Milestone - Back to Mystery City

JR: Let's fast forward a couple of years to the release of Back to Mystery City, which you also reviewed in Kerrang!. You called the album "a vindication." Do you recall that as a fairly triumphant time, a time of anticipation?

DD: The things is, they'd been around for a few years at that point...

JR: They had three studio albums, and a live one on the way. This was their fourth studio album, pre-Two Steps, pre-major label. The last thing you wrote in the review was: "This IS an epic, this DOES vindicate my belief in the band, everyone connected with this group knew their moment would arrive eventually and now it finally has, and this is only the start." If only it had been just the start...

DD: As far as studio releases, everything they had done up until that point had some flaws. One, they never had a good producer, so the production values on the albums were not great. This didn't much matter, because it was all pretty raw stuff, but there really wasn't anyone in the studio who knew which knobs to twiddle to bring out the best in them. McCoy had churned out a ton of wonderful material up until that point. If it had a fault, it was in the production. The songs were great, everything about the band live was great, but the production values on the albums were not what they could have been. One thing I've always said about Prince is that the guy writes fabulous songs, but he also writes shit songs, and he doesn't know the difference. He doesn't have anyone around him who can actually say, "Look Prince, 'this is a really good song' or 'this is a really crappy song, let's leave this one off the album and put this good one on instead.'"

Somehow I doubt that Andy, who probably thinks that everything he's ever written is a work of genius - I doubt that anybody was around him to say, "Look, this song doesn't really quite cut it, let's leave this one out and use this one instead." He was always churning the songs out left, right, and center. I said in one piece that he actually asked me who should produce the album, and I said "Ian Hunter". But of course they couldn't afford Ian Hunter. So for Mystery City, they got the next best thing - Dale Griffin and Pete "Overend" Watts from Mott the Hoople. I was not a Mott the Hoople fan, but these guys had been around for a while and they pretty much knew what they were doing. Now, I don't know what happened in the studio. I don't know if Andy came in and said, "Here's thirty songs, you pick the best ten," or if he said, "Here are ten songs that we're going to record for this album." I don't know if they said, "OK, these eight are fine, but these two, they're not good, do you have anything else?" What I do know is that the Mystery City album, which was the first one that Razzle had done with them, had lots of aggression, and humor, and there were some really great songs. It truly helped to finally have a pair of guys who knew their way around a studio. These guys weren't going to get a "best producers" award on anybody's list. But they knew what they were doing.

I don't know if you've come across Fin Costello, but he took the front cover photo. Fin Costello also took the cover photograph of one of the most beautiful album covers I've ever seen, Japan's Quiet Life. So I was glad that Fin was employed to take the cover photograph for the Mystery City album, and he did a great job. It was moody, and beautiful, and everything that all the covers up until that point had not been. So right from the very cover, before you even get to the music, it all slotted neatly into place. Then you get inside the album, and finally someone's gotten around to putting a lyric sheet in, and the album was just wonderful. This was what we'd all been waiting for. As an overall package, it worked much better than all the other albums.

When Mick Wall, my editor, once asked me, "Which Hanoi album would you recommend to someone who's never heard them before?" I said, "Well, I would recommend Self-Destruction Blues because it's got a bit of everything. Buy Self-Destruction Blues, because you get the breadth of Andy McCoy's songwriting." But if you want to talk in terms of a complete package, then Back to Mystery City has got it all. Yes, with Two Steps From the Move we had Ian Hunter and Lou Reed and a whole bunch of people coming in and throwing their two pennies' worth in, but this was Andy on his own. I imagine that behind the scenes, he was receiving a little bit of direction, and he getting it absolutely right. I defy anybody to play that record and not say at least, "Well, I don't like the band, but yes, this is a damn fine record and I can see what you're going on about." I couldn't help but think, "If they had gotten Bob Ezrin in at that stage, who knows what would have happened?" Or if they could have afforded Ian Hunter.

Ian Hunter came to mind because of Generation X. Valley of the Dolls was just a superb album by Gen X. A bunch of punks go to an old hippie. They come out with a cutting edge, yet commercial and melodic album. That's why I said to Andy, "Get Ian Hunter. This is a guy who can do for you what he did for Generation X." There were so many connections between the two bands. They were both raw and raucous, and yet they both had elements to them that would appeal to the commercial mainstream. They never got Ian Hunter, although he cropped up on the last album briefly. But they got the next best thing - Ian Hunter's sidekicks.