Review: Ian Hunter – ‘Defiance Part 2: Fiction’

October 2023 saw The Rolling Stones hit number one on the National Album Charts last year with ‘Hackney Diamonds’. The following week, the Beatles were number one on the National Singles Chart with ‘Now & Then’. Among all the jokes (“these guys might just have a future”, “these guys could go places”) there was a nasty undercurrent of abuse aimed at both bands with some news publications going as far as having debates about what this all said about the state of music in modern times.

Critics missed the point though; the point being that the music both bands make/made is timeless. 80-something legendary British singer-songwriter and musician Ian Hunter also released an album in 2023, and for the most, it slipped under the radar. Until the end of year best album polls came out and said album, ‘Defiance Part 1’ featured heavily. It is a glorious album that saw Hunter stick two fingers up in defiance to those who would have him waiting out his days wrapped up in his favourite blanket, sitting by a fireplace. As the title suggested, another part was on the way, and now part 2 has landed…and again, it truly is something to behold.

Like the first installment, part 2 is another collaborative effort. Superstar friends and acquaintances on the other end of the phone, only too willing to appear on the same album as arguably the UK’s most underrated songwriter, ever. Rather poignantly, ‘Defiance Part 2: Fiction’ features what proved to be among the final studio recordings of both Jeff Beck and Taylor Hawkins.

According to the press blurb accompanying the album, the theme of part 2 has Hunter “…once more pointing his passionate pen at a society seemingly more out of control with each passing day.” On the riotous opening track ‘People’, Hunter spits out “It’s the Gospel according to/whichever channel you are listening to/it’s the battle for the hearts and minds/selling grown-ups nursery rhymes/and we fall for it every time” all played out over a hooky-as-hell “na-na-na” refrain and pulsing-pop tempo that screams Cheap Trick – one check of the guest list points out that Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, and Tom Petersson all appear – that guitar solo has Neilsen’s stamp all over it – and bring that famous CT sense of fun with them. Serious subject matter, with marketing gurus getting both barrels from Hunter, but try and get the “na-na-na” parts out of your head a week later – not a chance. The same 3 members of Cheap Trick reappear later on ‘Kettle of Fish’ which features a pulsating, hypnotic drum sound from Taylor Hawkins mixed with that trademark uber-cool thick bass sound from Tom Petersson. The turn of pace at 02:50 minutes is unexpected and adds a bit of a bite to the track.

The lighter-than-light ‘Fiction’ soars and might just be one of the best-constructed songs of recent years; the combination of the subtle string arrangements (courtesy of David Mansfield) and the always-stellar piano work from Hunters Mott The Hoople compadre Morgan Fisher is delightful and impossible to resist. Running it a close second is the heartfelt ‘The 3rd Rail’ which packs an almighty punch with some solemn lyrics unfolding over a waltz-like funeral procession pace. Add the weeping guitar solo from Jeff Beck, which makes the listener stop and pay attention, and the result is something special.

Elsewhere, ‘This Ain’t Rock and Roll’ is great fun, with a Stones-y feel to it and a gorgeous slide-guitar sound from Andy York, the bar-room boogie of ‘Precious’ is catchy as hell (Brian May plays all guitars, and Taylor Hawkins is also behind the kit on this one), ‘Weed’ is a wonderful slower-paced moment, and ‘What Would I Do Without You’ (featuring Lucinda Williams on co-lead vocals, and the legendary Heartbreaker Benmont Tench on organ) is a beautiful duet that – with a few subtle changes – could clean up at Christmas in the same way that ‘Fairytale of New York’ does.

Another stellar collection of songs from one of Rock and Roll’s most consistent performers over the last 50+ years. Part 3 is on the way, yeah?

‘Defiance Part 2: Fiction’ is available now via Sun Records, more information HERE.

Album cover art – Johnny Depp

Review – Dave

All live images – Dave Jamieson

 

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2 comments

  1. You should listen to “Weed” again Dave. It’s not extolling anything, in fact quite the opposite.

    • To be fair, I think that he saw the word Weed and got the munchies and raided KFC for a family bucket – blame it on a food coma. Rectified now though.

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