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In my earliest days I used to think of T. Rex as a generic heavy metal band (sic!) of a cult appeal to braindead teenagers, the kind of stuff that totally corresponds to the 'music' garbage that gets poured on the average listener today. I dare say that this misconception is shared by quite a few people; however, the real situation around Mr Marc Bolan and his band is actually way more complicated than it seems even to those who think they have gotten into Bolan and his world of fun, but trashy glam-rock. In other words, the scepticism around Marc should be evaporated according to the following two steps: (a) put on 'Bang A Gong' or any of his other innumerable glam hit singles and witness the man's talent and rather uncommon way of getting under your skin with even the silliest of his ditties; (b) next, realize that there's much, much more to Marc's music than 'Bang A Gong', especially if you hunt for his earlier albums and his later ones.Indeed, it's a great irony that Marc Bolan is best known for his early Seventies' glam albums. Historically speaking, his 1970-73 period, during which he was causing 'TRextasy' among Britain's starry-eyed teenagers, may indeed be his most important one; after all, albums like Electric Warrior signalized his major breakthrough, his rise to stardom and the beginning of 'classic' glam rock as we know it: without Electric Warrior, there'd be no Ziggy Stardust, that's for sure, as Bowie's image in the early Seventies' was closely patterned along the lines of Bolan. And it's also true that his classic glam stuff is the most acceptable in his career. Why shouldn't it be? Simplistic, derivative ballads and traditional boogie-woogie, all based on solid hooks and all of them with an interesting edge - Marc's mystical, 'bleating' vocals, the sharp, catchy sound of his band, and the incredible drive usually makes his material stand far ahead of many of his less imaginative peers. Even so, for the most part it's product. Glam's main flaw is the very essence of glam - an emphasis on theater, mystification, pomp and braggardness. No, even in his prime glam days Marc Bolan was always more than your average glam posturer like Gary Glitter; but why was he more? Because he had a superb legacy, that's why. Few people know it, but Marc Bolan's career didn't begin with 'Bang A Gong'; it started with 'Deborah', way back in 1967. And for two or three years, when his band (or, frankly speaking, his duet with Steve Peregrin Took) was still sporting the full, unabbreviated name without the silly dot, Marc was something of a hippie guru, playing trippy, unprecedented acoustic 'mantras' that were equally influenced by Indian music, Bob Dylan, and J. R. R. Tolkien. The early Tyrannosaurus Rex style may be a hard thing to swallow for many people, and even today, it's tough luck to meet a critic that wouldn't condemn this music as 'badly dated'; hell, it would even be tough luck to meet a critic that would have actually heard some of it. History (or should we say - American music industry) has passed its verdict, and there's no doubt in my mind that it's one of the most unjust verdicts ever made. If you haven't heard any of Bolan's better early albums, you basically don't understand what the man is about, and that's that. I'm serious. Only selected traces of his early style, however, are evident in Bolan's glam compositions. These are mostly prominent in his lyrics, which should often be paid attention to: while he did occasionally let himself down by penning teenage girl-attracting odes like 'Life's A Gas' or 'Jeepster', much of that stuff is pretty funny and intelligent, and sometimes his wordplay is downright fascinating, though it never reaches the heights of the Guru - Bob Dylan. As for the music, that's another thing: the music had changed drastically into a more generic, easily accessible direction. But at least it perfectly suited the teenage ideal - and yeah, young men did have something to boogie along to on a Saturday night. If that's your problem, scoop up The Slider today. It's equally sad that, as the glam craze passed away and Bolan lost his golden commercial touch (which was somewhere on the border of 1973 and 1974), nobody paid any further attention to his music anyway. Meanwhile, he released album after album, up to his very death in 1977, and kept varying his style, experimenting with different genres, from soul to disco, and always verging on the brink between great simplicity and worthless banality, but never really crossing it except for a couple of really unfortunate times. He'd had his artistic ups and downs, but he was never completely burned out: his very last album, Dandy In The Underworld, still shows an artist with enough talent to burn, and, while it doesn't vary from the 'formula' that much so as to show us what further directions the man would have taken, it's still an incredibly strong record for 1977. Maybe Marc would have gone on to become a punk star? Nobody knows, as he perished in a car crash that year, leading him to a 'dead legend' status and causing record companies to shoot off an endless current of posthumous releases that are still flooding the market up to this very day. In brief, Bolan is an artist well worth to get to know; however, passing a judgement on him based exclusively on records like Electric Warrior or Slider is like passing a judgement over Bowie for Ziggy Stardust without having heard anything else. Please take my intro (and the ensuing reviews) as a warning, and as a recommendation: whenever you see a Sixties' Bolan album (especially My People Were Fair and Unicorn), be sure to grab it fast. Line-up (this is not very important, of course, as T. Rex is Bolan, but still, some of the other guys did make important contributions to the sound): Tyrannosaurus Rex - Marc Bolan (guitar, vocals), Steve Peregrin Took (percussion, vocals). Steve was fired in 1970, replaced by Mickey Finn (percussion, keyboards, vocals). The duet abbreviated its name to T. Rex at the end of the year. The 'classic' T. Rex (grown to a full-fledged band in 1971): Bolan - guitar, vocals; Finn - percussion, vocals; Steve Currie - bass; Bill Legend - drums. Legend quit, 1974, replaced by Davey Lutton; in 1975 the band expanded, adding Dino Dines on keyboards. Finn quit, 1976; for the last two albums, a whole pack of session players was used, and I don't really know whether any of them were official members of the band. I don't care either. Believe it or not, I have finally managed to assemble a full collection of all the regular Tyrannosaurus Rex and T. Rex studio output, but I have to warn you from the very beginning that Bolan's posthumous catalog is only second to that of Jimi Hendrix, and it's very easy to get lost in the zillions of archive releases - for instance, you can easily scoop up the so-called 'alternative' versions of most of T. Rex's original albums which are actually just collections of demo versions and only present any interest for the hardcore fan. On the other hand, certain archive releases like Bolan's BBC sessions are definitely not to be missed by anyone. Therefore, be sure to follow the exact discography presented here on the site.
Listenability: 4/5. Melodicity
is almost always a top priority with Bolan.
Resonance: 2/5. The mask this guy keeps wearing is disconcerting, but at least there's no doubting his rocking heart.
Originality: 2/5. Immense originality in terms of image, but not really a huge package in terms of music, apart from the early "folkie" phase.
Adequacy: 3/5. Too much of the stuff looks "inflated", if you know what I mean.
Diversity: 3/5. Folk-pop-a-roll, the whole bunch.
Overall: 2.8 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Early demos with a strong Dylan/blues influence; heavily recommended if you dig Steve Took.Best song: JASPER C. DEBUSSY
Track listing: 1) Jasper C. Debussy; 2) Lunacy's Back; 3) Beyond The Risin' Sun; 4) Black And White Incident; 5) Observations; 6) Eastern Spell; 7) You Got The Power; 8) Hippy Gumbo; 9) Sara Crazy Child; 10) Rings Of Fortune; 11) Hot Rod Momma; 12) The Beginning Of Doves; 13) Mustang Ford; 14) Pictures Of Purple People; 15) One Inch Rock; 16) Jasmine Forty-Nine; 17) Charlie; 18) Misty Mist; 19) Cat Black; 20) Sally Was An Angel.
This is certainly it - the 'Great Lost Bolan Album'. It, however, has a particularly twisted and hard-to-follow history which I'm still not quite aware of. Let me just make a half-baked historical excourse, then. It all begins with Mark Feld, a teenage ambitious gentleman, who wanted very much to be the next Dylan but who also loved Tolkien and the elves a lot; as a result, he changed his name to Marc Bolan (rumours have it that Bolan is actually just a contraction of Bob Dylan) and started poking around early swingin' London, somewhere around 1966 and 1967. This album is constituted of various scraps and snippets of all kinds of projects he'd been busy in during these two years: a couple of singles he put out all by himself, a couple of demos from his work with the psychedelic band John's Children, some demos he'd recorded all by himself with an acoustic, and some outtakes from the My People Were Fair sessions - Marc working with Steve Took, about whom see below for more details.It must be noted, however, that the album itself was only released in 1974 - at least, that's what history says about it. My CD liner notes, however, state that Marc's record company never wanted to fiddle much with the project, assuming that by 1974 the world didn't really need Marc's acoustic talents, and retrieved the release. I surmise they retrieved it, not cancelled it - if they'd cancelled the project, the date '1974' wouldn't probably be sticking out in all discographies available. But 1974 or later, all of these songs date back to 1966 and 1967, and that's why I place the record at the very beginning of the page. Unlike ninety-nine percent of Marc's archive releases that are in the first place 'documents' and can only be called 'artworks' with a big skewer and smile, The Beginning Of Doves is by no means a 'document'. Sure, some of the songs on here have later been redone by Tyrannosaurus Rex on several of their albums, but for the most part, the material is not duplicated, and, while the arrangements are naturally simplistic and stripped, only the shortest tracks on the record give the impression of hastily played demos. It is thus perfectly acceptable to count The Beginning Of Doves as a logical predecessor to the Rex period, and a fascinating one at that. It is clear that in these early years Marc was still deeply rooted in the kinds of music he'd been raised on, mostly American one: traditional boogie, Delta blues and the Dylanish branch of folk ditties. The first influence can only be seen in the first and last tracks on the record. 'Jasper C. Debussy' is an instant classic, a frantic, sped-up variation on a honky-tonk theme with some hot-shot session player banging away on the piano and Marc's vocals coming across loud and clear as he cries out that 'Jasper C. Debussy that's his ki-i-i-nd of fu-u-u-u-n...' Honky-tonk blues, yes, but ever heard someone bleeting away with such power and conviction over lyrics that make so little sense? And 'Sally Was An Angel' is ripped off from 'Heartbreak Hotel' (he even goes as far as to completely copy the line 'but I'm so lonely'), but I really don't mind - and it's fun how the song suddenly changes from an echoey acoustic shuffle to an all-out rocking version (the two are spliced - not sure if the song was really done like that in 1967 or it was re-edited later). The boogie influence is nevertheless subdued here - and it would soon disappear completely, not to return until Marc's reincarnation under the T. Rex moniker. But the rest of the numbers can be defined as a weird take on traditional blues, with fluent guitar picking replaced by nervous, paranoid strumming and the booming, hoarse voice of the old bluesman replaced by the shrill, bleeting voice of the young mystical dandy (soon to be named 'the bopping elf' by critics). Oh, and the lyrics, of course - if anything was right there from the very beginning, it's the lyrics. Schizophrenic and dark in 'Lunacy's Back', happy and aethereal in 'Beyond The Risin' Sun', magical and mystical in 'You Got The Power' - this is as weird a cross between Bob and J. R. R. as possible. The only thing I'm not too happy about is that the very fact that Marc is still so closely attached to 'traditional' song structures ultimately works against him: there are too few really outstanding melodies, instrumental or vocal, to completely justify the record's existence. I dunno, 'Hippy Gumbo', for instance, is a spooky little tune that I find a pleasure to listen to, but I can easily substitute Marc's vocal for something more routine and... it's just a boring, simplistic folk composition. Figures. And 'One Inch Rock'? It's just a Bolan-ic.. eh... interpretation of a rock'n'roll (later redone far better on the T. Rex album). For the uninitiated ones, this may be shocking, but I tell you - after sitting through the first two Tyrannosaurus Rex albums, Doves will seem pretty straightforward to you. It would take Marc just a bit more interaction with Took and presto, off the deep end they would go - into something completely unpredictable. That said, the record certainly has its share of solid moments - apart from the numbers I have already mentioned, the title track, 'Eastern Spell' and 'Sara Crazy Child' all qualify, and certain songs like 'Mustang Ford' and 'Misty Mist' would later be redone in slightly superior versions. And its relative accessibility makes this an easier listen than the trusty Tyrannosaurus, so if you're a, ahem, 'sissy' but would like to try the acoustic Bolan, go ahead and delve in. But I warn you - you must have a high tolerancy level for ble-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-eting.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Charming, totally drugged and spaced out acoustic hippie crap. You'll probably hate it, but I think it's kinda cool, in a perverse way.Best song: FROWNING ATAHUALLPA (MY INCA LOVE)
Track listing: 1) Hot Rod Mama; 2) Scenescof; 3) Child Star; 4) Strange Orchestras; 5) Chateau In Virginia Waters; 6) Dwarfish Trumpet Blues; 7) Mustang Ford; 8) Afghan Woman; 9) Knight; 10) Graceful Fat Sheba; 11) Wielder Of Words; 12) Frowning Atahuallpa (My Inca Love).
