A fascinating, but futile, attempt to turn an iconic second banana into a solo star.
I will always argue that Mick Ronson is always massively short changed in any assessment of the career of David Bowie. Without Ronson’s arrangement acumen, iconic guitar heroics and unerring sense for what made for great rock and roll dynamics, Bowie would have been little more than a cult artist, rather than the international mega star he eventually became. As chief Spider from Mars, Ronno assisted Bowie in honing his act from being a one hit wonder over-burdened with talent, to one of the unarguable icons of popular song. No matter which way you slice it, The Spiders from Mars were the elite rock and roll band that Bowie needed to crack the pop charts, and permanently embed himself into the musical landscape. No Spiders, no Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane. Arguably no Hunky Dory either. That Bowie would later in his career dismiss them as inferior musicians to the session musos he would later rely on was to utterly miss the point of The Spiders from Mars and permanently lowered my opinion of Bowie himself.
Being dismissed in such a way must have hurt all the Spiders, but probably none more than Ronno. Sure, his later collabrator, Ian Hunter never missed on opportunity to point out just how important Ronson was to his own career, but Hunter would be the first to admit that Bowie would always be a far bigger star than himself. Prior to assisting Hunter in launching his solo career they’d both he and Ronno had been members of Mott the Hoople, however prior to that Ronson’s manager’s had done their best to convince him that he could be a solo star in his own right, hence this much-publicised solo debut.
Considerably less gut-punch rock and roll than his work with the Spiders from Mars, Slaughter on 10th Avenue instead highlights Ronson’s gift as an arranger. Musically it’s a little too busy and could maybe have benefitted on someone reminding him of the benefits of economy and directness when it comes to rock music, there’s certainly a lack of the iconic riffing that had made his name. However, over-complex musical statements were fashionable at the time, so maybe it was what was thought would make an impression at the time. Vocally Ronson belies his previous life as a Spider by perhaps imitating Bowie’s vocals too closely here and there, but in general he impresses.
Slaughter on 10th Avenue was heavily promoted at the time, however it didn’t make Ronson the solo star that he deserved to be. There were great songs, such as “Growing Up and I’m Fine”, but the album as a whole was a little inconsistent, where it should have been a focused and firey rock and roll statement, which was the opposite direction that his former paymaster was going. Sure there were rockers like “Only After Dark”, but there needed to be considerably more of them.
Of course hindight suggests that the ideal thing to do would have been to relaunch The Spiders from Mars as a power trio, thus proving that Bowie was wrong and that they were anything but the disposable backing musos he claimed them to be, and underlining the fact that they were collectively a legitimately great band at the height of their not inconsiderable powers. The mouth waters at the prospect at what they could have achieved if they’d stuck together, however, it wasn’t to be, and their chance to prove Bowie often talked cobblers was missed.
Slaughter on 10th Avenue is perhaps all the evidence needed that for all his immense talent, Ronno always need a collborator. Of course, he would go on to once again achieve greatness with both Mott the Hoople and Ian Hunter, but Slaughter on 10th Avenue wasn’t the artistic success it could have been, simply because it tried to hard to cover too many bases.