Classic album from Bowie and Ronson favorite -- and synthesizer pioneer -- gets fabulous reissue treatment.
Annette Peacock’s 1972 album I’m the One -- first released by RCA and now reissued by Light in the Attic's Future Days imprint -- is positively impressive. Peacock, one of the first people and maybe the first woman to own one of Robert Moog's famed synthesizers -- crafted an album that bridges with soul, pop, jazz, and a few other genres that still haven't been named. Her 1968 album with then-husband Paul Bley (as the Bley-Peacock Synthesizer Show), Revenge, showcased her imagination for and acumen with the instrument. I'm the One spotlights her abilities as a vocalist, composer, and innovator in a fashion that is seamless and still -- 40 years after this record's first appearance -- breathtaking.
The record opens -- as so many records do -- with the title track and in this case it's a piece that calls to mind the austerity of Carla Bley and Michael Mantler's best work but Peacock's vision remains very much her own. The dissonant, majestic, and unsettling introduction gives way to a song that refuses to define itself as anything familiar to either the pop or casual -- or even sophisticated -- listener. More importantly, the technology at her disposal, including vocal treatments via the synthesizer, becomes so fully integrated in the playing and composition that it never calls unnecessary attention to itself.
What does draw our attention is Peacock's unbelievably beautiful voice, displayed most elegantly on the ballad "7 Days" and the funky "Pony", a showcase for her distinct phrasing and equally distinct lyrics. "One Way" is an amalgamation of cabaret, music from outer space, New Orleans parlor tunes, horror film scores, torch songs, and a full-on soul meltdown, traveling the distance between Sun Ra and Dr. John and stopping to pick up Ike and Tina and Janis Joplin along the way. Her take on "Love Me Tender" also showcases her abilities as an interpreter as she renders the song remarkably new, her performance in touch with the sentiments of the original but also transcending and transforming those earlier intentions. (Mick Ronson borrowed Peacock's arrangement for his 1974 classic Slaughter on 10th Avenue.)
I'm the One, let's not forget, emerged the same year as Lou Reed's Transformer and while it's certain that Reed and his co-producers David Bowie and Mick Ronson knew a thing or two about Brechtian presentation and melding high art with rock 'n' roll, there's plenty of evidence that Bowie respected Peacock's mind and music. He asked her to play on Aladdin Sane (she didn't) and offered to produce her next album (he didn't). He did, however, along with guitarist Reeves Gabrels, give "I'm the One" a nod in 1999 with "Something in the Air", evidence of both her staying power and his appreciation for genius.
But who Peacock influenced and what they borrowed or stole doesn't matter when you're presented with the brilliance of this 37-minute opus, a record that wasn't as much ahead of its time as it was carving out its time, laying the groundwork for what was possible in a still-young decade and a year that still holds power over the heart and imagination of contemporary music. This is a perfect introduction to Peacock's music and, one hopes, a sign that more of her impressive works will be more widely available to an audience that needs to know this important vocalist/keyboardist/innovator/composer.