Tyrannosaurus Rex? Marc Bolan? Generic glam rock crap? Radio fodder of the Seventies? 'TRextasy'? Well, no. This is not T Rex by any means. This is way before Marc Bolan decided to cash in on the nascent glam rock movement, became one of its forefathers and seduced millions of teenagers just like Leo DiCaprio does it nowadays. This is not the glam rock band T Rex - this is the hippie duet Tyrannosaurus Rex, consisting of just Bolan on vocals and acoustic guitars and his companion Steve Peregrin Took on all kinds of weird percussion. It was recorded somewhere on the brink of 1967 and 1968, a long way before Bolan took on all of his glam attributes. In those early days, after Marc had overcome his passion for Elvis Presley and subdued his passion for Bob Dylan, his main idol was quickly becoming Syd Barrett, and it's no small coincidence that a large percent of these 'songs' (although 'acid mantras' is a more suitable term) are strongly influenced by Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. Bolan's hippie past has been rejected by his later fans and himself, and critics prefer not to mention it at all, but to me, this stuff seems, in a certain sense, much more interesting and intriguing than the glam year products.If anything, this is simply a unique experience. Silly, disposable, meaningless, boring (from a logical point of view) and monotonous, yes. But it's well worth to hear this album at least once - and not just because it arguably sports the longest title in existence. Bolan takes an ounce of his new idol Syd Barrett, an ounce of his old idol Bob Dylan, an ounce of his earliest idols the Beach Boys, an ounce of Indian music and an ounce of Tolkien and throws this all together in one of the most bizarre and exciting melting pots that were ever seen in the whole hip movement. Along the way he adds something of his own, of course: tremendously off-putting (but also tremendously fun) 'bleating' vocals, later put to better use by David Bowie, enthralling, simplistic acoustic melodies, some of which are just bland strumming, but some are almost punkish, and lyrics that verge in between the mystical and the insane. It would also be necessary to notice that the album does not really grate on you like many 'masterpieces' of the epoch do. First of all, it's short; it's all over just after thirty minutes, which might even leave you begging for a bit more. Second, the individual tracks are also all short: none go over four minutes, and some don't even go over two. The only major exception is the lengthy album closer 'Frowning Atahuallpa (My Inca Love)', but it's also the record's strongest cut, built on a lovely folkish melody, and I simply go crazy over the 'du-na-ra-du-na-ra-du' scat singing of Bolan which he does in between verses, alternating bleating syllables with gruff, low syllables... you just need to hear this to believe me. Unfortunately, just after two and a half minutes he goes into this krishnaite 'jam' - if you can call something played on an acoustic guitar and congas a 'jam' - that spoils the fun, before the song turns into a disjointed 'poem' read by disk jockey John Peel, a big fan of Bolan, and finally reverts to the gentle closing lines where Marc gets to actually spelling the album title. The other songs are simply impossible to describe. Well, a couple of them might be classified as 'blues' (the opener, 'Hot Rod Mama', is fairly simple in that respect), but the others couldn't even be classified as 'folk'. Perhaps 'stream of conscience' would be a better word, as Bolan spits out lyrics like 'Lillyputian, evil in the eyes of a man with the leaf harp/He lusts for the urchin hiding under mountains of moleskin' ('Strange Orchestras') over his sometimes generic, sometimes very unusual acoustic work. And, by the way, that Steve Peregrin Took (whose real name was Stephen Ross Porter, and who died tragically young in 1980; 'Peregrin Took', as you probably know, is the name of a notorious hobbit) sure can play some percussion - his beats add quite a lot to the sound. The weirdest stuff, though, comes in when Marc finishes half-singing, half-bleating, half-rapping, half-mumbling, half-whining (gee, just how many halves has this guy got?) the lyrics and begins simply improvising more vocals to make things seem even trippier than they are. Check out that cool ending of 'Dwarfish Trumpet Blues', for instance, where he chants this 'da-da-da-da' mantra for what seems like hours (although it's actually, like, about thirty seconds) and then just totally goes mad. Or the end of 'Strange Orchestras'? Now THAT is some cool vocal experimentation! Howling, screaming, and harmonizing at the same time! Pretty adventurous and mind-blowing for an album whose budget did not exceed four hundred pounds, if I'm not mistaken. But that's not all - if you dig deep enough, you'll find some incredibly rewarding stuff. Like I said, 'Frowning Atahuallpa' is simply beautiful, and there are other gorgeous melodies here: 'Scenescof' and 'Afghan Woman', for instance. Don't try to say they aren't gorgeous: they are, and not even Bolan's bleating can spoil them. It can't, it actually adds to the sound. But if you doubt his vocal talents at all, check out the perfectly harmonized, luxuriant 'Chateau In Virginia Waters' which reminds me of Brian Wilson. Yes it does, please do not laugh at me until you actually heard the record. Of course, I kept silence about the flaws of the album: I guess they're more or less obvious. The worst is that it gets much too monotonous, and addition of fodder like 'Graceful Fat Sheba' or 'Wielder Of Words' doesn't do much to secure its glory. And perhaps the weirdness is a bit overdone in general, too: I can't really imagine anybody wanting to listen to this over and over and over again, certainly not me. But I give it an overall rating of eleven in any case, and that's pretty damn much for a 'hippie crap' album. It would be easier, of course, to simply say something like 'like most of contemporary Flower Power recordings, this one has dated beyond repair'; but it's simply not true. It has dated because nobody does stuff like that any more; but I tell you, I would personally exterminate all modern MTV bands with a bazooka in hand for a record like this to be made in our times. Just imagine the artistic freedom in the Sixties! This was actually written, recorded and - holy crap! - even played on the radio, by same lucky guy John Peel (I therefore forgive him for adding his stupid poem). And I heard some critics even gave it positive reviews back then. It didn't sell, of course, because hippies were probably having problems with having to actually read the album's title from beginning to end, but that's okay. Me, I don't regret even a second for buying this. Note that the album seems to be out of print in the USA; but if you happen to see it cheap in used bins or somewhere, grab it and grab it fast. If anything, it's just a priceless document of the British hippie movement - which, as you might guess, was fairly different from the States hippie movement.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
Same ideas, little less enthusiasm; my senses are slowly getting bored.Best song: STACEY GROVE
Track listing: 1) Deboraarobed; 2) Stacy Grove; 3) Wind Quartets; 4) Conesuala; 5) Trelawny Lawn; 6) Aznageel The Mage; 7) The Friends; 8) Salamanda Palaganda; 9) Our Wonderful Brownskin Man; 10) Oh Harley (The Saltimbanques); 11) Eastern Spell; 12) The Travelling Tragition; 13) Juniper Suction; 14) Scenescof Dynasty.
Eh. Now these guys are really trying our patience. I said in the previous review that My People didn't sell, well, that's actually not exactly true - as it turns out, the album was a sensation in the underground and climbed as far as No. 15 in the UK charts for a short while. The problem is, Marc and Steve didn't seem to make any profit out of it, as their second album was recorded in exactly the same vein as the first, by means of an acoustic guitar and Steve's arsenal of percussion. (And no it wasn't just an artistic stunt: it is a well-known fact that My People was entirely acoustic because the guys didn't have the cash to equip themselves properly, their electric instruments being repossessed by the hire purchase company). So there's an evident lack of new interesting ideas, and where My People struck you with its freshness and groundbreaking, Prophets doesn't do that: it's only enjoyable if the debut album made you a thoroughly converted fan. The melodies are also not as entertaining - basically, I can't find even a single tune on this record that matches the graceful weirdness of 'Frowning Atahualpa' or 'Scenescof'. Let me just state here in anticipation that this problem would be corrected on their following and last album (which is arguably their highest point, melody-wise); Prophets, however, sounds like a typical outtakes album from My People, and you can imagine the way an album of outtakes from a crazy hippie album should sound.In desperation, Bolan does pull out a few tricks that are supposed to represent some kind of 'progress'. Thus, the vocal harmonies part is slightly improved upon - I don't know if the kids are actually helped by June Child, former Pink Floyd 'secretary' and future bride of Marc, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were so. Anyway, the otherworldly harmonies on 'O Harley (The Saltimbanques)' are really something, and many other tracks are also graced accordingly. And on several of the tracks Bolan uses various gimmicks that he probably considered 'cool', although it's sure debatable: thus, 'Deboraarobed', as is more or less evident from the title, represents a 'doubled' version of their non-hit single 'Debora' with the second half being actually the first one rolled backwards - completely. Now this is certainly just a gimmick, but the grooviest thing is, both parts sound exactly the same. Huh. I'm not even pulling your leg on that one. Have you ever heard the sound of congos played backwards? Makes no significant difference... The other gimmick is rote, though - just as the last of the thirteen short tracks pass you by, Bolan gives the sign for 'Scenescof Dynasty' - but the title is actually misleading, as the song has nothing to do with the real 'Scenescof'; it's just a lengthy, four-minute 'poetry monologue' that Marc recites accompanied by nothing but Took's handclaps. The 'poetry', of course, is nothing but the usual stream-of-conscience, full of lines like 'me I fought a great worm/Sent to taste my jaguar feet/And used his scin to make my wings begin/I sussed and stole a scene from Icarus' and all that jive, and where it's long, monotonous and completely music-free, it's also boring and irritating. Much the same, unfortunately, can be said about quite a fair share of other tunes on here. The best stuff is all grouped near the beginning - the album actually does start on a high note, with a few tunes that can be viewed as solid, accomplished songs. 'Stacey Grove' is a great footstomper about a 'nice cat' who 'sits on a log picking ticks off the back of his dog', with a catchy, friendly chorus and an overall wonderful feel. 'Wind Quartets', on the oter side, is bleak and depressing, with Bolan at his best 'senile' delivery - just listen to him mumbling 'wind quartet... qqq... qqquartet... wind quartet... qqq... qqquartet...', and the falsetto 'aaah' chanting is so moody I could almost cry! Well, no, I couldn't, but the song does depress. Believe me. And 'Conesuala' (sic!) has a strong, intriguing melody as well, ignoring the fact that the main riff to the song is borrowed from Elvis' 'His Latest Flame', or at least, so it seems to me. Finally, 'Trelawny Lawn' showcases the gentleness and depth of Bolan's voice (probably the only reason I like the song), as well as introduces the concept of the unicorn, so vital for their next album. And that's it. The following eight tracks could go to hell for all I care. There are bits and snatches and bits and snatches and moments and moments and more moments when my attention gets chained to some occasional groovy weirdness (the 'di-da-di-da' bit on 'Aznageel The Mage'; the above-mentioned harmonies on 'O Harley'; the amusing 'choowoo-choowoo' chanting on 'Salamanda Palaganda'), but in general these tunes are pretty much forgettable, like the weaker stuff on My People. The good news is that they're all short, many hardly going over one minute; but taken in total, they still constitute at least half of the album, and the murky 'Scenescof Dynasty' that closes the record sure does nothing to improve the situation. Perhaps the main reason is in that the record was obviously rushed out - it was issued just three months after the debut, a period hardly acceptable even for major acts, and the proportion of filler couldn't help but be inadequate. You know what, though - a cleverly crafted 45-minute compilation of material from both of these albums could be a powerful masterpiece in the right hands. Now that it's possible to burn CDs, I heartily invite everybody who's lucky enough to possess My People and Prophets to think how such a compilation should really look like.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
This is just a very, very special experience. Not for the weak-hearted, but this is really a record like NOTHING else.Best song: ISCARIOT
Track listing: 1) Chariots Of Silk; 2) 'Pon A Hill; 3) The Seal Of Seasons; 4) The Throat Of Winter; 5) Cat Black (The Wizard's Hat); 6) Stones For Avalon; 7) She Was Born To Be My Unicorn; 8) Like A White Star, Tangled And Far, Tulip That's What You Are; 9) Warlord Of The Royal Crocodiles; 10) Evenings Of Damask; 11) The Sea Beasts; 12) Iscariot; 13) Nijinsky Hind; 14) The Pilgrim's Tale; 15) The Misty Coast Of Albany; 16) Romany Soup.
