ILPS 9178 released November 1971
Chart position: UK zilch US 207
Ah, Brain Capers. The beginning of the end of the beginning.
After Wildlife failed to fly off the shelves, Mott the Hoople felt under pressure, even though the band’s live shows were wildly popular. In July 1971 they played at the Royal Albert Hall in London, causing such mayhem that the venue banned future rock concerts as well as sending Mott a big bill for repairs. “Originally it was just for two boxes but somehow it changed to thirty,” said Hunter, quoted by Campbell Devine, suggesting perhaps that the damage became exaggerated.
Whatever the case, it was frustrating to have such success on the road but few record sales. The band decided to do an album that was better aligned with its hard-driving stage shows. In August 1971 they returned to the studio. The initial plan was to self-produce, but after a week or so they invited Guy Stevens back, in search of more energy. Or perhaps they always wanted him; Hunter is quoted saying, “Guy was pissed off because we hadn’t asked him to do it originally. We’d been looking for him, but hadn’t been able to find him because he was off on another of his binges.”
“The early Mott-produced sessions are relaxed and atmospheric, while the subsequent recordings with Guy Stevens have a raw and aggressive manner,” said Dale Griffin (Buffin).
Going by the account in Devine’s book, the sessions sound manic. Stevens set fire to the studio on one occasion. On another occasion he freaked out and smashed a clock when told he was overrunning. On the last day, “Guy got us drunk out of our heads, we put the tracks down, then smashed up the studio,” said Pete Watts.
Well, the results don’t sound quite that chaotic, but there’s no doubt that Stevens was able to inspire an energy that was lacking on Wildlife – though the softer Mott-produced tracks which appeared later as outtakes have their own appeal.
The album has often been compared to punk rock, four or five years ahead of its emergence in the UK, especially the track The Moon Upstairs, with its pounding rhythm and aggressive lyrics. “I swear to you before we’re through you’re gonna feel our every blow. We ain’t bleeding you we’re feeding you, but you’re too f-ing slow.”
The lyrics can also be seen as referring to Island Records, with whom the band felt increasingly uncomfortable. They felt that Island could not come to terms with the raucous side of the band, and did not do enough to promote them, despite demanding a heavy touring schedule.
The album was originally to be called AC/DC, reflecting the rock vs ballads offered by the band. Then Stevens came up with two other titles, Bizarre Capers and Brain Damage. He combined two, making Brain Capers, and credited the sleeve design to Bizarre Damage.
Brain Capers is widely admired, but has never been a big seller. Julian Cope’s review is worth a look:
“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.”
Death may be your Santa Claus is the opener, originally called How Long (which makes more sense), a rocker by Ian Hunter and Verden Allen. It sets the scene with an urgent beat, swirling organ, and defiant lyrics “I don’t care what the people say, I don’t give a _ anyway”.
Your Own Backyard is a cover; the song is by Dion (DiMucci), an American singer-songwriter, though Mott make it their own with a propulsive performance. The vocal is mixed low in the mix.
Darkness Darkness is another cover; a 1969 song by Jesse Colin Young of Youngbloods fame. The original is softer than Mott’s effort, though still quite a spooky song. “Darkness darkness, be my blanket, cover me with the endless night. Take away the pain of knowing, fill the emptiness of right now.” A song that would not have been out of place on Mad Shadows. Ralphs takes the lead vocal.
The Journey is an eight and half minute epic by Hunter, and closes side 1. It was based on a poem by Hunter, inspired by a bridge in London known for its suicides (lovely). The song shows Mott’s softer side, but on Brain Capers even the songs that start quietly have their crescendos and manic moments.
Sweet Angeline is a rocker by Hunter which became a live favourite. The band was apparently unhappy with the performance and wanted to re-record, but Stevens refused. Perhaps he liked the raw, chaotic feel of the song.
Second Love by Allen (but sung by Hunter) is a favourite of mine. It is the first song he wrote according to Devine. It is about going out with a girl who has a “second love,” which is her Jewish religion. “Why does it have to be this way?” Jim Price plays trumpet giving the song a soaring feel.
Next up is the aforementioned The Moon Upstairs. Credited to Hunter and Ralphs, it began as a country song, before it morphed into a pre-punk classic. The title “meant nothing really”, said Ralphs, though it was something to do with the moon making you insane (“lunatic”).
The album closes with The Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception, which is really a two-minute outtake from sessions for The Journey, extracted by Guy Stevens and given one of his wild titles. Featuring strange noises, feedback, and a Stevens voiceover which sounds like an intro rather than an ending.
Sometimes portrayed as Mott’s lost classic, Brain Capers is not one of my absolute favourites, though it is a remarkable piece. This is heavy rock and deals with some dark themes, perhaps even more so than Mad Shadows. “Those of you who always laugh, let this be your epitaph,” says The Moon Upstairs. The influence of Guy Stevens is very evident. It was his last album with Mott, and the band that emerged post-Stevens had a lighter touch.
The one thing it did not do of course was to become a best seller, a problem that pushed Mott to breaking point. But that is for another post.
Here is an ad for Brain Capers:
Note that this uses the image from the cover of the novel The Velvet Underground by Michael Leigh.
Thanks to “The Mighty Upsetter” on the Hoffman forum for this information.
The original Brain Capers came with an inner sleeve with a picture of aircraft similar to the ad above. There was also a mask included. Maybe this made you into a "Brain Caper kid"?