At 68 years old, the very notion that Ian Hunter is still making rock records is pretty impressive in itself. Shrunken Heads demonstrates that not only is Hunter making rock records, he’s making some very good rock records too.
Good humored, honest, and still musically spry, Hunter will probably never receive the respect that’s due him, which becomes even more unfortunate once you hear how impressive Shrunken Heads actually is. Masterfully alternating between up and mid-tempo rockers along with a few of Hunter’s notoriously well conceived ballads, Shrunken Heads is the epitome of what constitutes a late-career highpoint. It rivals the revered records that his most obvious peer (Bob Dylan) has been doing on his last three releases. And to that point, I think Shrunken Heads is way better than Modern Times.
You’re not going to find Lanois atmospherics or Jack Frost music history lessons here; instead, you’ll find the same formula that Hunter’s been mining for some thirty-five years now, ever since he realized his own vocal phrasings sounded pretty decent when they followed Dylan’s lead. And he’s nearly as good a lyricist as Bobby too, which may surprise a lot of people who only know Ian from a David Bowie cover.
Currently residing in Connecticut, Hunter’s recent catalog has a lot of American-through-the-eyes-of-an-Englishman themes that, as you probably guessed, are critical of our country’s political posturing and general ambivalence.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than on the song “Soul Of America,” which goes just shy of naming names in the administration and scolding us for not holding our political figures accountable for their indiscretions (“And them good old boys in their three-piece suits/ They’re featherin’ their nests while we’re rallying the troops /They cut off the files, don’t worry about the rules / They’re owning the soul of America”).
There’s a feeling of spontaneity throughout the album, like when Hunter barks “Keep going! Keep going!” towards the end of “How’s Your House” before telling everyone “Alright stop!” when he feels that the song has maximized all of the potential exploration. At the end of it, he’s still unsatisfied, admitting on tape “I dunno… Maybe it needs a bridge or something.” It’s good to hear Hunter like this, as ornery as ever, continually looking for that perfect arrangement while still being able to understand that sometimes perfection can be found while you’re still looking for it.
Shrunken Heads is not only one of Hunter’s best solo albums; it rivals some of his best work with Mott The Hoople. That’s impressive enough for fans that’re already acclimated with Ian’s work. For those that aren’t, Shrunken Heads rivals some of the better known artists who’re currently experiencing a creative spark in their own autumn years.