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Ian Hunter: The Artful Dodger

The wide boy walks too narrow a groove.

Ian Hunter’s ninth solo album, recorded in 1995 but held back from major markets for more than a year while he secured new management, saw him working on a major project for the first time since the death of his close friend and collaborator Mick Ronson.

The guitarist’s absence is felt, as both a player and producer/sounding board, on a collection that only occasionally ripples with the surly attitude of yore. Ronno isn’t entirely out of the picture, though; one of the album’s all-too-infrequent highlights, the whispered ballad Michael Picasso, is a touching eulogy to a fallen comrade (‘People used to stare at the spider with the platinum hair/They thought you were immortal’).

Most of the time, sadly, Hunter appears to be on autopilot; although the wit and cynicism of his lyrics is still in place they’re largely couched in workmanlike riffing and pedestrian melodies. The harmonica wail and bluesy strut of Something To Believe In finds him at (almost) full throttle, like Springsteen saddling up with the Stones, and the barrow-boy snarl of the title track recalls Mott The Hoople’s early years on Island Records.

The other side of the coin is represented by the stuttering, uncertain funk of Skeletons (In Your Closet) and the plodding bombast of Walk On Water. It wouldn’t be until 2001’s Rant that Hunter was once again fully in possession of the lippy confidence that informs his best work; here it’s largely the sound of a man treading water.