Oh my God. Marc Bolan knows how to write solid melodies. It took him a whole year and one plodding self-repetition to figure it out, but it finally happened. Unicorn is the absolute peak of the early phase of Bolan's songwriting, singing, arranging, and his idealism in general, and so far I find it reasonable to qualify the album as the most underrated record of 1969 (which did have its fair share of unjustly overlooked records, simply because there were so many non-overlooked ones). It is vastly superior in just about every respect to the two records that preceded it, and is thus a perfect place to start with the duet.What actually happened? Well, first of all, the budget thing was probably improving. This time, the guys don't limit themselves to acoustic/percussion; I mean, there are still no signs of any electric instrument, but that's due more to tradition already than to financial troubles. On the other hand, they add all kinds of instrumentation - pianos, glockenspiel, harmonium, etc., and engage in various kinds of studio trickery, led by the trusty producer Tony Visconti. So the record never really grates on you, as there's enough instrumental variety to save you from developing an alergy on Bolan's guitar picking style. Second, Unicorn is far more restricted than the previous albums. Hardcore fans of the boppin' elf might therefore prefer the earlier efforts - I can easily see some of the more rabid devotees condemning Unicorn as a pop sellout. But there is still enough weirdness to distinguish it from any other pop album ever made, and as for me, well, I just think that here Bolan found a perfect balance between his trademark style and the listeners' tolerance. No more krishnaite jams, no more lengthy screeching bunches of noise, just pretty music and gorgeous singing. Try as I might, out of the sixteen numbers on the record I can't pick out even a single one that would be 'absolute filler' - some are weaker than the others, but all of them stem directly from the heart. Of course, you might justly ask the question: how in the world can a song stem directly from the heart if it features lyrics like 'Catblack the wizard's hat/Spun in lore from Dagamoor/The skull of jade was pearl inlaid/The silks, skin spun, repelled the Sun' ("Catblack")? And the answer is: you may laugh at me, but Bolan actually believes in this stuff. Tripped out, loony, hippie crap, whatever; here's a young lad who finds it a great pleasure reveling in his self-created, Tolkien-inspired world and doesn't give a damn. I can perfectly easily identify with him (there was a time when I went crazy over Tolkien, too). But he's not just a bland Tolkien imitator - no, Robert Plant he is not. He's got his own unique brand of imagery; yeah, maybe he's just crossing Tolkien with Dylan, but you gotta admit that nobody ever tried that before. And the best thing about it is that he manages not to sound pretentious or overblown. Maybe it's just his hilarious (sometimes rising to magnificent) bleating voice that downplays the pathos of the lyrics; maybe it's the lyrics themselves that always contain some self-undermining. Come on now. 'Handsome as life/He's our lord and we trust in him/To move like the wind/As our friend and guardian/The elements and oceans congregate on his brow/And he stalks in style like a royal crocodile'. Who can call this pretentious? Who can call this bad poetry, either? Yep. I suppose that a very high rating could be guaranteed to the record even if it never contained anything but 'Iscariot' - the definitive Tyrannosaurus Rex song. Like any Tyrannosaurus Rex, it's almost impossible to describe; let's just say that the chorus ('fire of my love will burn you to a wizened word, for ere to go unheard') is one of the fiercest and most intricate statements of reproach I've ever heard (the song seems to be about a betrayed love, hence the title). Don't believe me? Just go ahead and try singing that vocal melody. It's nigh near impossible to repeat, and I'm completely serious. And that's just one song. It's impossible to name all the highlights, so I'll just mention some of my favourites. 'The Misty Coast Of Albany' is one - catchy as hell, bouncy, mystical, with a strong Celtic influence, yet completely idiosyncratic, and featuring one of Bolan's best vocal deliveries on the album. Check out Across The Airwaves for a lengthier, more tripped out version. 'Chariots Of Silk' is another, a perfect introduction to the record if there ever was one, a gorgeous love ballad highlighted by Took's pompous drumbeats and a graceful accordeon in the background. 'She Was Born To Be My Unicorn' is almost countryish, but with all the studio gimmickry, Took's 'd-d-d-d-d-dee' in the background, and Bolan's sly falsetto, it's again completely unlike anything you heard before. 'Evenings Of Damask' is moody, atmospheric, relaxin'... don't forget the background vocals that give the song a special red cherry. 'The Sea Beasts', in an electric arrangement, could be a powerful, engaging rocker; in an acoustic version, the song is still powerful enough. But I suppose I'll just stop here - like I said, it's practically impossible to describe this kind of music. About the only serious misfire of the record is the closing 'Romany Soup', which begins with John Peel reading yet another children's story going from one speaker to another, and ends with the duet chanting 'Romany Soup, I need some Romany Soup' for what seems like an eternity; perversely, this is the longest number on the whole album. What the hell, I still give it a 10 - all the other numbers are immaculate. As soon as you get used to Bolan's vocal style, you'll just have to agree with me on that one. Unfortunately, this was the duet's last album - Steve Took was fired several months after its release for too much drugs and uncontrollable behaviour, including elements of political radicalism (sic!).Actually, I believe he was just a bit too independent for Bolan. Anyway, Lord only knows where they could have gone on from here. But as far as psychedelic Tolkien-inspired records go, they don't really get much better than Unicorn; and I seriously doubt that the duet could have surpassed that achievement. As it was, Marc just veered into other directions, some of them almost as fascinating, some not as fascinating; yet the power, conviction and songwriting displayed on here would never be recaptured completely. In conclusion, I'll just repeat that Unicorn is the best, most convincing and exciting release ever to come out of the whole British hip movement. Screw Donovan, screw Syd Barrett (oh, by the way, fans of The Madcap Laughs are quite welcome here - if you're able to tolerate Barrett's vocals on that record, I suppose tolerating Marc would not be a serious problem); on Unicorn, Tyrannosaurus Rex effectuate the best synthesis of Tolkien, Dylan, stripped-down arrangements, nonsensical mystique, and deeply veiled tongue-in-cheekiness that was at all possible in their time.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
A transitional album: Marc slowly metamorphosing into a rocker. That just adds more exquisiteness to the record.Best song: WIND CHEETAH
Track listing: 1) Prelude; 2) A Daye Laye; 3) Woodland Bop; 4) Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart; 5) Pavilions Of Sun; 6) Organ Blues; 7) By The Light Of A Magical Moon; 8) Wind Cheetah; 9) A Beard Of Stars; 10) Great Horse; 11) Dragon's Ear; 12) Lofty Skies; 13) Dove; 14) Elemental Child.
Oh dear, life's definitely not a gas. Last time I looked, there was this battle of the bands in Rolling Stone, and the Beatles managed to win over 'N Sync... 51 percent to 49 percent. Apparently, 'N Sync and the Fab Four should now be considered glimmer twins. And last time I looked, they're putting Unicorn in the 'glam rock, rock & roll' section in the All-Music Guide even if nobody there has even heard the album. Apocalypsis is somewhere around the corner, isn't it?Just one more reason to take another listen to A Beard Of Stars, an album that's quite apocalyptic, in certain ways. There's just something not right in the way Marc is looking at us from the front cover, isn't it? (Even if I consider it to be his best album photo ever - he just looks so damn cool with that hairstyle). And the overall tone of the record is somewhat more grim than the previous one, even if there are no pessimistic overkills of the 'Iscariot' type. Anyway, the story so far: after the split of the original duet, Marc found a suitable replacement in the person of Mickey Finn, similar to Steve Took in that he looked just as wild and 'medieval', more or less, and dissimilar in that he was a far less experienced player. Eventually, he was kept more because of his looks and his friendliness (and because he would obviously never have too much ambitions) rather than because of his playing, but Marc was able to tolerate his somewhat offkey background vocals and somewhat offbeat congo rhythms. Nevertheless, this means that the role of percussion on Beard Of Stars is fairly subdued - Took was at least thrice as inventive as Mickey, and as a result, the new Tyrannosaurus Rex loses a great deal of the 'elfish charm' that made previous albums so unimitable. However - the creative percussion is gone, but the electric guitar is in. No, of course this is not the classic T. Rex style yet; the electric guitar is mostly used for embellishments, and in a certain way this album can be compared to Dylan's 'electric' side of Bringing It All Back Home, where the electric guitar was used but never found itself at the center of the sound. Bolan isn't an ace player by any means, but his guitar playing skills are still way beyond ordinary: he dishes out creative, tasteful solos and lays on several masterful overdubs - just listen to the delicious polyphony on 'A Daye Laye'. With all these changes, it's no wonder that Beard Of Stars doesn't sound an inch like Unicorn. Only on a couple of tracks the boys deliver a typical 'classic Rex' sound, and they're predictably top notch, especially the beautifully vocalized 'Pavilions Of Sun' where Bolan really shines in his vocal crescendos. Yet even 'Pavilions Of Sun' features a grizzly wah-wah solo that almost seems to fall out of nowhere - all the rest of the track is completely acoustic. Old Steve Took fans might also take some delight in some of the tracks on the second side, such as the majestic 'Great Horse' and the pretty ballad 'Dove' (not a highlight). Elsewhere the transitional character of the record really shines through - Bolan is spreading his tentacles in all directions, treading water here and giving up ground there, which results in the songs not always being enjoyable but always interesting. For starters, both sides of the album open with short little instrumental compositions showcasing Marc's electric soloing - funny, listening to 'Prelude' will make you think he can hardly play that instrument at all, but the solo in the title track is quite emotional and fiery. And the songs themselves fall into a large set of categories. 'Organ Blues' is supposed to be blues, and apparently it is structured like a blues, but you gotta hear that blues. I doubt you ever experienced a blues song with the only prominent instruments being congos and a monotonous atonal organ pattern. And listen to Mickey Finn not really holding that rhythm down, heh heh... In this context, 'By The Light Of A Magical Moon' strikes you as being pretty normal - a pretty pop song with pretty normal lyrics, a pretty normal acoustic melody and pretty normal electric fills. It's still beautiful. But just as it ends, the boys slap you down with 'Wind Cheetah', a slow, wintery-gothic composition that sends chills down my back. Bolan doesn't even sing on that one, it's enough for him to just recite the lyrics with that spooky ominous voice of his, and the duet of the stately organ and the evil, distorted guitar solo really fits the Sabbath-dominated epoch of 1970. Of course, Bolan adds intelligency to the evil vibe, a thing that Sabbath could only dream of... But that's not all - just as you sat through the thirteen standard tracks of the album and are bracing yourself for the obligatory lengthy conclusion - you might have noticed that all Tyrannosaurus Rex albums feature one and only one extended workout at the end - Bolan finally comes out of the closet and demonstrates to you that he really is a rocker. He just was undercover all the time, see? 'Elemental Child' starts out as a real, distorted, electric-dominated rocker - all two minutes of it. Then, Marc takes a little pause, breathes in a little air, and lashes out with a primal, visceral boogie of such tremendous ferocity as you could never suspect in the 'boppin' elf' judging by his previous albums. The seeds of Electric Warrior and Tanx are clearly here, in these fat, paranoid chords, as Bolan simply proceeds to beat the shit out of his guitar with a specific, Bolanic technique that I have never met even in the hands of Pete Townshend. Just a guitar, just one guitar, but he brews up a storm. No wonder the punks loved Marc so much. A tremendous climax, and so far, the best ending to any Bolan album I've ever heard. With each chord taken, you can slowly feel the word 'Tyrannosaurus' crumple into dust, only the trusty letter 'T' and a dot being left behind.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Another transitional album - great instrumentation and diversity, although not nearly as hypnotic as the previous stuff.Best song: JEWEL
Track listing: 1) The Children Of Rarn; 2) Jewel; 3) The Visit; 4) Childe; 5) The Time Of Love Is Now; 6) Diamond Meadows; 7) Root Of Star; 8) Beltane Walk; 9) Is It Love?; 10) One Inch Rock; 11) Summer Deep; 12) Seagull Woman; 13) Suneye; 14) The Wizard; 15) The Children Of Rarn (reprise).
Sometimes called by the critics a 'regression' into the hippiesque 'atrocities' of the past, but bite me, I really can't see no particular regression. The sound sure doesn't change as much from the last record, though; it's the same curious mix of acoustic/electric and, only T. Rex is a bit worse because it looks like a particularly disjointed album; I mean, for the first time you really get the impression that Marc isn't quite sure where to go and what to do next. He incorporates a bit more rock and roll on here than on Beard, but there are also pretty acoustic ballads in the Beard style meshed in together with bits of weirdness a la Took stuff and a lengthy psychedelic epic ('The Wizard'), more or less in the vein of all those mantras that used to bookmark his Tolkien-style records. The fact that there's a bit of everything makes T. Rex arguably the most diverse album in the entire Bolan catalog, but this is unwanted diversity that's more caused by frustrated search of direction than by an 'encyclopaedic drive' present in such records as The Beatles, for instance.That said, it's not half bad; taken individually, most of the songs might seem a bit pale when compared to the peak records of both earlier Tyrannosaurus Rex and later T. Rex, but as a whole it's still darn impressive, and I would easily recommend this album as a starting point for those who are curious about Marc - then one could follow the preferred direction, either backwards into the fairy tale kingdom or forward into the realm of weird rock'n'roll. It's just that I happened to hear T. Rex after I'd already heard all the other albums, so I wasn't that impressed. But it's still worthy of an eight. It does feature a few rightful T. Rex classics, though. No, I'm not counting 'The Children Of Rarn', two equal short versions of which bookmark the record, because it's just a short atmospheric piece ending in a stupid 'Oooommmmm'. What I certainly do mean is 'Jewel', a blues rocker of unprecedented intensity and power that neatly burns the house down from the very beginning; even so, the version recorded here is pale and feeble when compared to the truly stunning ultra-distorted chaotic thunderstorms Marc used to produce when using the number as a warm-up at the Electric Warrior rehearsals (see further on it below). Actually, it is a fine 'transition piece' from that furious solo that ends 'Elemental Child' on the previous record, showing us that the legacy lives on. Other highlights on here include the poppy, slightly vaudeville-like 'Beltane Walk' with its funny naggin' chorus ('give us love give us little love... give us little love from your hearts...'); the mystical, atmospheric 'Seagull Woman' that sounds like a superior Unicorn outtake; and yeah, that closing epic I've already noted above. You may not believe me, but 'Wizard' is a real gas, and unlike the other mantraic endings to Bolan's records, which were annoying chiefly because of utter repetitiveness, it actually goes through several different pieces and features quite a few special gimmicks; besides, it rocks, a thing which certainly couldn't be said about 'Romany Soup'. It's perhaps the best example of Bolan completely engrossing himself in dadaist absurdities, because, while the general lyrics are certainly Tolkien-inspired, I tend to perceive it as a parody and just a piece of silly goofiness rather than a piece of pretentious mystical tripe. And when Bolan and Mickey start chanting that endless 'he was a wizard and he was a friend of mine he was he was a wizard and he was a friend of mine he was...', I can't help but laugh. What a perfect antidote for all the Uriah Heep lovers in this world. The other songs are... well, they're okay even at the worst. It's easy to get a kick from the hilarious 'rockers' 'Is It Love?' and particularly Bolan's re-make of 'One Inch Rock', especially with the corny intro where Marc imitates a whole pack of guitars with several vocal overdubs. The poppier ballads are pretty and pleasant, with 'The Time Of Love Is Now' as a main highlight; 'The Visit' is also fairly memorable, with the wonderful 'truly I do love you' refrain that would immediately appeal to any female follower of Mr Bolan. And the more mystical stuff mostly works, too; check out 'Diamond Meadows', for instance, that starts with a fairly menacing distorted electric guitar line but then goes into that strange sappy orchestration that's supposed to take you away to Lothlorien or somewhere. Anyway, see, while I probably could ramble much longer about all the interesting details in these songs (and the budget for the recordings was obviously bigger this time, so Marc was able to try out far more studio tricks than before), I'm just not all that tempted to go into details here, because I already went into details over songs that were written previously and were better, with a sharper edge. I would certainly never go as far as to proclaim this one of the greatest Bolan albums (as W. Lawson, who actually sent in his review before I wrote mine, does below); but like I said, its main strength lies in combining the aspects of both Tyrannosaurus Rex and T. Rex, so Bolan fans should definitely not overlook it.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1997
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
These guys actually rocked more in the working process, you know. That's what makes all these documents so much fun.Best song: JEWEL
Track listing: 1) Get It On; 2) Monolith; 3) Cosmic Dancer; 4) Life's A Gas; 5) Honey Don't; 6) Woodland Rock; 7) Monolith (2nd version); 8) Summertime Blues; 9) Jeepster; 10) Baby Strange; 11) Jewel; 12) Get It On (2nd version).
