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Released: 1973

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


In 1973, T Rex were at the tail end of their “T Rextasy” status in Britain.  It is true that they had two Top Five singles that year and another that reached number twelve, but Marc Bolan’s star was fading; falling under the rising gleam of David Bowie.  Jealous of his rival’s glory in the States and at home, slowly separating from his wife June, getting fat from drinking and living off fast food (before this year, Bolan had been a strict vegetarian), and doing mountains of cocaine, Marc was entering into the darkest stages of his personal life.  To top that all off, he had lost his place in the Glam movement that he created.  Gary Glitter was now the fun and outrageous side of the music, Bowie was the artistic side, and Slade was the successful singles side.  Where was T Rex supposed to fit in?               


Add this all together with the fact that Bolan made up most of the tracks to his next album in the studio and the album was destined to be somewhat of an identity crisis.  And true to form, “Tanx” is the record that seems to separate T Rex fans and critics alike.  For some, it is an album of unbelievable diversity that rivals his greatest work…for others it is a very disappointing, transitional album where Bolan is just scrapping the bottom of his songwriting barrel in an attempt to ride the last drops of his wave of Glam popularity.  The reason for this divide is unquestionably the sudden change of sound.  For the first time on a T Rex record you can hear the bass and drums.  To go with this new, fuller rock sound, on “Tanx” Bolan isn’t that hip, posh, teenaged-dream smashing you over the head with attitude and veneer.  Instead he experiments with Philadelphia soul, blues, gospel and funk in an attempt to stay relevant.       


The album opens with “Tenement Lady,” which itself begins with a false start before jumping into a raunchy Glam Rock song with ridiculous lyrics.  Bolan’s voice sounds as if it is heavily modified here, but he really belts it out and just as the song seems like it is ready to take off, Bolan changes the song abruptly into a ballad, as if questioning his once foolproof sound.  This change is sudden and absolutely destroys the feel, but Bolan somehow pulls it off brilliantly.  More Glam Rock follows in “Rapids” with great, high pitched backing vocals joining Bolan on the chorus.  The song is catchy, simple and rocking, with Steve Curry’s bass really shinning.  After the first two tracks, Bolan doesn’t seem to be changing all that much from “The Slider,” but “Mister Mister” crushes that impression.  The tune has a distinct McCartney feel to it, with a great backing horn section and a smooth, blissful melody.  It still has the Glam attitude, but it is done with a much more melodic approach…Progressive Glam, I guess.     


Broken Hearted Blues” is a great ballad, at least equaling “Life Is A Gas” and “Girl” from “Electric Warrior.”  Possessing an utterly beautiful melody, highlighted by chaotic horns, this is a two-minute gem.  Similar in length, but nothing else, “Shock Rock” is a strutting, cocky, bluesy masterwork with a great line directed at all his imitators: “If you know how to rock, you don’t have to shock.”  Bolan is really pulling out all the stops here, and is doing so with charm, swagger and most importantly, competence.  Another just under two-minute tune follows, but “Country Honey” is a sonic mess.  It still somehow manages to grove in all the right places with a great riff, backing voices supreme, a catchy chorus, and a neat acoustic strumming middle section.  This tune is genuinely happy and fun and should have been a single. 


The ridiculously titled “Electric Slim & The Factory Hen” is all Philly Soul, beating David Bowie to the punch yet again (Bowie’s “Young Americans” would come out two years later).  This song is entirely unique, but it just rules, with the bass and orchestration actually making the tune.  It honestly sounds like Bolan covered some lost Motown classic.  Mad Donna” starts with a kid saying something in French, and then joining Bolan in the sing-along-chorus.  The song is another two-minute, fun, rocking good time.  The same could be said of “Born to Boogie,” which brings back “The Slider” sound, adding to the diversity of what is an extremely wide-ranging album. 


Life Is Strange” begins life with Radiohead’s “Just Like Spinning Plates” backwards whoosh noises and includes birds chirping throughout the recording.  The song itself is a brilliant Glam acoustic ballad: sentimental with that snobbish, campy fašade.  The Street & Babe Shadow” is more of that Philly sound, but here it is straight R & B with a great sax solo at the end.  Another great, head bopping, toe tapping, sing out loud song, but this time with a bit of funk.  Highway Knees” is one more change of pace: a quirky little Beatlesque song with a great melody, interesting production, and a calming before the storm that follows.  The closing “Left Hand Luke” is a five-minute gospel tour de force with the tune, production, playing, singing and female backing vocals all being exceptional.  This is one of Bolan’s all time best efforts, the kind of song you have to play loud and shout right along with, all the while playing air guitar!  Simply stunning, and his best ever album closer. 


Amazingly (considering Bolan’s personal life at the time of its recording), there is no filler on “Tanx.”  Every song offers a memorable melody and interesting lyrics, while the album is diverse enough that nothing sounds stale.  It isn’t quite up to the level of “T. Rex” and certainly doesn’t have the flare that was “Electric Warrior,” but this record is catchy, sophisticated, and charismatic (although the cover is anything but).  Dating back to his Tyrannosaurus Rex days, Marc Bolan put together a string of five albums in which I can count exactly one filler song.  One!  Plus during that same time he released a total of twenty-three tracks as A or B-sides of singles that weren’t found on any of his albums.  That is basically seven albums in four years with hardly any filler.  Damn.

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