Mott The Hoople: Wildlife (1971)


MARCH 19, 1971 – Mott The Hoople: Wildlife is released
# Allmusic 4/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Wildlife is the third album by Mott the Hoople. It was originally released in 1971; in the UK by Island Records (catalogue number ILPS 9144) and in the US by Atlantic Records (cat. no. SD 8382). After the edgier rock of their first two albums this record has a softer feel (leading to its nickname “Mildlife” among band members). Even Ian Hunter’s trio of compositions is introspective, though disarmingly beautiful. For the first (and only) time Mick Ralphs’ contributions predominate, leading to an almost country-rock feel.
For its second album, 1970’s Wildlife, Mott the Hoople moved away from the tipsy, Blonde on Blonde-like reels of the band’s self-titled debut, into a more standard, bluesy hard-rock sound not unlike that of Joe Cocker and the Band. Of course, the glam era heralded by the 1972 hit “All the Young Dudes” was still a ways away, but Wildlife has its own unpretentious charms. The opening “Whiskey Women” chugs along genially and “Angel of Eighth Avenue” is one of Ian Hunter’s trademark creepy ballads. The remainder of the album continues in the vein of these opening two tracks, with Hunter’s barrelhouse piano trading licks with Mick Ralph’s chunky guitar and Verdun Allen’s Garth Hudson-like organ as the rhythm section of Dale “Buffin” Griffin and Pete “Overend” Watts powers along.

‘Wildlife’ was released by Island Records on 19th March 1971 in a gatefold sleeve. (At an early stage the album was to have been titled ‘Original Mixed Up Mott’.) It entered the UK album charts on the 17th April, where it stayed for two weeks, peaking at number 44. The album’s inner gatefold was a live colour photo of Mott The Hoople from the Croydon show, while the front and back of the album was another colour photo of the band looking windswept and interesting in woodland up in County Durham. I guess the concept, if there was one, was that both photos showed ‘wildlife’ in its natural habitat. Following the release of the album, the band quickly returned to what they knew best – the road. Although a couple of the quieter songs from ‘Wildlife’ were included in the set, they were very soon replaced by newer, harder edged material. Again, there was that strange paradox: live, the band was a huge success, playing to sell-out venues all over the country. The stage was set for the recording of what was to become Mott The Hoople’s swansong for Island Records, the flawed but essential ‘Brain Capers’.

The outcome of the battle has yet to be conclusively determined, but my scorecard gives the race for “The Most Beloved Rock And Roll Band in All the English Isles” to Mott The Hoople by two full lengths over Free.
On this, their third album, they apparently feel sure enough of themselves to venture away from the piano/organ dominated sound which initially distinguished them (and invited all those Dylan comparisons). Instead we hear the country overtones of “It Must Be Love” and “Original Mixed-Up Kid.” While this move (in light of all that has come since that first acidhead stumbled upon Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison) might seem to play on some familiar pretensions, our boys have both the taste and knowledge to keep their experiments in the proper perspective. So both the aforementioned songs, although comparatively thin-sounding, are well played and pleasant enough in a loosely relatable Mott The Hoople context.

More important, they’ve found new ways to arrange their instruments and the effects are felt throughout the album. The driving toughness of guitarist Mick Ralphs, as previously seen in “Rock And Roll Queen” and “Thunderstruck Ram,” has mellowed some. His “Whiskey Women” elucidates the band’s new approach at its best: a lighter touch but just as powerful a punch. Yet despite this change in attack (most often seen in the use of acoustic guitars), they still produce a remarkably full sound, traceable to their staunch musical intelligence: when they add additional instruments they do not merely pour them over the existing sound (a common rock pitfall), but alter that sound to accommodate them.

“Angel Of Eighth Avenue” finds the haunting melancholia of pianist Ian Hunter’s ballad style at its most convincing. (Hunter, it will be remembered, was the man around whom the early Dylan associations were inevitably focused.) His emeryboard voice, which has a nasty habit of faltering under the strain of the up-tempo, is infinitely better suited to the slower paced delivery which songs like this demand. And the country influence so obvious on side two is better acknowledged in things such as “Angel,” where the fusion is subtle and engaging in a neighborhood Hopple devotees will find more familiar.
But lest the whole affair get weighed down with self-importance, a problem which threatened the first two albums, they’ve thrown in a couple of change-of-pace surprises. Closing out side one is an energetic rendition of Melanie (!) Safka’s “Lay Down” and, the cut’s musical excellence aside, it feels good just to hear this kind of an emotional breakout from Mott The Hoople. The second, ten live minutes of “Keep A’ Knockin” which concludes the album with some two-fisted rock and roll, is the stuff of which their English reputation was made; they remind me more than a little of the early Who.

Now that they have apparently captured the British crown, isn’t it about time they were given a shot on this side of the Atlantic? There is more than enough solid music on this album to warrant it. Take side one and the live cut for their well defined and satisfying brand of rock, and then make up your own mind about the country experiments on side two. And fear not; Mott the Hoople has clearly gone beyond any Dylan comparison you might have heard. Ah, had only Dylan this much fresh energy …
~ Ben Edmonds (June 10, 1971)
“Whiskey Women” (Mick Ralphs) – 3.42
“Angel of Eighth Avenue” (Ian Hunter) – 4.33
“Wrong Side of The River” (Ralphs) – 5.19
“Waterlow” (Hunter) – 3.03
“Lay Down” (Melanie Safka) – 4.13
“It Must Be Love” (Ralphs) – 2.24
“Original Mixed-Up Kid” (Hunter) – 3.40
“Home Is Where I Want To Be” (Ralphs) – 4.11
“Keep a Knockin’ (Live)” (Richard Penniman) – 10.10 (*)
(*) This track is a rock and roll medley that, besides of Keep A Knockin’, it includes snippets of a) I Got A Woman, b) What I’d Say and c) Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.
2003 CD bonus tracks
“It’ll Be Me” (Clement) – 2.58
“Long Red” (West/Pappalardi/Ventura/Landsberg) – 3.47


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