November 27, 2013

Mick Ronson - Slaughter on 10th Avenue (1974/2003)



Mick Ronson is easily one of the most underrated musicians of the rock era. A first rate arranger and a sublimely talented multi-instrumentalist whose fiery lead-guitar work for David Bowie's Ziggy-era band The Spiders from Mars proved to be a huge influence on both the punk and post-punk movements of the late-1970s and early 1980s, Ronson was a rock 'n' roll careerist, who, much like Bowie, had endured many failures before his star finally began to ascend. Before meeting up with Bowie in 1969 toward the end of the recording sessions for the Space Oddity album, Ronson had paid his dues knocking about in several bands in his native city of Hull, most notably, an R&B-influenced outfit called The Rats who had a few minor brushes with success in London before descending again and forever into obscurity. The story goes that when former Rats band-mate John Cambridge made the trek from London back to Hull to recruit his friend to join Bowie's new backing band, The Hype, Ronson was working as a Parks Department gardener. Understandably reluctant after his previous failures, Ronson was finally persuaded to agree and consummated his legendary musical partnership with Bowie only a few days later on the John Peel radio show. In hindsight, Ronson's influence on Bowie's glam-phase is incalculable, as he not only was the architect (along with Tony Visconti) of the darker, harder-edged sound Bowie adopted beginning with The Man Who Sold the World, but he also co-produced, with Bowie, many of the classic Ziggy-era albums. Following Bowie's sudden retirement of his Ziggy Stardust alter-ego in July, 1973, Ronson, at the behest of Bowie's manager, Tony DeFries, recorded his first solo album, which, if nothing else, clearly demonstrates the extent to which Ronson had a hand in Bowie's distinctive sound.  

Slaughter on 10th Avenue isn't the kind of solo effort you'd expect from a lead guitarist striking out on his own for the first time; rather, it attempts to present Ronson as a viable pop star in his own right, instead of merely giving him a forum to lay down impressive guitar solos. This is evident from the first song, a cover of Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender," which starts out reverentially enough, but soon converts this gentle (or sappy depending on your taste) chestnut into an over-the-top glam-rock power ballad, complete with Ronson's histrionic Bowie-esque vocals and dramatic Ziggy-style guitar work. It really should be a mess, but the song is so lovingly executed and sumptuously recorded that it simply works, and works well. Things get even more interesting on the Bowie & Ronson penned "Growing Up and I'm Fine," which listeners will either love or hate depending on their tolerance for (or love of) glam-rock excess. A fey take-off on Springsteen, it's the kind of song Bowie excelled at on albums such as Aladdin Sane, and though Ronson does a credible job on vocals, it's impossible not to wonder what Bowie might have done with the song; nonetheless, it's a great, glittery three-minute ride. And then there is "Music Is Lethal," another Bowie-penned tune that starts out sounding a little like "The Port of Amsterdam," but soon develops into a full-fledged Jacques Brel meets Scott Walker meets Bowie glam-opera. Overall, the production on Slaughter on 10th Avenue is consistently gorgeous and Ronno's guitar-work is spectacular (as usual), and while this is indeed a strange album that ultimately pales in comparison to the Bowie albums it, in many ways, tries to mimic, it still manages to feel like an essential document of a brief but inspired moment when pop hooks, gender-bending and high art could be taken in a single dose.


Slaughter on 10th Avenue (1974/2003)
 1. Love Me Tender
 2. Growing Up and I'm Fine
 3. Only After Dark
 4. Music Is Lethal
 5. I'm the One
 6. Pleasure Man / Hey Ma Get Papa
 7. Slaughter on 10th Avenue
-Bonus Tracks-
 8. Solo on 10th Avenue (Live)
 9. Leave My Heart Alone (Live)
10. Love Me Tender (Live)
11. Slaughter on 10th Avenue (Live)


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