If the spooky beginning of “Thunderbuck Ram” sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the sound Mick Ralphs would bring to Bad Company four years later. Here, he shows why he wasn’t the lead singer in that band either. “No Wheels To Ride” begins as another lengthy, directionless Ian Hunter lament, but when the “chorus” kicks in, the song gains purpose and power. “You Are One Of Us” gets to the point a lot faster, and sets up the stomp of “Walking With A Mountain”. Mick alternates Chuck Berry riffs with Keith Richard copies while the track pounds away, and they even go so far as to chant the tag from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” over the end.
Slow and sad, “I Can Feel” is more Ian feeling sorry for himself, but it’s still pretty, with a gospel choir counterpart and a flute effect that might be a guitar, we can’t tell. On “Threads Of Iron”, Ian sings the verses, while Mick takes the darker choruses, soloing like Ron Wood all the way. After two passes, the band beats the riff into the ground for another three minutes. Just when you think they’re going to calm down to a resolved ending, they pick it back up and beat it harder into hamburger and chaos, Ian screaming like he’s been stabbed. Maybe it sounded too much like the end of the first album, so Guy sent Ian back to the piano and told him to play something or else. The result was “When My Mind’s Gone”, a simple (there’s that word again) mediation for block chords with organ and bass underneath. If it really was as spontaneous as legend says, it’s an even more impressive summation of the turmoil Ian sang over the rest of the album.
Most sophomore aren’t as good as debuts, and Mad Shadows does seem like both a retread and a reaction. But given a little time, songs emerge from the murk.
Mott The Hoople Mad Shadows (1970)—3