Reissued to coincide with 20th Century Boy, the touring musical inspired by the life of Marc Bolan, these four albums chart the rise of the elfin frontman from underground darling to glamrock god.
A Beard of Stars (1970) covers the final days of Tyrannosaurus Rex and the band’s transition from two-piece psychedelic folk rockers famously championed by John Peel to more amplified chart-toppers.
By the release of T Rex under the abbreviated band title a year later, the whimsical lyrics of Bolan (born Mark Feld in Hackney) remain. But there is an undeniably more commercial edge under long-time producer Tony Visconti, who also worked with David Bowie. Tracks such as Beltane Walk serve as the template for the breakthrough single Ride A White Swan, included here as a bonus track.
By the time of Tanx (1973), T Rex were a name comparable with any in the British pop pantheon, singalong anthems such as Hot Love, Metal Guru and Telegram Sam having made them regulars at the business end of Top Of The Pops. Bolan’s ear for an infectiously catchy tune, allied to an endearing, glitter-streaked stage persona, made the now four-piece group a commercial no-brainer.
But although including Born To Boogie (and more trademark jangly guitars on hits such as Solid Gold Easy Action, featured on the bonus CD), Tanx is a more reflective work. And Zinc Alloy (1974) suggests a soulful side.
Bolan never made the Stateside impact of contemporaries like Bowie, Rod Stewart and Elton John. And by the time of his death in a car accident in 1977, his chart star had waned. However, there had been hints of a career resurgence as he fronted a TV series that served as a showcase for the new generation of punk bands.
With all the additional demo tracks, alternate takes, live recordings and curios (Pepsi jingle or nine minutes of Xmas fan club offering anyone?), this collection is more for completists than Bolan neophytes. But anyone possessing an album of T Rex B-sides will attest that even Bolan’s lesser known work invariably endears.