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Tyrannosaurus Rex, aka T. Rex

aka TR aka Mr. Rexasauaurs aka Tyranny of the Soral Rexus

Albums reviewed on this page: My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair . . . But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows,
Prophets, Seers and Sages, UnicornA Beard of Stars.

Tyrannosaurus Rex was a two-person 60s freak folk band that gained more complex production, less muddy songs and eventually electric guitar(!) in their lifetime.  Upon reaching the age of maturity for bands, which in this case scientists have calculated to be somewhere around two years, the band shortened its name, shed its exoskeleton and generally improved its outlook.  This was no mere Hollywood ploy of giving the hot girl glasses, a frumpy wardrobe and a haircut that North Dakotas found outdated.  No, evolution was right to force changes upon T.R., as its earliest incarnation is an awful, awful mess.  The plot outline is this: Marc Bolan on acoustic guitar and mushmouth elaborate vocals and S.P. Took on assorted complicated percussion (not drums).  Enter more and more studio overdubs, as Bolan focuses.  Exit Took, replace with hipster M. Finn, continue prior trends.  Enter electric guitar, more overdubs and then the sword comes down, forename shortened, numbers doubled and the pawn is knighted.  Fin.

I've listed the T. Rex albums I have below, but I'm not going to review them immediately.  Of course, the evolution to electric music was actually a return for Bolan, who had been with mod-rock incompetents John's Children.

Personnel:  Marc Bolan (guitars, vocals), Steve Peregrine Took (percussion) replaced by Mickey Finn (percussion) in 1970.  Rhythm section added to form the corpus of T. Rex.


My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair . . . But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (1968), *
It's my own fault.  I should have realized stereotypical images of mind-blasted hippies with bongos derived from some real person, somewhere, and that it was only a matter of time before I encountered it.  It turns out Tyrannosaurus Rex were those guys, and damn, were they hard to endure in their original form.

Their musical approach is simple: Bolan on acoustic guitar and slurred, stratosphere vocals, with Took on a variety of drum-like instruments, with few/no overdubs.  Also, a tanker full of drugs, raising Bolan to the stratosphere and making his vocals hard to understand.  This approach alone isn't bad; what makes it intolerable is that Bolan's songs have few hooks, and his playing is not enough to maintain interest.  Well, surely they were a lyrics band, you might think.  First, admittedly I'm not English, but Bolan is so sky high I can't tell what he's singing most of the time.  Second, he repeats himself a lot, caught in the rhythm of his words, creating the feeling of a jam without the actual jam.  If they were a lyrics band, perhaps I, an unbeliever, am not affected.  The band did have some unique aspects - Bolan's periodic ruffled falsetto, and Took's non-traditional (non-Western) rhythms and instrumentation. The songs are mostly indistinguishable, such that I didn't realize I was listening to the wrong side of the album at one point.  A few songs are roughly blues ("Hot Rod Mama" and "Mustang Ford") and "Scensof" is folky, the rest populate some magical monochrome dream world in the band's head.  The album closes with "Frowning Atahuallpa", featuring Bolan singing Hare Krishna, before breaking into a long children's story excerpt.  I'm sure the dozens of listeners in their smoke-filled rooms appreciated the sudden shift into child-land from Bolan's endless vocal grooves.   It is the best part of an album which would sound impossibly dated within a few years.  Produced by Tony Visconti, and it reached the UK top 15.  


Prophets, Seers and Sages (1968), *1/2
Minor improvement, although I've left off the full (totally ridiculous) title.  You can distinguish the songs a bit easier.  The opening "Deboraarobed" is an actual song, with the tape run in reverse at its end so you hear the whole thing backwards.  It isn't awful, so that's a step up, a few other tracks resemble songs ("Conesuela" and "Salamanda Palaganda" among the chosen ones).  The production is also a bit fancier; some overdubs and the like, but it still suffers from Bolan's ingesting so many drugs that he communes with the spirits of Tolkien and Indian mystics and gains the idea that two chords and some nonsense syllables construct a song.  Also, I still cannot understand most of what he says.  If you want a man's occasional giggle laughing over an elementary mixture of Indian and English folk music, search no more.  Visconti produced again, and it did not chart.



