Ian Hunter’s best-known songs are the ones he sang but didn’t write and the ones he wrote but, at least in their most familiar forms, didn’t sing. Whether as coverer or coveree, however, his takes were always tops, not least of all for that voice: Gruff and lived-in, often playful and occasionally wildly erratic, it’s an instrument that was—and, as evidenced by Shrunken Heads, still is—all personality, no pretense. Roughly 37 years ago, he opened his self-titled post–Mott the Hoople debut with an affable, if slightly lascivious, ” ‘Allo!”, and here, on his 12th solo disc, re-introduces himself on “Words (Big Mouth)” with an easygoing “It’s me— I didn’t mean to wake you.” He spends the remainder of the tune coolly singing his way back into his woman’s good graces, twisting and stretching syllables, throwing his voice into falsetto, damning his own behavior and even language itself in an effort to repent for things said and done. It’s an endearing performance, set to a positively Dylanesque bed of strummed acoustic guitars, burbling organs, and snapping snare drum. Smart money would bet the old lady forgave him right quick.
George Bush, FEMA, and the various other shrunken heads that populate
these songs should be so contrite. Hunter’s at his best when dealing in the absurd, and these days there’s plenty to go around. On the ragged, two-chord rave-up “How’s Your House,” he encapsulates the horror of Hurricane Katrina in one tragicomic, hoarsely shouted lyric: “There’s nothing left to eat/Kitchen’s in the car and it’s floating down the street!” Later on, he cops to being “older”
and having “calmed down some.” Which is maybe only half-true. A not-young dude, but still carrying the news.