T. Rex – Electric Warrior (Universal) CD REVIEW

UNIVERSAL HAS GIVEN this 1971 ‘classic’ the red carpet treatment, refurbishing this slice of early glam history by encasing it in a handsome black box, inside which resides two CDs, one DVD, an envelope containing various ephemera (including fold-out poster and timeline and, for those drinkers amongst us, a coaster), and a hard-cover book full of snapshots of the press coverage T. Rex received in their glory year.
For fans, it’s a wonderful thing, and must feel like vindication for years of dedication to the muse of the late Marc Bolan (aka T. Rex), who is sometimes overlooked because of his early demise. (Google it, why don’t you?) And for the rest of us? Well…
The problem for Marc Bolan is that he will be perpetually characterised by those great dumb pop hits ‘Jeepster’, ‘Get It On’ and ‘Hot Love’ – all of which feature on Electric Warrior – but little else, and they’re easy highlights of the album, leaving most of the rest of it in the dust.
Most of the rest of the time, the album flounders. Bolan, after all, already had a career of sorts as a kind of fey practitioner of hippy-folk-psychedelia, but it hadn’t exactly made him a household name. Electric Warrior is mostly not very electric at all, and shows that he’s still in a period of transition from the elves and faeries and dippy make-believe of Tyrannosaurus Rex to the glam cross-dressing look and the catchy hooks that made the hits so appealing.
The first disc includes the whole of Electric Warrior, to which it ads four additional songs, all contemporaneous a-sides and b-sides. The second disc will have all but the dedicated falling asleep in the stalls: no less than 21 demos and out-takes from the recording of the album, some backing tracks without vocals, others raw acoustic demos.
Perhaps the most revealing glimpse is a visual one. The third disc is a DVD with those hits getting flogged over and over on Top Of The Pops, Germany’s Beat Club and official promo clips (all of it mimed), plus two rather odd live performances from 1972, where Bolan sits cross-legged on the lip of the stage trilling away in his highly affected, Donovan-meets-Bee Gees voice. The TOTP clips are truly excruciating, as Bolan and a few pretend band-members pretend to sing and play their instruments while chubby girls twist and frug for the cameras.

Watching these clips, it’s hard to imagine that those big hits were anything other than a desperate bid for success, and easy to picture Bolan hating the concessions he’d made in writing such memorable, but moronic choruses as “la-la-la/la, la-la-la.” When you start inspecting the innards of these songs, they fall apart. I bet Bolan couldn’t believe he’d managed to pull such a swizz on the public by getting away with couplets like “Get it on/bang a gong.”
Yes, you could make a case for Bolan’s lyrics existing in the realm of inspired nonsense, but they’re really just not that good, and when you see those songs pictorialised in the context of 1971 England and clammy shows like Top Of The Pops, you’re more aware than ever that the “genius” of songs like ‘Get It On’ was just that it had a certain energy, a hook, it was perfect for that moment, and that it tuned into the same basic primal/sexual groove that had manifested itself since the advent of rock’n’roll some 15 years previously.

Well, I guess there was one difference, and that was pertinent to the times. Where the electric blues of the ‘50s had produced songs like ‘Back Door Man’ (“The men don’t know/But the little girls understand”), the early ‘70s in England was an era where skinny young men who wanted to dress up and wear makeup did understand, and wanted to flout themselves in a way the hippy era had denied them. But Bowie would go on to do it all so much better.
The upshot? Electric Warrior is a lovely box set memorialising an artist and a moment in time that isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be. It’s a fascinating moment in time, and anyone with a trainspotting penchant for English studio recordings from the early ‘70s (especially Tony Visconti ones) featuring backing musicians like Elton John and Flo & Eddie (The Turtles, Frank Zappa) will find plenty of interest value. But it’s anything but a great album. GARY STEEL
Sound = 3.5/5
Music = 3/5

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