Unicorn
(1969), **
The upward swing continues, aided mostly because Bolan fashioned his materials more closely into songs, and increased overdubs give the material more depth.  Bolan still relied a bit too much on attempted sing-along portions ("Stones for Avalon") and his grandiose lyrics, still often sung without fully formed consonants.  But even though the approach was often the same, Bolan is usually more intelligible and the results are often better.  Most of Unicorn is recognizable as acoustic folk songs, a number of which are decent ("Seal of Seasons", "She was born to be my Unicorn", "Like a White Star, tangled and far, Tulip that's what you are", "Nijinsky Hind").  Even the acoustic break at the end of "White Star", which devolved into another sky-high excursion, works.  Part of the (relative) success is due to Visconti's production, which is more fleshed out (although no drums), such that the song with the boldest sound is also clearly the most well-thought out (and best): "Catblack" with Visconti on clanging piano, shows Bolan using a catchy chorus in something close to a 50s pop song, instead of repeating it in a mushmouth piece of claptrap.  Nor did Visconti rely on many production tricks, occasionally things like sped up vocals (the Teletubbies get high intro to "'Pon a Hill") or running the tape backwards (the gentle "The Throat of Winter").  Even with few tricks, it is clear that Bolan aimed this at his era's freak folk fans, even giving a number of minutes over to DJ John Peel reading a children's story ("Romany Soup").  This was also Took's last album with the band, and he's rather good at his appointed tasks of difficult percussive rhythms ("Eueops of Damask"), as well as providing high-pitched backing vocals and other instruments when required.  For all Unicorn's progress, Bolan still could not consistently write good songs, instead relying on his florid lyrics and hippie vibes, and much of the album is underwritten and disposable.  Yet, even if the whole thing is indistinct, it remains a sort of harmless comfort food for listeners.  It reached #12 in the UK, for what that's worth.


A Beard of Stars (1970), ***1/2
or Electric Rex, as the instrumental prelude announces.  But it's no simple substitution; Bolan wisely augments his folk music with electric lines from his new axe.  Almost everything is still based on acoustic guitar, and Bolan isn't using the electric in any set fashion - playing over the rhythm, taking rock interludes ("Pavilions of the Sun", "Lofty Skies"), but he clearly knows how to play the instrument well.  The underlying material is clearly from the same mind as the earlier albums, but far more cohesive and understandable.  In other words, Bolan stopped writing songs where the music was an underwritten frame trying to support his elaborate lyrics.  (Certainly, a lot of folk music focuses on lyrics at the expense of music, but Bolan took this direction to extremes, and then sang dada).  Here, the mixture is so markedly better that it's a bit of a shock, and the electric additions make it better: "A Daye Laye", "By the Light of the Magical Moon", "Lofty Skies" and "Woodland Bop" are all very good songs that could have been lost in the mental tye-dye of earlier versions of Tyr. Rex.  Forerunners of their later sound show up, such as the high pitched backing vocals and wailing electric guitar lines on "First Heart Mighty Dawn Dart" or the title track.  Micky Finn, the new percussionist/sometimes bassist/backing singer/cool looking hipster-dude, is less of the same from Took - less complicated, less unusual sounding, but this creates a space for Bolan to dub electric on top of the basic duo.    But it's not just electric guitars, as Bolan was also using organs more, leading to oddities like the droning organ+percussion "Organ Blues" or the ominous "Wind Cheetah".  Yet, in the end, it is all about electric guitar: the album's closer "Elemental Child" is that which the opening prelude foretold: Bolan playing something like chugging electric blues-rock and then breaking into an extended solo/rhythm for over six minutes.  If it were not for Bolan's voice, you would be hard pressed to place "Elemental Child" on this album, and certainly not on anything before it.  It's a suitable ending, an impressive coda and an arrow.



T. Rex, or The Band Gets Rhythm

T. Rex (1970)

Electric Warrior (1971)

The Slider (1972)

Tanx (1973)

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