More than a superfan’s nod to one of his favorite songwriters, the 10 delightful songs on Spain Capers – which include 4 by Ian Hunter – find some of McCaughey’s less-visible sides on display. (Aside: scroll to the bottom for a nice audiovisual surprise.)
BY FRED MILLS
There’s a photo from a few years back, no doubt dear to the hearts of any Scott McCaughey fans who’ve seen it, that depicts the Minus 5/Young Fresh Fellows/Baseball Project mainman posing for Chicago shutterbug Marty Perez’s lens beside Ian Hunter. McCaughey, with his shades and curly, shoulder-length locks, could almost pass for a sibling of the rock legend, although the shit-eating grin on his face gives him away not as a sibling but an unabashed Hunter superfan. McCaughey followers, of course will recall that the Hunter-penned ballad “I Wish I Was Your Mother” has frequently popped up in YFF/M5 setlists, and McCaughey’s love of Mott The Hoople was on further display via the title of last year’s 5-LP M5 box Scott The Hoople in the Dungeon of Horror.
With the release of Spain Capers, credited to Scott The Hoople, boasting cover art that’s an homage to Mott’s 1971 album for Atlantic Records, Brain Capers, along with disc art that mimics the old Atlantic LP labels, and featuring no less than four Hunter compositions, McCaughey is officially now a Hunter stalker. Welcome to the club, brutha! (Which is not necessarily a bad thing, having such an astute, devote student of rock ‘n’ roll history firmly in one’s camp, eh?)
McCaughey assembled the limited edition CD prior to embarking upon his recent solo tour of Spain, and as a winking nod to the Spanish market, replacing the “Featuring the Brain Caper Kids” legend on the original Mott sleeve is the Spanish text “El Ingenioso Hidalgo de La Plancha.” This translates at a couple of sites, including Google Translate, as “the ingenious gentleman of the plate,” which doesn’t make total sense to me unless it’s somehow referring to McCaughey’s Baseball Project work (e.g., “home plate”). Another site translates it as “the ingenious nobleman of the iron” which at first makes even less sense, although “hidalgo” is indeed Spanish for “nobleman” or “aristocrat” and I think most of us would agree that McCaughey is one of indie rock’s great noblemen who treats music with true aristocratic grace, so… I digress.
The 10-song Spain Capers may have been a tour-only artifact that McCaughey recorded over the course of a single week this past April, but despite the under-the-radar status it’s certainly no throwaway. More subdued and folky that McCaughey’s full band projects, the McCaughey originals are keepers destined for perennial status in his repertoire, from the strummy guitar/woozy-keyboard pop of “Have Faith in Yourself” to the riotously infectious “To Right All Wrongs” that’s partly a tribute to Cervantes’ classic tale of Don Quixote (the Spanish subtitle for the song translates as “the return of Don Quixote”) and partly a metaphor for the inherent road-warrior nature of touring musicians.
Those Ian Hunter covers? Be ye a Mott or an M5 fan, they are pure delights.
“Waterlow,” originally on 1971’s Wildlife, and “Sea Diver,” from 1972 breakthrough album All The Young Dudes, are both yearning piano ballads, and as folks probably think of McCaughey more as a guitarist than a keyboardist (this despite his utility-player multiinstrumentalist chops during his R.E.M. tenure), they make for nice departures. The wistful-yet-grand sounding “Scars” actually finds him singing in a voice uncannily like Hunter’s; the track’s plucked from ’95 Hunter solo album Dirty Laundry and could easily trick a blindfold test taker into thinking it’s a Hunter outtake or demo. And fans will be hoisting multiple ales in McCaughey’s direction for his inclusion of “I Wish I Was Your Mother”: it’s instantly recognizable and absolutely reverent, but McCaughey also makes it his own, with several flourishes in place (among them, a vocal that departs a bit from Hunter’s and a somewhat faster tempo) indicative of his having lived with the tune for a good while now.
Oh, and that McCaughey-Hunter photo referenced above? The same Perez pic graces the back sleeve of Spain Capers, wrapping everything up here perfectly.
Meanwhile, Ian Hunter probably needn’t worry about that tent with the small Minus 5 logo on the side that mysteriously appeared on his front lawn overnight. Word has it that it’s just where the new groundskeeper for the Hunter estate stores his supplies and lawn tools. At least that’s what we’re told. Right, Scott? Right?
Consumer note: There are only 250 numbered copies of the CD—McCaughey originally set up the Book Records label awhile back for when the Minus 5 wanted to do a limited edition or tour-only release—so by the time you read this there’s a chance it’ll be sold out. The “shop” link on the M5 site doesn’t show it, but instead takes you to the Yep Roc Records site where the various M5 titles are displayed, while searching for “Scott The Hoople” on Amazon only yields Scott The Hoople In the Dungeon of Horror. Perhaps an online petition clamoring for a repressing of the record would be in order, hmm….?
Below: Ian Hunter’s Rant Band joined by McCaughey, Steve Wynn and Chuck Prophet for a group singalong on “All The Young Dudes” at San Francisco’s Fillmore back in January.. Note “pinch-me” shit-eating grins on the faces of McC, Wynn and Prophet…