This is a relatively new archive release, and conceptually it's structured differently from the 'alternative' series of Bolan's 1972-76 albums (please see below for a more detailed explanation of the Bolan re-issues): rather than simply presenting a set of demos and raw alternate takes, Electric Warrior Sessions work as something of an audio documentary, in fact, a video accompaniment of this stuff would be very much desirable. Of course, it's mostly music; but it's mixed with studio chat, false starts and false endings, tape rewinds, and all kinds of 'outside happenings' going on. Also noteworthy is the fact that the album comes in two editions; as far as I understand, there is a 2-CD set that includes a couple more alternate takes plus a lengthy interview with Bolan at the time of the actual recording. But the 1-CD edition is probably preferrable unless you're a complete diehard.I mean, this album is really recommendable even for non-diehards. It is widely acknowledged that T. Rex never spent too much time polishing the material, preferring to leave it as raw and visceral as possible, which is why the punks actually dug them. Mildly speaking, this does not reflect the entire truth that there is. A lot of the work was done by Tony Visconti, inherited by T. Rex as a producer from the Tyrannosaurus Rex stage, and Tony certainly did the job well. Phasing, twenty types of echoes, orchestration, wall-of-sound (when needed), backup vocals... all these things were pretty good in their places, and I certainly do not blame either Tony or Marc for classy arrangements that really fit the songs. But all of these things also overshadowed the essence of the band's sound, Marc's screeching guitars. And Marc really plays that thing well; no further proof is needed than the schizoid thunderstorm at the end of 'Elemental Child' in Beard Of Stars. But if you really want to s-s-s-mack that sound with gusto, the regular studio versions won't help, and this is where session work and live recordings come in. While the finished T. Rex product is certainly 'glam-rock' by definition, given the glam coat by Tony, session recordings are certainly nothing but prime, unadulterated rock'n'roll, with not even an ounce of glam thrown in. Unless, of course, you prefer to judge Marc's lyrics as 'glam'. But that would be premature. To tell the truth, there are overdubbed versions on this disc. But not much. The album opens with a version of the classic 'Get It On' that's nearly similar to the finished product, with pianos and Ian McDonald's saxophone; however, the version is uncut and lasts all of six minutes which will allow you to dig that enthralling, hypnotizing rhythm for what it's worth. And, to complete the cycle, the album also ends with 'Get It On', this time with just the unpolished rhythm track - Steve Currie bending the bass, Bill Legend bashing on the drums and Marc just tearing away at those strings. Sometimes I really can't understand how that guy can be so intoxicating. After all, it's just basic rock'n'roll, isn't it? A simplistic rock'n'roll rhythm that hearkens more to Elvis than to 'futuristic rock' of which Marc was so many times incorrectly hailed as the main hero. But somehow this simplistic rock'n'roll rhythm manages to capture the very heart of rock'n'roll, in a way that no other artist could recapture ever since. And a good thing it is that Sessions mainly concentrate on Marc's rocking, rather than the balladeering, side. The album includes just two ballads, including a simple acoustic take on 'Life's A Gas', and it's so loose, uncertain and sloppy that it just ain't all that interesting; you gotta look to the regular version to truly understand the song's charm. 'Cosmic Dancer' is better, but the sound quality on that particular track is below average. Finally, the two versions of 'Monolith' tend to drag, with a sparse guitar sound and no true melody worked out yet. Everything else rules... definitely. It's hilarious and intriguing, for instance, to follow the band in their desperate attempt to record 'Honey Don't', with take after take and Marc still not knowing what exactly it is he wants to sing. Good thing they never put it on an official album, as it would still have been forever overshadowed by the Beatles' version; but digging this out of the archives posthumously was a brilliant move all the same. You just gotta hear Marc wailing his way through lines like 'I love the way you wear your selfish clothes...' Likewise, the version of 'Summertime Blues', while nowhere near as powerful and overwhelming as the way the Who used to do it, is more homely and accessible - you can groove to it with just as much fun as the Who's version, but without the mandatory reverence and awe that really separates Townshend and company from the audience. 'Woodland Rock', an obscure single B-side that combines the idea of Beard Of Stars' 'Woodland Bop' with a melody stolen from Chuck Berry's 'Too Much Monkey Business', is also here and it also rules. 'Jeepster' shakes the house down. 'Baby Strange', which didn't make it onto the final album but ended up on The Slider, grooves. And 'Jewel'... wow. 'Jewel' was initially recorded for T. Rex a year before, and this version was probably intended just as a warm-up for the band, but oh my God, what a warm-up. Marc throttles his wah-wahed six-string as if the universe depends on it, brewing up a primal storm that would make the Stooges really proud of the man. Which again brings me to the point - Bolan is tremendously underrated as a guitar player. He may not have been a virtuoso, but he had enough drive and authenticity in his playing for ten 'standard' players. And what about a conclusion? This is far more than a document, it's just a solid block of visceral, powerful, inspired rock'n'roll. The endless false endings might bug you, but give it a chance all the same. Heavily recommended for anybody who is willing to give Bolan a chance to prove that he ain't just a slick glam puppet, but is a genuine, professional and inspired rock'n'rollah. And don't forget the funny liner notes by drummer Bill Legend, who keeps forgetting whatever had happened at the time of the actual recordings but pretends that he remembers everything.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Transition effectuated. Fresh and funny Seventies rock'n'roll with an edge - but ot-nay oot-ay iverse-day, if you get my drift.Best song: BANG A GONG (GET IT ON)
Track listing: 1) Mambo Sun; 2) Cosmic Dancer; 3) Jeepster; 4) Monolith; 5) Lean Woman Blues; 6) Bang A Gong (Get It On); 7) Planet Queen; 8) Girl; 9) The Motivator; 10) Life's A Gas; 11) Rip Off.
The first true "new look" T. Rex record that propelled Bolan into mega-stardom, and a record that's universally acclaimed as one of the sacred pinnacles of glam rock, together with stuff like Ziggy Stardust (with Bowie borrowing quite a lot from Bolan) and all those New York Dolls records. However, in the general context of Bolan's work, not in the context of the glam-rock movement, Electric Warrior can hardly stand out as the man's finest hour. Melodically, it certainly isn't as strong as some of Marc's earlier 'hippie crap' albums, most notably Unicorn; and one of the major accusations one could hang on it is that it completely lacks diversity, something which would be corrected two years later with the superior Tanx. Indeed, all the songs on here fall into two rather sterile patterns - funky, eminently danceable rockers and musically primitive atmospheric ballads, with the rare exceptions like 'Lean Woman Blues' actually being the weakest cuts on the whole record. For all means, it would be wiser to consider Electric Warrior Bolan's solid, but unspectacular 'first try' at making a true rock record.'Unspectacular' doesn't mean 'unclassic', of course. After all, Bolan wasn't just a Kiss-type talentless wanker; with previous albums, he proved himself to be one of the most inventive music-writers and performers of his generation, and on Electric Warrior, he is in great form, showing us what a really talented person could do to 'modernize' and diversify the classic boogie formula. What I mean primarily is the sound of this record - it may look a little trite in our time, but by the standards of 1971, that sound was truly revolutionary, and came to define glam-rock as it were. Yeah, rockers like 'Mambo Sun', 'Planet Queen' (these two are basically the same song), 'Bang A Gong', 'The Motivator' (these two are basically the same song too), 'Jeepster', etc., are completely generic and derivative if stripped to the bare melodies which never advance beyond anything written in the Fifties. But the way they're done is great. Bolan adds a lot of things here: you can hear horns, keyboards, Tony Visconti's orchestration layers, backing vocals, special echo and phasing effects all over the place, and at the same time all of these things are used so effectively that the record never really sounds overproduced, as one could complain about a Phil Spector produced album. On top of that he lays down his own shakey vocals singing weird meaningless wordgames, and so manages to redefine rock'n'roll as it had never been defined previously. Does it still rock? It certainly does, because the basics - speed, fury, distorted electric guitar playing Chuck Berry-esque licks - are carefully preserved. What it does not do is communicate any 'message' to the listener: the "actuality" has been sucked out of the thing completely. But does it matter? Not exactly, as rock'n'roll, in Bolan's understanding, is bound to communicate fun, not anger or rebellion. And can we blame him for such an attitude? Probably not. Electric Warrior is a lot of fun indeed, and that's all I want to know about it. 'Bang A Gong (Get It On)' was the big hit here, and just about the only trace that Bolan happened to leave after him in the US of A: a shame, since he's written a lot of better songs and judging him exclusively by 'Bang A Gong' is like judging the Rolling Stones exclusively by 'Paint It Black' or 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'. Still, it's an excellent song, with simplicity triumphing over complexity in a nearly grotesque way - can anybody explain why such a primitive song is so unbelievably catchy in its moodiness? Give it a try. The boppy 'Mambo Sun' is equally catchy, and 'Jeepster', one of the fastest tracks on here, manages to sound rawer than any given Chuck Berry rocker even with all the overdubs. The ballads reek more of Mark's personal identity, and while you can almost feel most of them being aimed at charming Marc's upcoming hordes of female underage fans (I can almost imagine all the girls going woooooh when he sang the 'I could have loved you girl like a planet, I could have chained your heart to a star' lines in 'Life's A Gas' - never mind that the song goes on like 'I could have turned you into a priestess, I could have burned your fate in the sand'), they are still all saved by his silky magical intonations and a stripped-down, intimate approach; kudos to Marc, in fact, for not drowning them out in seas of sappy orchestration or pathetic power chords. 'Life's A Gas' is indeed the most memorable of these ballads, with a marvelous 'ah!... life's a gas...' placed in the refrain, but 'Girl' is very good too, with its weird whiny lamentation, and 'Cosmic Dancer' is a deeply moving tale of, well, a cosmic dancer. A couple of the songs do nothing for me, like the weak blues parody 'Lean Woman Blues', and, well, 'Planet Queen' does sound a bit too similar to 'Mambo Sun', but overall, these are very weak complaints - there truly ain't a bad song anywhere. And Marc tops it all with 'Rip Off', a spiteful piece of hard-rocking that's gotta rank among his most pissed-off work. Not quite clear what the lyrics are hinting at - my hypothesis is that the vile refrain 'It's a rip-off, such a rip-off', serves as a kind of self-humiliation and self-debasement and a hint at the fakery of Marc's glammy image, but this hypothesis is certainly not the only one possible. In any case, I love the amount of energy displayed in the song. All said, Electric Warrior has certainly been overrated through the years - but only in the sense that most people take this album as standing six feet above the rest of Bolan's work. I certainly don't begrudge you giving in to the hype and making this your first T. Rex purchase, but keep in mind: if you like it, there's far more to be found in the Bolan catalog, and some of it is even better. Not the following album, though.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Not bad, but Bolan's really playing on our lowest common senses here. Catchy but dumb.Best song: THE SLIDER
Track listing: 1) Metal Guru; 2) Mystic Lady; 3) Rock On; 4) The Slider; 5) Baby Boomerang; 6) Spaceball Ricochet; 7) Buick Mackane; 8) Telegram Sam; 9) Rabbit Fighter; 10) Baby Strange; 11) Ballrooms Of Mars; 12) Chariot Choogle; 13) Main Man; 14) Cadillac; 15) Thunderwing; 16) Lady.
