Some of the greatest songwriters invariably have some of the greatest backing bands. Bob Dylan had the Band, Graham Parker had The Rumour, John Hiatt had the Goners (and now The Combo) and Ian Hunter has The Rant Band. The vibrancy with which they bring to life the material on When I'm President reaffirms why the former frontman for Mott The Hoople chooses to share headline status with them on his 20th solo album.
The punchy but not overly-polished sound that erupts with "Imagination (Flying Scotsman)" suits the well-wrought material as well as professionalism of The Rant Band, which includes drummer Steve Holley (formerly of Wings) and guitarist James Mastro (once of The Bongos and more recently The Health & Happiness Show). Ian Hunter is not the first veteran rocker to ultimately embrace a style from which he once ran, so if the Chuck-Berry derived changes of this opening track remind of vintage Mott the Hoople, it's not an accident. Nor is it a mistake because the sly double entendre of the lyrics suits the author's purpose (and fits his history).
Hunter's a memorable composer for more than just his talents as a wordsmith though. The soft intonations of "Fatally Flawed" befit the tenderness in the lyrics as well as his vocal delivery on the verses, meanwhile, the explosive contrast guitarists Mastro and Mark Bosch detonate on the violent refrain reminds of Mott at its earliest and roughest. Proceeding from the world-weary tone of the singing, Hunter’s title song says all that needs saying about disillusionment with a political ideal--without mentioning a single name.
It's tempting to just luxuriate in the raucous sound of tunes like "Wild Bunch" because Ian Hunter and The Rant Band strut their stuff with the braggadocio usually reserved for younger bands. The hook of “Saint” arises immediately from the acoustic guitars, while the transparency of seemingly nonsense lyrics only substantiates the singsong quality of the arrangement. The comparable textures and subdued tone of "Just the Way You Look Tonight,” combined with its romantic yet unsentimental subject matter suggests Ian Hunter and The Rant Band could devise a formidable acoustic set for their concerts that would be as memorable as the electric portion.
Still, as the slightly hoarse caterwauling of the frontman catches attention on “What For,” the lyrics demand a look to ascertain why the man's evincing such a passion for his subject, in this case, the cultural ephemera of celebrity crossed with technological advances. "Black Tears," however, reaffirms that Hunter's deft handling of topicality has its roots in the author’s discerning eye for human emotion; the beauty of this number is that it could be about the writer himself or a third party without losing credibility.
While Ian Hunter's last two albums, Shrunken Heads and Man Overboard, had this transplanted Brit overly conscious in making a statement, When I'm President finds him approaching his ideas from oblique angles. He tackles racial prejudice with understatement on the haunting "Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse)" and utilizes healthy-detachment in his confrontation of apathy on "I Don't Know What You Want," all the while trusting The Rand Band will follow him wherever he needs to go. But if the light touch the man applies to the concluding cut, "Life," suggests anything, it's that Ian Hunter has his own unerring sense of direction---again.