 1974, unfortunately they carried on under the Mott banner for two more godawful albums in the mid-70s (that’s another story). Hunter was the lead singer and chief visionary of the band, and while original guitarist Mick Ralphs would go on to form the solid Bad Company – led by former Free singer Paul Rodgers – Hunter would recapture the structural starkness and stormy directness of his former band with his strong initial solo outings: the classic self-titled debut Ian Hunter (1975) and the experimental follow up All American Alien Boy (1976). Then came a forgettable Earl Slick collaborative effort (1977’s Overnight Angels) before Hunter again teamed up with former Bowie/Mott producer/guitarist the great Mick Ronson, releasing the filler-free You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic in 1979 – still one of his greatest solo albums in a mighty catalogue spanning five decades.
While far from categorized as a “Worst Album” as such, it certainly makes the cut as one of the most overlooked gems in rock history; these days rarely mentioned in the editorials of rock writing for 1979 albums, and never making the latest hip new count for best albums of the 70s. Schizophrenic not only boasts Hunter’s best ever ensemble, but a water-tight collection of great tunes, faultlessly mixed by Bob Clearmountain, taking in musical styles such as psychedelic rock ‘n roll, glam, art-folk and blistering blues-rock.
Apart from Ronson’s fluid and exciting guitar work throughout, and a guest appearance by John Cale on the pulsating mid-album highlight Bastard, the rhythm section is essentially Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band: Max Weinberg (drums), Garry Tallent (bass) and Roy Bittan (piano). They play with economy, and when required sheer muscularity, suiting the expressiveness of Hunter’s vocals, which regularly shifts the emphasis from a ragged edge to a glorious emotive delivery. This is most evident on the rollicking Stones-inspired opener Just Another Night, and the irresistibly tough barroom piano glam of Wild East. The best song on the album closes side one, the superbly constructed mid-tempo classic that is the husky hammond-driven When the Daylight Comes. The track is a superb balance between the soulful and the detached, with spiky yet vulnerable lyrics, a literate Ian Hunter trademark: Some people say that we’re sinners/some people say that we’re winners/we make good gossip at dinners/they try to pin us down. And that’s Ronson taking the vocal on the first verse. Side two features plenty of tunes in only four songs, from the bizarre glam-burlesque Is There Life After Death to the semi-autobiographical album closer The Outsider: When the leaves are down, I’ll be southward bound/Hunters hunt the outsider/When the wind grows cold, when the sun grows old/Nothing holds the outsider.
Two songs from Schizophrenic became winners for other artists: The Presidents of the United States of America’s 1997 cover of the Mott-tribute Cleveland Rocks, regrettably cementing its place as arguably his most enduring solo song by being used as the theme for The Drew Carey Show, and kill-me-now Barry Manilow’s version of Ships became a massive US hit in 1979.
There is no doubting Ian Hunter’s importance and standing in rock history, and You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic is but one late-70s shining beacon. Mott the Hoople would go on to reform in 2009, and latter-day solo classics such as Rant (2001), Shrunken Heads (2007) and his 20th solo album When I’m President (2012) validate the man’s quality and longevity. God bless Ian Hunter.
- Just Another Night ∗∗∗∗∗
- Wild East ∗∗∗∗
- Cleveland Rocks ∗∗∗∗
- Ships ∗∗∗∗
- When the Daylight Comes ∗∗∗∗∗
- Life After Death ∗∗∗∗
- Standin’ in My Light ∗∗∗
- Bastard ∗∗∗∗∗
- The Outsider ∗∗∗