Eeh... I mean, your general reaction is similar to the reaction that the general public had towards T. Rex in general: The Slider is tremendous fun first time around, gets kinda boring third time around, becomes absolutely unbearable fifth time around and finally makes acceptable background music for your average headbanging party ever after. Yup, I know the All-Music Guide gave it a 'best-of-genre' rating (five out of five stars, that is), but that only confirms my theory that the AMG reviewers never listen to any record more than once - on my first listen, I would have done likewise.And for good reason, as there ain't a single bad song on the album. It's another problem that there ain't a single song here that was really written by Bolan - by this time, he'd given up on writing melodies entirely, and all the thirteen numbers on here, with just a couple exceptions, are simply recycled boogie-woogie standards (if they rock) or recycled doo-wop standards (if they don't). Given the proper T-Rex treatment - swooping orchestration, Marc's psycho vocals, blazing lead guitar and Dylanish nonsensical lyrics - the album is surprisingly effective, if you prefer not to think about it, just give in to that rock'n'roll feeling, ya know? Jes' put on your trusty cylinder and slide on! Actually, the biggest problem of the record is that after each and every listen the songs just stick together in a thick, slippery goo, and it's a real pain in the butt to 'disglue' the material from one monolithic boogie ball. It's even harder to actually review this record, you know. But I'll try. The hits were the two singles - 'Metal Guru' and 'Telegram Sam', and both are solid, respectable rockers, especially the first one, which opens the record on a crazy carnivalesque note: the band lets rip with that great sing-along melody just destined to have the chicks bombard you with underpants, although the lyrics? 'Metal guru is it you, sitting there in your armour plated chair?' What the hell? Oh, it's Marc Bolan we're speaking of, sorry, kinda forgot about that behind all the glam. Meanwhile, 'Telegram Sam' chugs along like a cute little choo-choo train with lyrics that are even harder to understand, but who needs real understanding when it feels so groovy when you embrace that refrain - 'telegram Sam you're my main maaaaan'. Once again, Bolan catches you up the hook and refuses to let you go, even if you really feel uncomfortable on that hook which lets all your intimate parts show through. Personally, I would place my bets not here, but on track number four that happens to be the title track (yeah, I do feel stupid about the refrain to 'Telegram Sam'). But I adore 'The Slider', so sue me. It's a steady-paced mid-tempo rocker based on a lazy, monotonous, but compact gruff riff and features what might be Bolan's best vocal performance on here, as he keeps invading our privacy with his weird imagery and ending each verse with a contemplative, melancholic '...and when I'm sad... I slide'. For some strange reason, this song feels very much at home with me: maybe I slide, too, when I'm sad, but just don't notice it? I'm gonna watch myself in the future... anyway, the orchestration on here is a rather nice touch as well, but the backup vocals are cheesy. Solid cheese. Out of the ballads, the ones that come to my mind are 'Mystic Lady' and... err... 'Ballrooms Of Mars', probably. 'Mystic Lady' is my favourite on here because it comes on first and all the others really just repeat it, both atmosphere-wise and melody-wise. In other words, if you've heard one, you've heard them all. But 'Mystic Lady' is still better than the rest, as it has that touch of genuine tenderness and emotion that's so lacking in Bolan's work in general. I still can't make out the line 'Oh Bobby you're hobby with the learned ones', though; usually I simply don't pay attention to such things, but this particular thing annoys me since I'd like the song to be a proper love ballad and it's not. Guess I'll just have to take it as it comes. As for 'Ballrooms Of Mars', that one's mostly impressive in the ways of the lyrics, with its references to Bob Dylan and John Lennon. The big problem is why Marc had to repeat the entire set of lyrics twice, when he's usually such a prolific lyricist. He even screams 'ROCK!' for the two obligatory 'cathartic' guitar solos - two times, and in exactly the same intonation. Kills all the live feeling, you know. Likewise, the bombastic album closer - 'Main Man' - has a lovely refrain, but one needn't really repeat it for three or four times in a row. How would you feel if somebody kept asking you the question 'Are you my main man? Are you my main man? Are you? Are you?' for several minutes without a break? But never mind, people! Rejoyce! Keep sliding! And if you haven't had enough, the CD re-issue includes three obscure B-sides, which (surprise surprise) sound exactly like about half of the other songs on here. In all, The Slider perfectly illustrates all the sides of this 'classic' stage of Bolan's career, both good and bad: it's a total gas when you just want to have a little fun, but it shows just how low a person can fall when he only goes for the fun and the chicks and forgets that music has to be, well, diverse. I doubt that it'll go down really well in history, but I wouldn't want it to really go down, either. Marc is such a nice guy, and that cylinder fits him to a tee. And if you pay a little attention to the credits, you'll see that the photo was actually taken by none other than Mr Ringo Starr himself!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1995
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
For those who love their Bolan stripped down, here's a great album completely stripped down! Oh, these crazyass record companies.Best song: LEFT HAND LUKE
Track listing: 1) Tenement Lady/Darling; 2) Rapids; 3) Mister Mister; 4) Broken Hearted Blues; 5) Country Honey; 6) Mad Donna; 7) Born To Boogie; 8) Life Is Strange; 9) The Street And Babe Shadow; 10) Highway Knees; 11) Left Hand Luke; 12) Children Of The Revolution; 13) Solid Gold Easy Action; 14) Free Angel; 15) Mister Mister (acoustic & bass demo); 16) Broken Hearted Blues (acoustic & bass demo); 17) The Street And Babe Shadow (acoustic & Bass demo); 18) Tenement Lady (acoustic & bass demo); 19) Tenement Lady (acoustic demo); 20) Broken Hearted Blues (acoustic demo); 21) Mad Donna (acoustic demo); 22) The Street And Babe Shadow (acoustic demo); 23) Left Hand Luke (acoustic demo).
After Hendrix, Marc Bolan is probably the most overreleased artist in the rock industry, dead or alive. The amount of posthumous releases for T. Rex has already three or four times exceeded the number of the original band LPs, and new live records from the vaults are still cropping up from time to time. The real avalanche, though, didn't start until the early Nineties, when the albums started being remastered and retransferred on to CDs. In the process, the record companies have discovered tons of previously unissued material, enough to fill up at least a couple dozen laser discs to the brim - and they bravely went ahead and released it all. I'm not joking. Ever took a peek at the T. Rex Unchained series? Eight seventy-minute CDs containing outtakes and stuff, and all of them official. And that's just the beginning. Probably thinking that the fans' pockets were limitless, the company that has the rights to the entire T. Rex catalog from The Slider and further on has accompanied each of T. Rex's five original albums from 1972-76 with an 'alternate' edition, usually titled after a certain song off the respective album - consisting of 'rough studio mixes' and acoustic and electric demo versions from the respective session. The most amazing thing about that is that, judging at least by the 'alternate' stuff in my possession, it's quite listenable - and comparable to the final product. So if you ever made a foolish vow to become a T. Rex completist (well, after all, it's hardly worse than being a Grateful Dead or a Deep Purple completist), you'll at least find consolation in the fact that Left Hand Luke can easily act as a suitable substitute for Tanx when you get tired of the original. (BTW, the strange peculiarities of the Russian market have caused this album to actually precede the release of Tanx itself - which explains the fact that this review was actually written before the review of Tanx itself. So I'm gonna pretend that this is the real thing! I'm an illusionist! At least, I pretended I was one...)Left Hand Luke is, obviously, what it says itself to be - an 'alternate' version of Tanx, with just a couple of songs missing (for some odd reason, the recording guys haven't found a suitable demo of 'Shock Rock' or 'Electric Slim And The Factory Hen') and no 'new' material - just 'rough studio mixes' of the album's material, plus some 'acoustic and bass demos' and simply 'acoustic demos' of same songs. This is certainly excessive - three different versions of 'The Street And Babe Shadow' or 'Broken Hearted Blues' can certainly seem a bit over the top if you wish to just listen to the record for enjoyment, but what the heck, the record was initially intended for serious fans anyway. And if we just concentrate on the rough mixes, it all comes back to make good sense - I've always liked my Bolan stripped down and just pounding away without the silly orchestration or annoying space-effect-laiden background vocals, as his main forte, whatever one says, still lies in (a) the magnificent singing voice, (b) the witty lyrics and (c) the derivative, but irresistible, catchy melodies; all the three are well evident on these demo versions and not overshadowed by anything else. Tanx showed Bolan recapturing the 'immaculate' form after the relatively so-so glam posturings of Slider: the record is at the same time more compact, more diverse, more up-to-the-point and more personal than its predecessor. The fact that Bolan was really deep into the making of the record and planning it as a personal experience becomes obvious when you consider the early acoustic demos of 'The Street And The Babe Shadow'. The 'acoustic demo' is feeble and plaintive, with Bolan's 'babe, I do mean babe' obviously pointing at some deep and unclear disturbances within his, hrm, poetic soul; then, the 'bass and acoustic' demo is far more powerful and driving, with the 'babe I do mean babe' refrain acquiring a certain desperate and even aggressive flavour; and, finally, the 'rough studio mix' completely eschews all the 'complaintive' elements in favour of just a slight melancholic note in this, by now rather conventional, rocker. In other words, when one really thinks deeper, it's obvious that the glam schtick was a heavy burden on Bolan - marring his true personality. Likewise, it's easy to see how much 'Broken Hearted Blues' has lost in its transfer from an acoustic to an electricized (not really electric, as the main instrument in the rough studio mix is still an acoustic guitar) setting: the unearthly tenderness and sweetness seems to have evaporated, replaced by a somewhat less captivating spacey overtone. Even so, nothing can really spoil the songs to the point of unlistenability - Tanx has only got maybe one or two duffers over its duration. It's hardly possible to forget both the album's opening and closing numbers, for instance: 'Tenement Lady' is definitely in the top three or four greatest Bolan rockers ever, with an amazing drive and a simple, instantaneously memorable and completely original melody - the funny thing is, when it suddenly transforms into the gentle ballad 'Darling', it hardly becomes any worse (and the rough studio mix, with its emphasis on the soothing piano, is awesome - far more intimate and heart-warming than, say, 'Mystic Lady' could ever hope to be). And what's with that powerful singing on 'Left Hand Luke (And The Beggar Boys)'? Now that's one tune whose rough studio mix certainly prevails over the acoustic demo - what was originally a one-chord shabby ditty with the vocals double-tracked for no special reason, becomes a mighty soulful epic, almost genuinely gospel in its sway: the perfect proof that Marc Bolan was a lot, lot more than just your average teenage girl idol if you ever needed one. Plus, the band really shines on these demos: as usual, when Marc is stripped-down, his trusty backups demonstrate some of the best boogie-woogie chops in Britain without having them overshadowed by violins or brass, which is why the rough studio mix of 'Born To Boogie' will get you up your feet and send you rocking across the room in no time; outtake or no outtake, the guitar work on the track is near stellar (of course, it's the classic rockabilly chops I'm speaking of, not Hendrix or Clapton), and 'Country Honey' is no slouch either. I won't really engage in a serious discussion of the other tracks off the album, as most of them will be dealt with below in the actual Tanx review; but I'll just take the time to say that, for certain fans, Left Hand Luke might be even a better offer than Tanx itself. Sure, it doesn't feature all the songs, and some, like 'Rapids', come in shortened versions; and the bonus tracks are not as numerous as they are on the regular release, not to mention that the version of the marvelous 'Children Of The Revolution' captured on here is just one minute long. But the raw feel of these mixes is amazing - the tunes are breathing, not being butchered by the obligatory 'shiny glam' production, and I, for one, am pleased, as I never considered that kind of production to be the best thing possible. Beatles demos are usually dismissable, as these guys were always sure to find the best way to produce their songs; but Bolan demos are always acceptable - remember that Bolan started out as an acoustic performer, after all. Limited instrumentation is the water for the Marc fishie to go swimming in!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
T. Rex getting diverse - getting prancier, bouncier, more meditative, more soulful and, well, more dangerous. Just look at that cover.Best song: TENEMENT LADY
Track listing: 1) Tenement Lady; 2) Rapids; 3) Mister Mister; 4) Broken-Hearted Blues; 5) Shock Rock; 6) Country Honey; 7) Electric Slim & The Factory Hen; 8) Mad Donna; 9) Born To Boogie; 10) Life Is Strange; 11) The Street & Babe Shadow; 12) Highway Knees; 13) Left Hand Luke & The Beggar Boys; [BONUS TRACKS:] 14) Children Of The Revolution; 15) Jitterbug Love; 16) Sunken Rags; 17) Solid Gold Easy Action; 18) Xmas Message; 19) 20th Century Boy; 20) Free Angel.
