Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I'd Love To Turn You On #31 - T. Rex – Electric Warrior (1971)

I discovered T. Rex about ten years ago when a friend loaned me 20th Century Boy: The Ultimate Collection. Turned off initially by the bongos and seemingly nonsensical ramblings of singer Marc Bolan something about their assured style compelled me nonetheless. After my third listen the bizarre, sexually charged, and charming Bolan had me hooked and I began seeking out whatever T. Rex and Tyrannosaurus Rex (their earliest incarnation) albums I could find. As is the case with most fans of T. Rex, after listening to the majority of their catalogue all roads inevitably led me to their 1971 masterpiece Electric Warrior.
Hailing from England, Bolan and T. Rex were massively popular in their homeland where Electric Warrior reached the #1 spot on the British charts. Though it reached the #32 spot on the American charts, most Americans only remember them for their mildly successful single "Bang a Gong (Get It On)." And, while "Bang a Gong" is an endlessly catchy song, it barely scratches the surface of what makes Electric Warrior a front-to-back classic.
The album opens with "Mambo Sun" and instantly lures the listener into Bolan's seductive and whimsical web, as he lets the ladies know "beneath the mambo sun, I got to be the one with you" over a fuzzy shuffle, complete with helium-soaked "ahh"s and a delightfully simple guitar solo. From here Bolan changes gears completely and exposes his softer, contemplative side with "Cosmic Dancer" - a ballad (which some may recognize from the soundtrack to the movie Billy Elliot) about dancing "out of the womb" and "into the tomb" with swelling strings and a dreamy backwards-looped guitar solo. Within the first two songs Bolan has revealed his range and from this point forward he effortlessly alternates between these two approaches - every song proving itself as essential to the album. Songs like "Jeepster," "Bang a Gong" and "The Motivator" all show Bolan at his sleazy best - sneering lines like "I'm gonna suck ya!" and then playfully rejoicing in the fact that "you're dirty sweet and you're my girl." Then, on tunes like "Monolith" and "Life's a Gas" we see him lamenting the "shallow actions of the children of men" and hoping life "is gonna last." All of these nuggets are delivered in an otherworldly lisp, seemingly devoid of irony, as if Bolan really exists in his own mystical palace and is beckoning the listener inside. 
Every track on Electric Warrior is steeped in the blues, but this was a new variety - one that would spark the glam craze in the UK and eventually make its way stateside in bands like The New York Dolls. Cited not only by hair-metal bands but also by artists as contemporary as Devendra Banhart, T. Rex are a band that begs to be explored. Electric Warrior is the perfect introduction.

Paul Custer

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