Friday, 11 June 2021

Bite-size Bolan

These are T. Rex's studio albums, together with introductions from my longer reviews (which can be accessed here) :-

T. Rex (1970)

From 1970, this was Marc Bolan's first transition from folky guitar strumming pixie to the electric warrior we would all come to know and love. Dropping Tyrannosaurus and becoming T. Rex, Marc strapped on an electric guitar and with Mickey Finn on percussion he introduced a rocky element to his fairy, poetic semi-nonsense lyrics. I read a quote that said that this album was "the calm before the storm of Electric Warrior". How very true. Why, if only Marc could add a full band. How would he sound? Well - 1971's Electric Warrior would tell you. Before that, though, there was the little matter of six weeks at number one with Hot Love.

Electric Warrior (1971)

This was the album that saw Marc Bolan put away his patchouli oil and carpet, strap on an electric guitar, applied some glitter tears, said a few spells and there you go....It was the album, on the back of the huge summer hit, Hot Love, that began the creation of the T. Rex glam juggernaut. Not only that, it pretty much started the whole UK glam genre. It has subsequently influenced a lot of bands, from glam ones a few years down the line, to punks, to new wavers, even to Brit Pop groups like Oasis. There is a joyful, confident freedom of expression to it that makes it irresistble. The old hippy days still float around a bit in a couple of the acoustic ballads, but most of it is full-on electricity. Oh and those riffs...

The Slider (1972)

Along with Electric Warrior, The Slider is among the best of the T. Rex albums, released at the height of their glam rock domination in 1972. Later albums tried, with varying levels of success, to repeat the same formula but never quite got there. If killer minimal note riffs and bizarre rhyming couplets are your bag, it doesn't get much better than this. Marc Bolan had stopped sitting around on Persian carpets with an acoustic guitar and a bongo player at his side, inhaling incense. He had gone full electric, thankfully. The album is absolutely full to the brim of archetypal Bolan guitar and nonsensical, rhyming lyrics. This was T. Rex at their creative glam best. Of course, they were a chart-oriented glam group, but despite its obvious comparative shallowness this is actually a highly credible album of its era. It should not be overlooked. 

Bolan Boogie (1972)

Between 1971's Electric Warrior and July 1972's The Slider came this compilation album of T. Rex's recent singles, 'b' sides and some earlier songs from their hippy, trippy Tyrannosaurs Rex albums (notably Beard Of Stars). At the time, despite being a compilation, it was treated as a "proper album". After all, it contained recent hit singles, so many customer were not really aware that much of the other material was "filler" from earlier in the band's career. I remember really liking the cover, all black with bright seventies-style lettering. The title Bolan Boogie was instrumental in pushing Marc Bolan forward as the essence of T. Rex. It was now all about him, no question. A star was born. It is a bit of a patchy affair, but sill enjoyable, although the difference in quality between the later and earlier material is pretty apparent. Also, as opposed to T. Rex's other albums, it has not been remastered, so the CD available does not have such good sound quality as their other albums.

Tanx (1973)

For me and, I think, for quite a few other followers of the so-called "Bopping Elf", this was where it all started to go a bit awry. Firstly, this 2012 Tony Visconti remaster is excellent, the best it has ever sounded. This is the version that appears on the now hard-to-obtain Complete Studio Albums Collection. The bass is, as on The Slider nicely up in the mix, negating the "glam" tinniness considerably and bringing a new warmth of melody to the table. 1972's The Slider had been a tour de force of Bolan mini-masterpieces of glammy nonsense backed by irresistable riffs. On Tanx he tries to replicate that but, to be honest, a lot of songs are even shorter than that album's two and a half to three minute average. This was definitely the band's last glam hurrah. The era of Teenage Dream was up next, and that was considerably different.

Zinc Alloy & The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow (1974)

Released in 1974, as Marc Bolan unfortunately entered his "washed up teenage idol" phase, attracting derision from the music press as they trotted out their "poor old Marc Bolan" articles by the score. However, although the glam star was fading, after three years of phenomenal singles chart success, and giving this album a "Ziggy Stardust" rip off title, there are signs of a desire to change things a little on here - maybe slightly ahead of David Bowie in that regard. Just. 

Bolan's Zip Gun (1975)

By 1975, Marc Bolan's glam star had well and truly faded. His initial experiments with soul and funk stylings on 1974's commercially unsuccessful Zinc Alloy & The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow were built upon here in a similarly disappointing outing, sales-wise. Here, though, the emphasis would seem to be on a more stripped back but poppy sound. Bolan's Zip Gun is often described as his "soul album" but I can't really see it. A bit here and there, but basically it is slowed-down pop rock with VERY loud female backing vocals. The ubiquitous penchant for two-three minute songs with relatively repetitive, often bizarre lyrics remained (as indeed it would throughout his career). However, there was a distinct lack of those Jeepster-style trademark riffs from 1971-73 that brought so much singles chart success.

Futuristic Dragon (1976)

In 1976, Marc Bolan was pretty much irrelevant. His days lording it at the top of the singles charts with his riffy glam rock anthems were now three years past. His previous album, Bolan's Zip Gun was a patchy experiment between tinny pop and soul/funk, aided by excessively loud female backing vocals, provided mainly by his wife, Gloria "Tainted Love" Jones. The omens weren't good for this album, especially when one considers the fantasy fiction-style cover that seemed like something from the worst of early 70s "prog rock". Many other reviewers have lambasted the album, as indeed did the music critics at the time. Re-visiting it again, many years later, I am pleasurably surprised.

Dandy In The Underworld (1977)

As we come to the final album of T. Rex's initially glorious, latterly less-so career, it is extremely easy to categorise most of the albums - Electric Warrior and The Slider as being great (which they are); and Tanx, Zinc Alloy, Bolan's Zip Gun, Futuristic Dragon as being "patchy" or being an "embarrassing fall from grace". This one, is often described as being Marc Bolan's "great swansong". In reviewing his work, I have found good points and bad points, especially in those latter four albums. The same is true with this one. In my opinion, it is not a "return to form" or whatever other reviewer's cliche it may be tempting to use. It shares many characteristics with the other "post chart success/glam rock royalty" albums. It is good in parts. Patchy and awkward in others. Overall, this is not really a bad album at all, it was just in punk-dominated 1977 it was just a little out of time. Had Marc Bolan lived, I wonder what would have become of him? I'm not sure that creatively he had much left in him. He would probably have continued playing his legacy for many, many years, and why not? It was one hell of a legacy. Boogie on Boogaloo.

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