All rightey, so here's the final product, after all - arguably Bolan's finest hour in the studio (of the T. Rex period, I mean). While novices always drool over Electric Warrior, seasoned T. Rexers prefer to get their money's worth out of this one, and for a good reason. Reason that, unfortunately, doesn't include the album's cover, probably Marc's ugliest ever. Not only does he look like Alice Cooper on here (apparently, only Ringo Starr had good taste when it came around to taking snapshots of Mr Bolan), but the fact that he was actually 'riding a tank' with the gun sticking out from between his legs caused many a mother to faint (and many a teenage girl to wet her panties, I suppose, but I don't really discuss music in those terms, now do I?) Now how does this really fit in with the famous statement 'If you know how to rock, then you don't have to shock', pronounced in 'Shock Rock', that people always take as Marc's obvious condemnation of glam values? I suppose that line has to be taken really tongue-in-cheek, then; after all, this would be hypocrisy, plain and simple.Okay, forget the cover - it's really quite deceptive, separating us from a potload of great, totally devastating pop melodies and an equal potload of various lyrical, conceptual, production and arrangement ideas. In retrospect, Tanx can be deemed a transitional album in between the early reckless glam epoch and the latter funky days of T. Rex, and it's a superb transitional album, kinda like Bowie's Station To Station: a record where the artist is able to take the best essence of his past period and marry it to the best essence of his newer incarnation. Unfortunately, Bolan's 1974-75 funk period never managed to be as interesting or innovative as Bowie's Berlin period that followed Station; but in 1973 Marc was still huge - yeah, both critically, commercially and artistically, and this minor masterpiece ably proves it. What makes it stand out, especially after the semi-stagnation of Slider? Diversity and inventiveness. Lyrically, Bolan is at an all-time high: no matter how nonsensical his lines are, they are always fascinating, and it's perhaps most intriguing to seek out the brief snippets of deep confessional statements in among all the 'chaff' of Marc's incessant head-spinning wordplay. One second he's singing about electric slim and factory hens, and the next second it's something like 'O god, life is good/ Some are fat and some are thin/Some don't even ask you how you've been'. Or: "Your mama said, 'clean out your head boy, don't lay nothing on my child'/Your friends they said, 'Your head's in a noose boy lay some boogie on our minds'/And we stood like the rapids and I was like a new born child". Also, while the first signs of Marc's tendency to seriously Americanize his music are seen - he drags in female gospel choruses and Gloria Jones makes her first appearance, as well (although she would be far more prominent on subsequent releases) - he relies far less on backing vocals than he did on Slider. His vocals are always audible and form the centerpoint of every song - and this gives Tanx an intimate and highly personal, delicately soulful feel that Slider managed to miss. Of course, it's not just the vocals: it's mainly the melodies that cut the mustard on here. In order to trace them back to their roots and appreciate the very chords, one must, of course, go back to Left Hand Luke, as the original release had been given the regular Tony Visconti treatment: however, it is not all that distracting, because he was mainly busy complementing the tunes with swooping orchestration and placing the backup vocals in their rightful places. So I would still rate Tanx ahead of its stripped-down demo partner, if only because the latter doesn't have the above-mentioned 'Shock Rock' and the passionate, dreamy ballad 'Electric Slim And The Factory Hen' which is quite unlike any other T. Rex product and could, in fact, easily be stylistically qualified as a Tyrannosaurus Rex outtake or, at least, as a 'nostalgic throwback' to that epoch - nonsensic and trivial on the surface, mystical and romantic when you dig deeper. Also, the violins and brass section don't really hinder the tunes: it's not as easy or enticing to boogie along with this stuff, but if you're too busy to play air guitars when you're listening to this, you might as well not really notice. As for the other songs - well, I tip my hat to Mr Bolan and I'll just say that the variety of styles and moods on here really astounds me. The moods often shift within a single song: I have already mentioned the shift from killer rocker to killer ballad in 'Tenement Lady/Darling', and while 'The Street And Babe Shadow' began its life as a plaintive, moving ballad, the final product features a sharp contrast between the upbeat, bouncy melody and the desperate intonation in the vocals. But the 'monolithic' tunes are just as good. 'Left Hand Luke' is turned into a powerful, bombastic gospel epic (although I actually prefer the stripped-down version, as the backing vocals tend to get obnoxious, and at five minutes, the song makes a sharp contrast with the rest of the album whose tunes almost never go beyond three minutes - hey, what an atrocious thing for 1973). The rockers are driving, crisp and sound totally fresh and lovable even today - 'Rapids' grooves along with a terrific dry guitar sound, and 'Born To Boogie' is, well, fully deserving of its title. The 'direct pop' songs are ecstatic; I don't know how it would be possible for somebody to resist the charms of 'Mister Mister', with its 'Tumbling Dice'-style groove and these delicious 'de-de-bom-bom de-de-bom-bom' chants propelling the groove to even further heights, and 'Highway Knees' has some romantic French influences about it, albeit linked with Bolan's instinctive talents for a solid hook. And the ballads are tear-inducing: 'Life Is Strange' and 'Broken-Hearted Blues' are among Marc's best tunes ever. Aye, the only reason I'm not giving this a ten is... wait, no particular reason. I probably should give this a ten, except that I just feel kinda shy about handing out a ten for one of Marc's 'trashy' albums, heh, heh. After all, Tanx is glam-rock, isn't it? You can't get away from the fact. There's no use in denying these melodies' greatness - try it and you'll embarrass yourself in no time - but there's also no use in denying that, unfortunately, at least half of this stuff is destined to please Marc's teenage audience. No further proof is needed than the intro to 'Mad Donna' - where a little girl, for no apparent reason, announces in French: 'Donna La Folle, Par T. Rex'. 'Aw, beautiful', chuckles Marc, and they launch into the song. Okay, count me out of the groove, and let's punish him a little for that goddamn album cover, too. But on a good, sunny day when I'm in a particularly forgivable mood, slip in a ten and I'll close my eyes on it. Especially if you mention those cute bonus tracks, too - 'Children Of The Revolution' is Marc's violin masterpiece (again, going through a magnificent shift of moods - from teenage angst hard rock menace to a slicy slicky pop chorus), 'Solid Gold Easy Action' boogies along at a terrific pace, well, at least it's faster than almost everything else on here, 'Xmas Message' brings you some kind words from the glam master himself, and '20th Century Boy' is possibly the heaviest number in the entire T. Rex catalog. When I first heard that opening riff, I thought they accidentally put in a Black Sabbath song there, or at least a Kiss one; but no, that was Marc singing, and the riff proved out to be ingenious and memorable. Thumbs up, and kudos to Marc for such a solid effort. Looks can be deceptive, too. Like tanks. Tanks sure can be deceptive.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
What a funny thing - self-embarrassment mixed with pretention of the highest degree. Catchiness is the only salvation here.Best song: THE AVENGERS (SUPERBAD)
Track listing: 1) Venus Loon; 2) Sound Pit; 3) Explosive Mouth; 4) Galaxy; 5) Change; 6) Nameless Wildness; 7) Teenage Dream; 8) Liquid Gang; 9) Carsmile Smith And The Old One; 10) You Got To Jive To Stay Alive - Spanish Midnight; 11) Interstellar Soul; 12) Painless Persuasion V The Meathawk Immaculate; 13) The Avengers; 14) The Leopards Featuring Gardenia And The Mighty Slug.
This and the following album are generally regarded as Bolan's weakest efforts by fans and critics alike, and I certainly can't blame them. But Zinc Alloy is at least notably better than Zip Gun, if only because the melodies are a wee bit more elaborate and the lyrics are mostly typical Bolan - in the fine traditions of the early fresh glam stuff. So, while hardly any of the stuff on the album can be quoted as essential, there's no reason to bypass the record completely as it's at least notably different from Bolan's past achievements.Yeah, Marc really wanted to change. I'm sometimes not really sure as to whether it was his metamorphosis that led him to stagnation or it was the stagnation that led him to a metamorphosis or it was the lack of commercial success that led him to stagnation or whether it was his metamorphosis that led him to the lack of commercial success... ah, shit. You get my drift. The story goes that, on one hand, the success of Tanx a year before was rather moderate, and by all accounts Bolan's popularity had begun to wane already by then; on the other hand, Tanx seemed to finally satisfy Bolan's ambitions for fame and fortune, and he was finally willing to get around to modifying his style at the risk of losing some popularity. (The man was probably smarter than supposed - he'd rationally supposed that remaking the same record over and over again would finally cease working for him some day or other). He'd previously promised to the press that, once he'd got all the fame he wanted, he would change the name of his band to Zinc Alloy and 'disappear' from the pressures of success, and he did just that: the important trivia fact is that 'Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow' was in fact the name of the newly revamped T. Rex itself, while the album was simply entitled 'A Creamed Cage In August'. If you glance at the current cover, you'll see the name 'Marc Bolan And T. Rex' 'slapped' over the original cover - that's because it wasn't present there originally. Of course, nobody could mistake Saint Bolan in the photo, but hey, Marc didn't quite have the notoriousness of Led Zeppelin in the world, so he couldn't allow himself to pull off something like that band's Untitled. Not that it helped, of course. Marc had a lot of ideas in his head at that time. One was to 'grow some funk' - with female backing vocals, bouncy dance rhythms, and hot, steamy guitar solos a la Sly and The Family Stone, Zinc Alloy was certainly not your average boogie-woogie disc; Marc was certainly ready to go ahead and woo over the States one more time. Another idea was to conceptualize the music - the album was supposed to be entitled 'Children Of Rar' originally and work as a rock opera. However, fully conceptual albums weren't really Marc's schtick (he'd fail once again with the idea two years later on Futuristic Dragon), and as a result the opera was scrapped up. In the final end the album turned out to be divided in two equally distant sides which I'd call the 'kid-pleasing' and the 'serious looking' side. The first side thus consisted of a more or less 'regular' set of numbers with accustomed titles like 'Explosive Mouth' and 'Galaxy', while the second one contained disjointed excerpts from the 'opera' with mind-blowing titles like 'Painless Persuasion V The Meathawk Immaculate' and 'The Leopards Featuring Gardenia And The Mighty Slug'; rumours have it that the project was very much inspired by Frank Zappa, but I somehow tend to doubt it. The main problem with the first side is that the melodies do not seem exceedingly strong - in fact, let me just go ahead and say that many of them seem infuriatingly weak. Funk is funk, and Bolan is Bolan; the two things really shouldn't be messed up. And I'll also state that I actively dislike Gloria Jones, the main presence on this (and the following) album after Marc himself: a backup vocalist picked up by Marc because of her powerful vocal delivery and ability to play certain instruments (she often played keyboards on stage), she finally broke up his marriage with June Child and became Marc's life-guide in way too many spheres. Her backing vocals are indeed powerful, but when they are mixed with Marc's traditional bleating, the ensuing results are shamefully banal: as if an ageing mysterious hippie star was trying to be hip once again by diluting his musical approach with conventional, recycled musical stylistics. I'd take those trusty ex-Turtles over Gloria any time of day. And dammit, she's getting really obnoxious on some of the tracks. That said, the opening number, 'Venus Loon', is definitely a scream - if funky Bolan's not really your style, it's the only Bolan funk you'll ever need, with a powerful rhythm guitar, Bolan's crazy 'yeah yeah' echoing all around the room, and a crazyass, catchy-to-the-point-of-insanity melody. But after that thunderstorm, the sound gets kinda thin and monotonous - if you ever got tired of the repetitiveness of The Slider, you'll know what I'm talking about. The rest of the hooks turn out to be either hoots or hoaxes, and on a couple of tracks Bolan actually gets into some deep doo-doo: 'Galaxy' is plain horrendous, with a forced hard-rocking verse structure alternating with a likewise forced 'soulful' sappy refrain - 'your world, I mean your world' repeated for what seems like an eternity. And the single 'Teenage Dream' again sounds like an inferior Slider outtake - or like a campy solo Roger Waters performance, whichever you like (or hate) the most. The lyrics are entertaining, but the excitement is just not exactly there. Rockers like 'Sound Pit', 'Explosive Mouth' and 'Nameless Wildness' have a seriously limited potential: not exactly horrible, but Bolan is stretching the limits of our memories - nothing on here is as instantly grabbing as the best stuff on Tanx. So, apart from 'Venus Loon' and the fabulous personal ballad 'Change' that has a slightly stripped down, depressing atmosphere about it and is about the only thing on this side that one can somehow identify oneself with, Side A is a complete disaster: not as obvious or smashing as Bolan's Zip Gun, but 'no great shakes' would be a rather mild description here. The second side is a different thing, though, and that's what makes me really punch up the rating at least one point - almost two, in fact. There are still some tasteless missteps here like the trademark cosmic rock throwaway 'Interstellar Soul', but generally the melodies are more involving, and Marc's lyrical concepts are as entertaining as always: who would resist the attraction of lines like 'Peter with the heater, he's such a messy eater/He's got frogs in his eyes from telling those lies/Sunday's almost Monday and you gotta understand/It's gonna be grand when you take the hand of the liquid gang'? The 'concept' borders on unjustly pretentious, of course, but Marc somehow manages to get it right by keeping his sense of humour intact and spicing up the project with hooks and atmospheres we've all come to know him by. 'Carsmile Smith & The Old One' is another highlight on the second side, with some more 'gospelish' pretensions similar to those displayed on 'Left Hand Luke'; but my favourite is the aggressive, venomous 'The Avengers' with some of the most spiteful and menacing lyrics Marc had ever written. Hey, what a pity it's impossible to understand who he is really talking about. Ah, well, guess it doesn't matter. The song's nearly ruined by Gloria Jones' obsessive 'dig this!' backing vocals, though. Man, what was he really thinking about. So, in general, as the album starts to peter out with the meaningless, but strangely cute 'Leopards Featuring Gardenia & The Mighty Slug' that reminds me of something from Bob Dylan's New Morning album for no particular reason, you really begin to think that the album isn't as horrible as it's often depicted. I'd even warrant that repeated listens will bring it and its contents even more closer to the listener. The problem is that Zinc Alloy was apparently a serious step down - not a tragic one, but a significant one; and it was the first sign that Marc was finally losing the battle to his long-time disciple, David Bowie, whose Diamond Dogs came out the same year and clearly showed how far the disciple had gotten ahead of the master. Zinc Alloy showed that Bolan had indeed reached his peak and that he was virtually unable to progress any further - even when he really tried, like on the second side; he could still make pleasant music, but from now on everything would be rather predictable. Until Dandy In The Underworld, of course.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8
An all-time low - Marc recycles the glam formula for the n-th time, but here he's sounding completely self-parodic.Best song: THINK ZINC
Track listing: 1) Light Of Love; 2) Solid Baby; 3) Precious Star; 4) Token Of My Love; 5) Space Boss; 6) Think Zinc; 8) Till Dawn; 9) Girl In The Thunderbolt Suit; 10) I Really Love You Babe; 11) Golden Belt; 12) Zip Gun Boogie; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Do You Wanna Dance?; 14) Dock Of The Bay.
