SLAUGHTER ON 10TH AVENUE and STRANDED
by Michael Gross
And when the kids had killed
the man they had to break up the band ... almost. Now that the glitter thunder is
over, perhaps it'll be easier to look at some bands without worrying about images.
To look at Roxy music without Eno and to look at the Spiders from Mars without
Ziggy would both have seemed pointless a year ago. Now it's necessary. Ladies
and gentlemen, the second generation of glitter!! How do they fare?
Roxy Music fares somewhat more
accessibly these days. Perhaps Bryan Ferry's voice needed some getting used to.
Perhaps we needed to see his other side--on the unreleased-in-America solo album
that Atlantic will be picking up along with Roxy. Whatever it is, he now sounds more
like a rock and roller and less like an escapee from Charenton. Musically, Roxy
still refuses to follow any standards of conventions. Their songs are either
maddeningly dense or deceptively simple.
'Street Life,' the
opening cut and British hit single, goes by a little too fast. Bryan stretches his
vocals and then sings in his pseudo - 50's manner, making the sound good, but no great
shakes. 'Just Like You' features Bryan all alone at the piano. His
poetry is simple, and his songs are no longer the macabre mood pieces of For Your
Pleasure, but he can still create an aura around his voice that is compelling, as he
As destiny wills it
So seasons will change
Just like you.
As the recond continues,
one begins to realize that Roxy has lost none of its touch. The heavy-metal flights
of fancy are still more memorable than most melodic 'heavy' combos. Bryan
singing alone can still bring the mood of elegant black masses into any sitting room.
Phil Manzanera's guitar is utilized both as a maker of statements and as
punctuation for Bryan's long passages.
When Brian Eno left Roxy Music,
something was lost that can never be retrieved by the band. His bizarre inspiration
cannot be matched by any other musician (or, as he preferred, non-musician). But the
addition of Eddie Johnson, ex-Curved Air violinist, gave Roxy something they didn't have
before, a new sound to play with. It doesn't make up for Eno's loss, but the fact is
that Eno was not essential to Roxy. In the same way, Andrew Mackay is not essential
to Roxy, though one must wonder if anyone could duplicate his prowess on sax that helps
make up the group's ensemble sound. Stranded makes no great advances for
the band, though it is a better album than For Your Pleasure. Where they go
from here is a big question. If they continue growing along the path they've begun,
and pick up an audience willing to go with them, Roxy Music may be around for a while.
I hope so.
My hopes are equally high for
Mick Ronson. For a long time he was simply David Bowie's guitarist. Then, as
he began getting credit for Bowie's arranging, an important fact became known. One
of the best things Bowie did was write guitar introductions to songs. Those
sweepingly powerful solos were all the work of arranger Ronson, who along with
writer/singer Bowie, formed a tight duo.
When Bowie announced his
retirement from the stage, it seemed for one dismal moment that those wonderful Spiders
from Mars would be out pounding the pavement. Then the word leaked that Ron-o was
hard at work on a solo lp. The first question anyone had was answered when it was
discovered that, though David had written some songs for his axe-man, he was staying away
from the studios. One could guess that the song-writing would be good. One
could guess that with Ronson behind the dials, the production would be good. But no
one could guess that Ron-o could sing almost as well as his ex-boss.
'Love Me Tender,' the
opening cut and single on Slaughter, is an abortion that proves one thing:
Ronson can sing, sounding at times like an androgynized Tony Bennett and at times
like a macho version of La Bowie. That, it seems, is the image he's trying to
present. The Elvis cover shouldn't be taken too serioiusly. No 45 choice has
ever been well made within the confines of Mainman, so why should anyone expect this one
to be better?
'Growing Up and I'm
Fine' and 'Only After Dark' are among the finest cuts to ever emerge from
the Bowie unit. Mick is his own man, but he's learned well. He's taken some of
Bowie's vocal nuances and uses them to the best effect, giving a Bowie song the type of
reading that Bowie couldn't.
In fact, the only thing that's
wrong with this album is that Ronson is not rocking out. When one thinks back on his
amazing work on cuts like 'Moonage Daydream,' it seems strange not to hear any
fast work here. He gets funky on the 'Slaughter On Tenth Avenue'
instrumental that closes the album, but nowhere does he churn faster than warp two.
It's a pit, 'cause he's done it before.
What Slaughter proves
is that behind David Bowie was something more than an amphetamine-crazed hype machine
leaking at every orifice. Though the idea of Mainman may have intimidated a number
of rock writers (with, rumor has it, good reason), the 'artistes' of Mainman
deserve to be treated as what they are, among the best rock and rollers of our time.
And the fact is that they have chosen Mainman to stand behind them.
Behind David Bowie, as well,
was a man named Mick Ronson: a man who may still be testing his ground, but who has
released a marvelous solo album. As he stretches out and sees how much he can grab
over the next few months, Ronson will, hopefully, realize he can rock with the best of
them, on his own terms. In the same way, behind the best few of the so-called
glam-rockers were groups of competent musicians, caught up in a hype that was neither true
nor controllable. Roxy Music were such musicians. The damage caused by the
hype seems minimal. Now perhaps, we can finally treat all of them as what they
really are - musicians, making music, giving it to people, asking only that it be enjoyed.