After mellowing out to a previously-unheard degree on 2009’s Man Overboard—especially on that album’s B-side – Ian Hunter sounds more vital than he has in a half-decade on When I’m President. While the British-born Hunter is ineligible for duty (to say nothing of being, at 73, a little long in the tooth) his vision for a better country and wish for happier citizens remains as pointed as ever, with he and the Rant Band in fine fettle.
Opener “Comfortable (Flyin’ Scottsman)” sets the template: Faces-y barroom rock, fueled by keys, horns and the undeniable joy of rock ‘n’ roll that Hunter bleeds out during every song. Hunter’s still got a lot to say and you better pay attention. He takes menacing aim at tabloid culture on “What For” (and dig the Skynyrd-y guitar lead!); scratches his head over the generational divide on the bluesy “I Don’t Know What You Want”, which features vocals from his son Jesse, and manages to sidestep any get-off-my-lawn clichés; recounts the Wild Bunch’s antics via a drunken narrator and a boogie rock beat (“Someone really oughta make a movie called The Wild Bunch”), and gives the campaign speech addressing the blue-collar types from Overboard’s title track and “Up and Running”, the one you always wished a politician would give (unless your last name is Koch or Adelson) on the twangy title track: “I’m gonna lean on the 1% when I’m president ... I’ll stick it to the fat cats… you can’t take it with ya, so give a little extra.” (As an aside, between the bar-band moves, the Dylanesque whine and raconteurship, Hunter just released Graham Parker’s next album for him.)
Like Parker, Hunter has a sweet side too (one that I was firmly castigated for for not recognizing fully in the Man Overboard review). He laments over how his woman’s eyes turn from blue to green to red to sad to black (“That’s some kind of power you got,” Hunter notes) on the appropriately stormy piano ballad “Black Tears”; and celebrates a no-frills gal on the big-hearted hoedown “Just the Way You Look Tonight”. Dude totally nails the chest-swell feeling you get you when see your loved one gleam in just the right light. The upbeat closer “Life”, despite being the closing track on a 73-year-old man’s 20th album, is far more zephyrous than portentous: “Easy come, easy go / just another rock ‘n’ roll show / hope you had a great night… laugh because it’s only life”. Hunter’s far from done, and has plenty of rant left in him.