Ouch, this is really bad. I mean, of course, Marc's complete devotion to traditional rockabilly rhythms had never allowed him to release anything truly disgusting, but Bolan's Zip Gun comes close. Even he himself had to admit that this was his worst recording ever, and believe me, that's no ordinary artist self-humiliation. Now I've always stated the point that, whatever Marc was doing, it always extended several heads above the 'norms' of glam-rock of the day. His tasteful and competent arrangements, weird bleating voice and, of course, the Tolkien era-inherited lyrics simply could not allow us to place Mr Bolan on the same level with Gary Glitter; yes, he might have been the prototypic glam star, but he also set an incredibly high plank that no-one else was really able to reach, let alone cross over (except for Bowie, of course, but Bowie took glam as a 'meta-phenomenon' and there was always some sort of tongue-in-cheekiness attitude in his glam creativity).Unfortunately, Zip Gun shatters Bolan's ideal - in fact, the album as such is a deadly blow to T. Rex's reputation. On the surface, all the ingredients are still there: the addition of Dino Dines does not do much to augment or diversify the sound. Bolan is moving even further in the direction of a 'professional' soul/R'n'B groove here, with occasional saxophone parts and Bolan's by-now new wife Gloria Jones adding her usual powerful backing vocals; in short, the 'new' elements and the fact that Bolan is still able to churn out a catchy melody on occasion couldn't predict such a catastrophe. But you won't believe me when I say how unbelievably corny this record is. Zip Gun is, actually, a typical glam rock record - not just disposable and trashy, but, this time, completely forgettable. First of all, it's the lyrics. In one word - they blow. Yeah, Bolan has never been a hero of lengthy epics - his lyrics were always compact and short, and often repetitive, but at least they were often fascinating and not necessarily depending on the 'come on girl be my star tonight' thematics. And here? Selected quotes: 'Oh light of love, won't you shine on me, won't you shine on me, light of love'; 'oh baby who's the solid baby who's gonna love me tonight'; 'ooh like a precious star you are, ooh like a precious star you are, I wanna spend my life with you'; 'golden eyes on a sunset lawn make me feel so glad to be born, broken pages on the edge of night make me want to squeeze you tight till dawn, till dawn', etc., etc. Keep in mind that all of these lines are taken from different songs, and such is the case that most of them represent the entire lyrics of any selected song... and if there are any other lines they sound the same. It's almost as if Bolan was so intent on recapturing the glam craze that has finally escaped him that he was willing to sacrifice any artistic integrity that still remained in him and become a complete sell-out. He didn't succeed, of course: either the public tastes were slowly regenerating, or Bolan's non-disco sound was rapidly becoming obsolete, but Zip Gun sold quite miserably, and I don't regret the fact. That said, I must admit that there ain't a single tune on here I'd call blatantly bad. Actually, the album is quite the equivalent of Slider, if you wish, only with uniformly stupid and blatantly generic lyrics and fewer distinguishable melodies. Nevertheless, most of the material is of a sing-along character, and, like Slider, this could be an excellent record to put on at a party if your tastes are slightly above Phil Collins. If you can get past such annoying gimmicks as irritatingly repetitive lines ('Space Boss' is horrendous in that respect - I don't see how it can be so funny to keep chanting 'are you are you are you are you the space boss?' ad nauseam, especially if the same stupid gimmick had already been used to similar effect in 'Main Man'), feel even free to add one more point. 'Light Of Love', 'Precious Star' and 'Token Of My Love' are quite catchy - in a perverse, masochistic way. My favourites on here are the slightly more rocking tracks - 'Think Zinc' and 'Zip Gun Boogie' among them. 'Think Zinc' has perhaps the best Gloria Jones backing vocals on the entire record, produced in a hilarious echoey way so that they 'bounce' off Bolan's main singing part, and at least the lyrics are more typical for Bolan than all that schlock I have described above - is the song really about telepathy or what? And 'Zip Gun Boogie', which failed to be a hit single (I can understand that), is at least a solid piece of boogie, although Bolan is trying a bit too hard to sound hip and rockin' when in reality he comes out looking like a hopeless poseur; his 'boogie comeback' with 'I Love To Boogie' two years later would be far more self-assured and authentic. But, try as I might, I just can't remember anything positive about the other tracks. Starry strings and aethereal atmospheres on 'Till Dawn' sound tired and recycled for the hundredth time; 'Girl In The Thunderbolt Suit' reeks of intentional idiocy; and 'I Really Love You Babe' gets on my nerves, as Gloria Jones' backing vocals start to get annoying and unnecessary after they'd been used in about the same way on the first seven or eight songs here: I mean, Bolan didn't even have enough diverse arranging ideas for this record. Funny enough, the two bonus tracks on here (obscure B-sides) are arguably better than most of this stuff. Bolan's version of the classic 'Do You Wanna Dance?' is fascinating, done in an arrangement that's fairly different from both the Beach Boys and John Lennon (who - coincidentally? probably not, as they were sometimes collaborating with Marc - released his own version of it at exactly the same time). It's playful, light, features pretty backing vocals and is just tremendous fun when you hear it sung in Marc's bleating voice. And Otis Redding's 'Dock Of The Bay', apparently sung by none other than Gloria Jones herself, is at least far, far removed from the sordid glam values that overcrowd this record. When these two tracks come out of the gloom, it's like getting a feeling that you've just been pulled out of a dumpster and put under a light shower to clean off the garbage. Simply put, if you're starting a T. Rex collection, this is probably the last record you should get. It's an excellent foil for T. Rex haters: if ever one wanted to draw enough arguments for the statement 'T. Rex = Derivative Crap Epitomised', Zip Gun should be the greatest assessment. But, truly and verily, this album is so untypical of Bolan's usual style that it's far easier to dismiss it as a historical mistake and concentrate on the interesting stuff instead.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Very pompous - but I actually prefer intelligent pomposity to banal glamrockishness. Bolan slowly comes back to life.Best song: NEW YORK CITY
Track listing: 1) Futuristic Dragon (introduction); 2) Jupiter Liar; 3) Chrome Sitar; 4) All Alone; 5) New York City; 6) My Little Baby; 7) Calling All Destroyers; 8) Theme For A Dragon; 9) Sensation Boulevard; 10) Ride My Wheels; 11) Dreamy Lady; 12) Dawn Storm; 13) Casual Agent; [BONUS TRACKS:] 14) London Boys; 15) Laser Love; 16) Life's An Elevator.
Slowly, we recover the faith in our hero. Bolan's back! Not quite back - the definite return to form would only occur a year later - but at least Futuristic Dragon is fully listenable, unlike the previous record. On a general level, this record is not a leap forward or something like that: we all know that since Marc pioneered the glam formula in the early Seventies, he'd done very few things to broaden the horizons. But at least, Dragon is a competent, self-assured record that returns us to the level of enjoyability found on any 'routine' Bolan album - yeah, like Slider. Which probably means that Marc had finally overcome the crisis and understood that, however dumb-ified his image would turn out to be, he would never again manage to completely recapture his audiences. Early Seventies' teens had grown up and were probably ashamed of having fallen prey to TRexstasy in the first place (the fools!), while mid-Seventies teens were far more interested in disco that was just beginning to gain complete force.Realising that, Bolan simply sent 'em all to hell and went back to the tried and true - the classic formula. Not that the album completely repeats the formula: Marc was clever enough to insert some contemporary (or retro, whatever) elements that were rarely heard before. Futuristic Dragon, in fact, is a record that announces many firsts - it features a very hard, almost metallic, sound on a few tracks; there's a very strong soul and R'n'B influence, not so prominent before; there are even several nods to disco; and, most important, the record is supposed to be a concept one - even if I can't still figure out what the concept is all about. At least, on the surface the conceptuality of this record is limited to the album cover, the introductory title track where Bolan recites a typical poetry excerpt of his introducing the Futuristic Dragon, and the instrumental 'Theme For A Dragon' - a very nice one, too, with pompous, but catchy, string arrangements and mock crowd noises. Is the crowd supposed to meet the dragon or what? All the other songs never give any hint at the 'draconic' concept; but maybe that's not essential - the 'dragon' songs were probably just introduced in order to give the album an illusionary 'coherent' feel, not to mention the fact that Bolan painfully needed to return to his D&D subject matters after the girl-I-love-you triteness of Zip Gun. There are still a couple of throwaways like that on here - isolated musical/lyrical atavisms, left over from last year (most notably the unconvincing soul parody 'Ride My Wheels'); but luckily, for the most part the funny mystical lyrics are back, and Bolan seems once again intent on puzzling and baffling his listener rather than just making him go red in the face. A typical example is the magnificent (yup, and I'm not even joking) retro number 'New York City', structured as a big-band jazz-pop number a la Fifties, although the arrangement is hugely relying on synths and totally modern-sounding guitars. The lyrics? I quote directly: 'Did you ever see a woman/Coming out of New York City/With a frog in her hand/Did you ever see a woman/Coming out of New York City/With a frog in her hand/I did don't you know/I did don't you know/I did don't you know/And don't it show.' End of quote. End of lyrics, actually - the same lyrics are repeated three times in a row. Stupid? Indeed. So utterly stupid and baffling that it almost seems Marc is mocking us - isn't that the same kind of bad self-parody he used to employ on Zip Gun? No, it isn't. It might be self-parody, too, but it's an ironic, self-conscious kind of parody, like: 'Hey guys, I can do this and really make a fool of myself'. The parody on Zip-Gun was unintentional and bad-flavoured; this thing nears genius. A quick run through (runthrough through?) the highlights. 'Jupiter Liar' is a magnificent pop-rock composition, with what could probably be the catchiest melody on here - 'who ever said that you could dance now baby who ever said you was a liar...' sorry, couldn't resist humming it one more time. 'Chrome Sitar' indeed features a sitar, although I don't know if it's chrome or not. 'Calling All Destroyers' is surprisingly grim and nihilistic - just like its title would suggest. And 'Dreamy Lady' (as far as I remember, it was a minor hit single - a very minor one, though) is a nice, atmospheric ballad that avoids the machismo dreck of Zip Gun and reverts us to all those classic one-chord Bolan ballads of the days of yore. As usual, though, there's plenty of filler (especially near the end, where the album gets really weak) - but if you're hunting for Bolan's glam period, well, you just have to get over it. Who knows, maybe someday some of this filler will emerge as actually important: some songs do grow on you, like the bouncy, 'autobiogrpahical' 'All Alone' with its wild orchestration and cute lyrics - 'All alone I sit at home/With my chrome guitar/Even Michael Mouse/He has a house with someone there...' I suppose I should also mention that the record is far, far more tastefully arranged than the last one. Gloria Jones still sings backing vocals, but they are finally put under control and structured so that she doesn't always sound like an echo of Marc. The instrumentation is varied - lots of brass, non-cheesy synths and guitars, acoustic and electric, and it's even been rumoured that David Bowie himself played saxophone on some of the tracks. Don't know where exactly, though. Dragon also gives the impression of being way, way too overblown in places - but after all, wasn't that Bolan's main schtick in the first place? It's fun. As for the re-issued version, apart from a couple decent rockers, it adds a very important link in the Bolan saga - the bleeding acoustic ballad 'Life's An Elevator'. Besides the interesting, captivating melody based on two different acoustic guitar riffs played in different channels, it's especially important for the cynical, desperate lyrics - 'Life's an elevator/It goes up and down/Life's an elevator/Can't you dig the sound?', wails Marc, and you get the impression that he's really singing about his failed career. Not sure if he was really digging the sound of the elevator going down, though.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
A pretty good 'comeback' album for Bolan, and a fine, tuneful alternative for the punk chaos of 1977.Best song: DANDY IN THE UNDERWORLD
Track listing: 1) Dandy In The Underworld; 2) Crimson Moon; 3) Universe; 4) I'm A Fool For You Girl; 5) I Love To Boogie; 6) Visions Of Domino; 7) Jason B. Sad; 8) Groove A Little; 9) The Soul Of My Suit; 10) Hang-Ups; 11) Pain And Love; 12) Teen Riot Structure.
