Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Rats – The Rise & Fall of Bernie Gripplestone and the Rats from Hull

I became a fan of Mick Ronson due to his work in the Spiders of Mars, of course, but never had a chance to hear his work before joining up with Bowie. This CD gives an overview of his band, the Rats, career (I haven’t had a chance to read the extensive booklet yet, so may augment this review later with more information) and shows how early Ronson’s talent developed.

The first few tunes are somewhat typical – though still quite good – British r’n’b, which certainly shows Mick’s roots – he was always the rocker to Bowie’s conceptual artist, which was a winning combination for them! Interestingly, the group does an organ-dominated take on a traditional number called “New Orleans”, one can assume as a response to the Animals “House of the Rising Sun” and with the hopes of riding on the success of that tune.

But next up is a dramatic change and a multi-layered, psychedelic production for “The Rise & Fall of Bernie Gripplestone” (apparently, later the influence for the similarly titled Bowie album), with backwards guitars, trippy melody and cool changes. They kinda throw the kitchen sink at this one, but it works, in a late 60’s kinda way. Very enjoyable!

Not quite as over-the-top is the poppy, Creation-esque “Stop Get A Hold of Myself” that has some nice fuzz licks from Mick. Then, showcasing Ronson’s Jeff Beck fixation are the great “Guitar Boogie” and “Morning Dew” – highly rockin’ and you wouldn’t be blamed for assuming that these were Jeff Beck Group outtakes. Continuing in this vein is “Early in Spring”, a cool riff-rocker followed by the more traditional blues of “Telephone Blues”.

Again showing his later influence over Bowie, the Rats covered “It Ain’t Easy” before it was added to the Ziggy Stardust album. This live take is heavier and much more of a Ronson work-out – even showing his slide technique. Same with the other live cut – a version of Cream’s “ I Feel Free”, with enough originality to maybe not make it their own completely, but to make you understand that these cats are not pure copyists.

In a sadly ironic twist, the untimely death of Ronson was the catalyst for a Rats reunion and the remaining members played a tribute show and then recorded 3 new numbers – the bonus tracks for this CD. All are nice, blues rock tunes, including a take on Free’s version of “The Hunter” and all show that they were worthy musicians even without Mick.

All said, I dig this a lot, but objectively, this is probably more for Ronson fans than anyone else. This does give a good overview of the British rock scene in the 60’s and early 70’s though!