Bolan, for all of his mercenary fame-seeking and shameless bandwagon-jumping was a...
Chris Jones 2002-11-20
The early seventies pop firmament was strewn with flamboyant acts with more attitude than talent: Gary Glitter, Showaddywaddy, The Sweet, Slade, err...the Rubettes. You get the point. Leading from the periphery was Mark Feldman, the boppin' elf; known to the world as Marc Bolan. Why on the periphery you ask? Because Bolan, for all of his mercenary fame-seeking and shameless bandwagon-jumping was a true talent whose greatness sprang from realms uncharted, where Chuck Berry met J R R Tolkein and, bizarrely, the two got along like a (hobbit) house on fire. With a voice like Edith Piaf on acid and lyrics that mixed Joycean (yes, Joycean) wordplay with private teen mythology, simply no one sounded like Marc Bolan and T.Rex.
Notoriously ill-served in the back catalogue department for years, this 4-CD box from Universal finally sees the full weight of critical approval thrown at Bolan's considerable legacy. From early demos as a dodgy Donovan heir to final tracks as a fading rock idol briefly enjoying a renewed profile in the light of a burgeoning punk movement; this box set tells the whole story with a goodly smattering of unreleased versions and BBC session tracks to give it a fresher twist. It succeeds so very well because it bothers to uncover and highlight aspects of Bolan's career that present him as far more than just the first glam superstar beloved of any old film maker desirous of purveying the correct ambience of the world of a 70s teenager.
Within a few years of his folky demos as Toby Tyler, Bolan had already carved out his very individual style. Just listen to the ridiculously assured 1967 demo of "Jasper C Debussy" to hear how his entire future seemed already within his grasp. Following a brief exercise in humility as second-string to Andy Ellison in psycho-mod band John's Children, Bolan then hit the hippy trail. Teamed with ace producer Tony Visconti, Tyrannosaurus Rex (Bolan and Ladbroke Grove stoner Steve Peregrine Took) took a couple of albums to blossom, but by 1969s Unicorn were producing stuff like "Chariots Of Silk" with just an acoustic guitar, bongos and childrens toy instruments (pixiephone, indeed) that seemed to emanate from a lost continent. With the more photogenic Mickey Finn replacing Took, Beard Of Stars was, and still is, a lost classic with "By The Light Of The Magical Moon" showing how far Bolan's three chord tricks had advanced. "Elemental Child" provided the first electric blueprint for the Eddie Cochran-in-Middle Earth style that reached full flowering in the crossover hit "Ride A White Swan".
Now shortened to T.Rex and expanded to a full band these were Bolan's golden years. Hits aplenty, and every one of them a glorious amalgam of swagger and sexiness, despite the usual nonsensical lyrics (what exactly is a "silver-stud sabre-toothed dream" anyway?). The days were numbered though. By 1974 the glitter was fading and the formula was looking a little worn. Titles still continued to make one gasp ("Painless Persuasion v. The Meathawk Immaculate" anyone?) but only true chameleons such as old mucker Bowie could really stay afloat in such disposable times. By the fateful Mini-ride of 1977 it was all over, but no matter. He'd sealed his place in a generation's hearts and left behind a whole private universe of his art to ponder over. This set makes it seem magical all over again. (Top)Hats off to the prettiest star.