What with all the 'T.Rexstasy' having finally dissipated into thin air a long time ago, Bolan still managed to get by, and the 1976 single 'I Love To Boogie' even managed to hit the British Top 20. The song is included here, and it's really nothing special, but, then again, all of T. Rex music is nothing special if you think of it in terms of sheer musical innovation and such. On the plus side, it's really a hot, steamy boogie, recorded in a rather stripped-down, four-piece arrangement, with Marc delivering the generic, but oh so funny chorus ('I love to boogie, Bolan pretty boogie, we love to boogie on a Saturday night') with just enough energy and entertainment to sound just the right way. Bill Haley updated for the Seventies, if anybody's interested; I am. Where's that Bill Haley update for the Nineties, I wonder? Ah, never mind.It's doubtful that the album was ever intended as nothing more than a cash-in on the single's success, though, because the rest of the songs don't really feel that compatible. Most of the melodies are rather simple, of course - in that 'half-brilliant' memorable Bolan simplicity, but most of them are also drenched in synths and various electronic gadgets, sometimes adding disco basslines and sometimes almost approaching a certain Europop standard (the chorus to 'Jason B Sad' is nearly ABBA-like). As it is, this is one of the few records I have that really loosens its grip on you after you've sat through it for a couple of times. None of the songs are bad, and most are downright good; but overall, the monotonousness just kinda gets you down after a while. This doesn't at all relate to the brilliant title track that opens the album, of course. The 'subtitle' here states that this is 'a Bolanic revision of Orpheus Descending', but if you ask me, the song doesn't have much to do with Orpheus; instead, it's a bit of a self-portrait, as the Dandy in question is certainly none other than Bolan himself. 'Prince of players, pawn of none, born with steel reins on the heart of the Sun'. Any doubts left? And the song is very very addictive, a sort of a lazy barroom shuffle with a slow, moderate beat, Bolan's trademark shakey vocals holding up the groove, moody backing vocals and that loud booming chorus - 'When will he come up for air, will anybody care?' An entirely fitting testament to Marc's career that was to abruptly end less than a year later, but in that light, I'd probably advise the publishers to move it to the very end of the record. Everything else pretty much follows the formula 'generic boogie with synth overlays and a hippie-esque flavour', although it's mostly diversified enough to avoid falling back into the simplistic trap of The Slider. There's even nary a ballad in sight, as Bolan reinstates his image as that of a 'rocker with an edge'; pretty understandable in the light of the upcoming 'punk revolution', as Marc was a big fan of the movement and even spent the last weeks of his life introducing his newly found punk pals like The Jam on TV through a self-conducted program. On the other hand, Dandy In The Underworld could hardly be called 'punk', as it misses the most essential element of the genre - the anger and passion. Only on the last track, 'Teen Riot Structure', Bolan lets his hair down a little and makes some obscure observations on the problem, and phrases like 'All London was in blazes burning to the sound/Of deep galactic tragedies, in stereophonic sound' (whew, what a bad rhyming style) could draw analogies with The Clash, if only their 'London Burning' hadn't come out two months after Dandy. All the other songs are pretty innocent, mostly featuring love lyrics with a cosmic scent. In that respect, 'Crimson Moon' and 'Universe' are pretty much the same song, except that the melodies are different; 'Crimson Moon' is a generic boogie that borrows the intro from McCartney's 'Helen Wheels', and 'Universe' is probably disco with a Latin influence, although I couldn't say for sure. If not for the bizarre synth 'decorations', skilled sax solos courtesy of Chris Mercer and Bolan's usual wacko vocals, they'd be pretty much forgettable, but kudos to Marc for making even the obviously potential filler turn into fully realized and enjoyable songs under his leadership. Even such a simplistic tune as the bouncy dance number 'I'm A Fool For You Girl' manage to be addictive without sacrificing their totally trashy nature, thus rendering the album a full-fledged 'guilty pleasure'. Hah! Of course, the further you get to listen to this, the further you get bored, just like it's easy to get bored from listening to thirty minutes of Chuck Berry, but, like I said, the filler is diverse enough, with different types of instrumentation and regularly alternating tempos, and even in among all the filler there are at least three more tracks I'd like to blab about. 'Visions Of Domino' is an unexpectedly menacing number with ominous, 'battle-oriented' string arrangements, and the song's message - 'her love is hot, but mine is not', as is told in the subtitle - might reflect Bolan's dissatisfaction with the glam life he once led. Then again, it might not. 'Jason B Sad' ('a distant boy friend of Johnny B Goode') is a very strange character assassination story, although I'd easily give a prize to anyone who'd inform me of what kind of character really gets assassinated and what does the actual chorus to the song mean. And, finally, 'Hang-Ups' is arguably the best R'n'B send-up here, better even than 'I Love To Boogie', as the gruff guitar riff, emphasized by the pretty little synth backing, is simply irresistable, and the line 'I'm such a contradiction - I'm just a hung-up' is always on my mind, no matter how much I try to shake it off. In all, this is not really a substantial progress over the kind of sound Marc developed with Electric Warrior, if you don't count the synth backings; essentially, it's just one more rehashing of the old formula. Luckily for us, Mr Bolan still wasn't spent by 1977, so he was able to find enough creative ways to make the same formula work in different aspects. This is an album that's entirely and totally disposable (like pretty much everything Marc has recorded after 1971), and I'm not going to pretend that it's a 'classic' or something. Then again, so are ninety-nine percent of Fifties' rockers, for instance. Listening to the actual music, though, is an unabashed and open pleasure, and the arrangements have enough taste, style, memorability and, well, sense, to make you want to keep it for ever. And overall, it's better than Slider, which is good news for you baby. Oh, and, as you all know, Marc got killed half a year later in a car crash.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
Aye, that's a thirteen. Bolan seemed to feel perfectly at home when playing for the BBC.Best song: LIFE'S A GAS (perhaps)
Track listing: 1) The Misty Coast Of Albany; 2) Iscariot; 3) Once Upon The Seas Of Abyssinia; 4) Misty Mist; 5) Chariots Of Silk; 6) Scenescof; 7) Girl; 8) Life's A Gas; 9) Jeepster; 10) Beltane Walk; 11) Jewel; 12) Sailors Of The Highway; 13) Suneye; 14) A Daye Laye; 15) Wind Cheetah; 16) By The Light Of A Magical Moon; 17) Hot Love; 18) Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart; 19) Summertime Blues; 20) Pavilions Of Sun; 21) Ride A White Swan.
Gee, sometimes I wonder if there ever is such a thing as a crappy 'live-at-the-BBC' record. With all the enormous archives finally laid bare for all to see, and an endless stream of live radio recordings pouring on the listeners since the early Eighties (this record was one of the first heralds), you could have thought most of this would seem cute, but disposable. No way. The Hendrix album is great. The Led Zep album is awesome. The Stones' and the Who's recordings are legendary - and they still haven't come out. Even the Beatles' double set is interesting, mostly due to inclusion of material unavailable elsewhere. And this?This is a great record, even if it seems to be out of print now, moreover, the package has long since been rendered obsolete by numerous other BBC recordings (the latest one has thirty-two tracks instead of twenty-one on here and promises to be an even greater 'guilty pleasure'). But who cares? To the best of my knowledge, there ain't a single bad song on here - I find the uttermost fun in listening to the album from the very start to the very end. Beware, though, oh you casual listener. If it's the boogie-glammy Marc Bolan you're hunting for, you'd be much better off with his regular studio albums like Electric Warrior et al., or 'regular' compilation albums. This archive release's main aim is to outline the development of Marc's career from the earliest days and up to his rise as a glam star, but it basically stops at the very moment that the man stepped over the threshold separating him from the unabashed glitter craze. The big problem is that, for some curious reason, the tracks are not arranged chronologically. Well, to a certain extent they are, but the three main 'periods' of Bolan's activity are unexpicably changed around. The CD starts with six Tyrannosaurus Rex numbers, played with Peregrin Took, then rushes on to the late 1970/early 1971 full-blown-band period with Bolan doing several of his early teenager hits, and then recedes back to the 'intermediate' stage: the 'late Tyrannosaurus Rex' with Marc Bolan and Mickey Finn dueting. Keep in mind that if you ever have a chance to listen to this, the natural thing to do is to program the CD so that you get a more correct picture of the man's progression. But this is a minor problem in any case; and if you take the trouble to arrange the songs in chronological order and the 'line of evolution' will be set up straight, it'll be easier to see how the glammy Bolan grew out of the hippie Bolan - the process wasn't a mystical one, and it sure as hell wasn't a revolutionary one, either. You'll see for yourself. On the other hand, the mixed-up chronology is easily compensated by numerous advantages. First, the sound quality is pretty fair, like on most BBC records, and while the silly voiceovers on some of the tracks are annoying, they are few and it's possible to get used to them over time. Second, the selected material is mostly top of the pops - there's basically no filler at all, only the worthy meat of Mr Bolan's career. The six early Tyrannosaurus Rex tunes are swell - hippie music at its most charming; except for a true-to-the-studio-version rendition of 'Scenescof' from the debut album, most of the other tracks come from their third record, Unicorn (the marvelous 'Misty Coast Of Albany', the tear-inducing 'Iscariot' and the gorgeous 'Chariots Of Silk'), and it's obvious that at that particular time Bolan was already far more experienced in crafting brilliant vocal melodies and making full use of his voice's potential than when he was just starting. Weird, but beautiful. There's also a superb rarity meshed in here in the face of 'Once Upon The Seas Of Abyssinia', a funny mystical tune built on Marc's 'vocal opposition' - singing one line in an ultra-high falsetto and the other one in a low growl; the effect is spooky and you'll find yourself chanting the title of the song for hours on end. Guaranteed. The 'intermediate' period (mostly songs from 1970's A Beard Of Stars and singles) is also represented well: 'Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart', 'Pavilions Of Sun' and 'A Daye Laye' are all catchy, utterly memorable highlights (and don't you go forgetting 'Wind Cheetah'), and when Bolan picks up the electric and goes in a desperate rendition of 'Summertime Blues', obviously aiming more at reproducing the pulsating energy of the Who than the light bounce of Eddie Cochran, you can't but acknowledge that, while he does lack the needed Townshend distortion, the necessary Entwistle low growl and the indispensable Daltrey roar, he still does the song justice, and he's great boogie man. This is further demonstrated by the 'full-band' numbers: the rockers 'Jewel' and 'Jeepster' are tossed off splendidly, with enough modesty to not seem pretentious and enough passion and fury to seem authentic rock'n'roll. Judging by the way the band plays in the recording studio, you'd never guess these were the infamous glam pioneers: the arrangements are, sure enough, stripped down, the volume is subdued, and Bolan manages to attract attention not to his starry-eyed lyrics or any aspects of the 'personal factor', but rather to his gloomy, eerie singing and impressive guitar picking instead. Plus, apart from the defiant 'Jeepster', there's really little 'glammy' about this selection. The dreamy, mantraic 'Beltane Walk' and 'Sailors Of The Highway' could just as well be taken from his Peregrin Took period, you know, and the ballads are just the ballads - underarranged, stripped-down, humble and oh so cute in their innocence. 'Girl' is great, and 'Life's A Gas' is even better. In all, I won't be rambling too much about the record cuz it's stupid to ramble about a BBC recording of songs I haven't yet heard on regular studio releases; I'll be building up my Bolan collection in the future, I promise. I'll just conclude that if you see this cheap, hell, even if you see it as a Japanese import as you can see on the current cover, don't hesitate to grab it. A priceless anthology of Bolan's 'young and innocent days' it is, and a richly rewarding listen at almost any time of day or night. But beware, if Sixties' Bolan is something you ain't never heard of before, be ready for a few shocking vocal surprises.
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