Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Mott The Hoople—
Brain Capers


Released 1971 on Island
The Seth Man, August 2003ce
“Brain Capers” capped off Mott’s dynasty of their first four, Guy Stevens-produced albums and it was the most defiantly rock of the bunch. Recorded live in the studio over a span of four days, it was rendered as if cognizant of teetering the verge of being dumped by their record company -- which, as time would show, they were. Perhaps it was this sense of back (and balls) to the wall desperation that made Guy Stevens go so far as to donning black mask and cape while wielding pistols (AND forcing engineer Andy Johns to sport likewise) in an attempt to “encourage” the five Hoople men to stand or deliver. And deliver they did: for “Brain Capers” was a stripped down, earnest thrust that saw the prevailing winds of “Blonde On Blonde” that once reigned near-supreme over the Mott landscape diminish greatly. Even the two unlikely covers of The Youngbloods’ “Darkness Darkness” and “Your Own Backyard” by Dion glitter like originals in Mott’s treatments, and throughout this energetic display of a rock’n’roll album is a production that amplifies to shimmering resolution and punch: the only haziness lurking behind Hunter’s oversized shades as he claws his way upward outta the perpetual second division rock’n’roll toilet, fueling the sense of abandon that courses throughout the album.

“Death May Be Your Santa Claus” is a song taken in title only from an obscure album by The Second Hand, kicking off “Brain Capers” with a “Brown Sugar” stenciled hoopla that qualifies as fantastically ‘leapy music,’ the very epithet bestowed upon Mott by Hawkwind DJ Andy Dunkley when he presented their autumn 1971 Radio One session. “Death May Be Your Santa Claus” is all shook up, nowhere to go and if you didn’t move during this one, put down your knitting and go crazy or die. The drums are big ass, Verden Allen’s organ is even bigger with supersonic swirls and the whole group is rockin’ out like crazy over the reoccurring “I don’t care what the people might say/ I don’t give a...anyway” with a blustery boot to the ass again and again. Then all settles with the acoustic opening of “Your Own Backyard”, Dion’s then-recent cautionary reflection on his previous struggles with life’s confusions and drugs. This evenly-paced number is uplifting in its conclusion to seek within and not through destructive transitory diversions, further buoyed up by Verden Allen shamelessly Al Koopering it up on organ in the background. “Darkness Darkness” is a late autumn night solitude hideaway sung ably by Mick Ralphs as Buffin’s ever-present, backdrop tom toms shroud all in fog and mystery as incoming errant solo guitar bursts from Ralphs rip across the sonic shag carpeting of Verden Allen’s low, sustained foghorn tones. Crawling through the wilderness and struggling to find some guiding light, the final couplet pleads to “Keep my mind from constant turning/towards the things that cannot see...” This then lights the fuse of an abbreviated outro riff and drum interplay that is killer as it crackles with energy. “The Journey” ends the first side in an extended Ziggy Dylan track that casts a melancholy gaze upon the losses that come with the passage of time as Hunter’s piano and free-forming, tortured mental apocalypse builds in a tidal wave of images and emotions against Allen’s -- you guessed it -- Al Kooperistic organ swells until Mott communally gathers again and again to bang out a roughhewn riff like a single fist against the door all their past mistakes with a repeating BA DA DA DA DA DAAAAA.../BA DA DA DA DA over and over, as if to nail passages from Hunter’s text that bleed through into all his back pages. It sustains through an entire stanza and a half of Hunter’s personal grief, and resurfaces after Ralphs’ needling in with a fluidly bending guitar solo that swoops and bucks over the backing. Then once more the BA DA DA DA DA DAAAAA.../BA DA DA DA DA returns, backsliding even more fearlessly way beyond the fade out that ends side one.

Side two begins with “Sweet Angeline” which shoulda been titled “Absolutely Sweet Angeline” as it’s “Blonde On Blonde” as hell: ‘specially with the freewheeling Kooper-esque organ tones and the overbearing Hunter piano keys banged louder than even Buffin’s drums (and that’s no mean feat, seeing as they’re recorded about as loud as they were played.) There’s a part where the whole band lurches on a missed riff, right after Hunter’s first intonation about a “New York City queen,” causing him to reflexively make amends by speeding up on his extra strength ivory hunting. Overend Watts anchors the whole thing stupendously, and it’s only this and Mick Ralph’s razor sharp guitar solo that keep it from veering entirely into ‘66 Dylan territory altogether. The brief “Second Love” by Verden Allen opens sounding a helluva lot like the kissin’ cousin of the hung over, morning after hotel room goodbyes of “Shine A Light” or “Loving Cup” by The Stones so it’s no surprise it features horn augmentation from Stones sideman Jim Price similar to the trumpeting he would blare out on “Exile On Main Street” (specifically, “Let It Loose.”) It’s a slow riff that provided Bowie with the template for his Brechtian sing-along chorus of “We should be home by now/La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la” on “Time” (which was probably payback enough for writing Mott’s signature tune for them, methinks.)

Then it’s straight back into the earlier wrath’n’roll/opened vein of “Death May Be Your Santa Claus” with the blistering “The Moon Upstairs.” Whoa -- it’s Mott’s very own “Won’t Get Fooled Again” minus the VCS3 and far more brazen in manner and musical attitude (badder), giving it a kick in the pants up the attic stairs as full moon fever begins to make all your questions turn into answers as Hunter hands to you a piece of the place where you know who you are, where you’re going, what you must do and everything else in one blinding flash that describes and defines without words, with emotion and the pounding qualities of the music that shakes its head and fists at those who despite the mental amputations of the rock’n’roll stage can still only get it up just enough to shrug, piss and moan at it all. And all the while, Allen’s overdriven coastline organ sonorously calls out zig-zagging warning tones of imminent approaching reefs which Mott slam into again and again and again. Overend’s bass is not only over-the-end-but-the-fucking-top, too as Hunter calls out a variety of missives from the heart of rock’n’roll like: “Screw the man!” “Alright!” and “Hahahahahaha...” Mick Ralphs has now switched to play his guitar on the chorus with a sheet of the coarsest grade sandpiper instead of a pick just to keep up with Allen’s most utterly fucking overdriven organ that dwarfs even Jon Lord’s “Louie Louie” distorto-vamp for tempestuousness alone. And Buffin carries on with his simple and effective bashing out of the same simple pattern of snare/cymbal/hi-hat that subtly makes the entire piece even heavier as a result, until his final drum vignette with jettisoned sticks signal a (seemingly) final cease and desist. Until the slight return of “The Wheel of The Quivering Meat Conception”: an ending pound-out of “The Journey” a full album side later with everyone going mental all over signature riff, subjecting it to a battering and if that ain’t Guy Stevens’ fists pounding on the 88’s like L’il Richie Penniman’s retarded younger brother, it should be. Hunter announces in the fade in that it’s “The Mott The Hoople Light Orchestra” as they proceed to tear it all up, down and all around that strident riff until all is swamped with gales of feedback, yelps and overall chaos. Once they’re done, the studio piano’s not only missing two front legs but its innards are saturated with a crate of Stevens-directed ale, left whipped and belaboured in the confines of the blackened husk of what once was a studio. Even worse, he left the kettle to boil dry white hot in the studio canteen until the handle melted while he was busy climbing the walls driving everybody crazy with his unique methods of madness that ensured every last bit of rock’n’roll was truly wrung out of his charges.