This is the fifteenth in a series of Rock & Roll features I'm writing for this site. I'm a rock and roller, so this column is a way for me to feature a different album that I like, from different genres every month.
When it comes to one-hit wonders, sometimes that one hit really is that group's most interesting work. Other times though, the label of one-hit wonder is completely based on context. I have lived all my life in the States and here T-Rex wasn't much more than a one-hit wonder, the hit being “Bang A Gong (Get it On)."
For some reason it took me years to get over that one-hit label even though it was purely a USA thing; the band was huge in England. Just a few months ago, finally checking out the band's catalog, I was so impressed by its music and convinced that it is much more than a one-hit wonder that I wrote a piece about their progression from folk to proto punk for the Soul of Rock 'n' Roll. You can read that piece here if you're interested: Where Proto Punk Meets Pop, Folk and Glam: Bridging Genres with T-Rex
Now, I'm returning to the music of Marc Bolan and T-Rex, and specifically one of their best albums, Electric Warrior, for this month's rock and roll feature.
Released in 1971, Electric Warrior is not the first T-Rex album and not even the first of the band's more “rockified” albums. It is, however, the album that produced the band's only real U.S. hit, the aforementioned “Bang A Gong (Get it On)." As I said though, the one hit wonder moniker is highly inaccurate, so don't go thinking that is the only track worth checking out. A unique mix of gritty rock swagger, folk-tinged ballads and some of the first peeks at what would become punk rock, Electric Warrior is not only a classic T-Rex album, but a classic rock and roll album that has become one of my favorites.
“Mambo Sun” starts everything off with a rough edged, but also subtle guitar riff with plenty of attitude. A great track to bop your head to, it's also pretty pulled back and restrained. Bolan's vocals are hushed and even the lead guitar, though fuzzed out, is not too over the top as it echoes the melody. The acoustic guitar and sweeping strings of “Cosmic Dancer” is a good counterpoint and testament to the band's depth, with its subtle imagery and psychedelic backwards guitar licks.
“Jeepster” is a fun, upbeat track with a simple gritty guitar riff and maybe a touch of country flavor but still a fair amount of bite. “Monolith” is a great swaying ballad with hints of doo-wop in it's beat and structure, but its guitar lead still brings the gritty rock feel through. I like this track a lot as it's a great composition and the combination of vocals, backing vocals and overall feel… there's just that something special to it that really works well.
“Lean Woman Blues,” as the name would imply, is the T-Rex version of the blues. It's rough edged and raw and maybe just a little minimal. It sounds surprisingly muscular and powerful for such a simple track… and maybe a touch too short, but oh well.
Bolan's loose guitar work really adds to the spontaneous feel and makes it sound all the more raw. “Bang A Gong (Get it On)" follows in all its glam rock glory… just a great track and a rock-and-roll classic that is instantly recognizable. It's one of, but probably not the, best tracks on the album so it makes sense it was a hit in the States and remains one of T-Rex's lasting legacies.
The album continues with the quasi mystic “Planet Queen,” although the swaggering seductive beat is a little more bluesy than mystic and the slow ballad “Girl.” Both songs have great color touches including backing vocals and horns that seem to fit into the arrangements very well without becoming intrusive.
“Girl" is an especially good composition that has just the right arrangements to my ear. “The Motivator” is one of my favorites. Gritty rock with a catchy, but subtly progressive chorus, it's definitely one of the standouts, as is “Life's a Gas” with it's slow sort of sweeping moments, and memorable chorus.
Concluding this set of songs is one of T-Rex's more unique songs: “Rip Off” is about all the proof I need that the band was indeed a big influence on the punk movement that would follow in its footsteps. Although the general song structures Marc Bolan often used can be heard in many of the later punk bands, the minimal guitar jabs and almost snarling vocals of this track (and the lyrics themselves) really solidify the proto punk feel. Another stand out track for sure, in all it's raw, gritty rock fun.
Although there are moments of darkness and moments of philosophical complexity, overall this is a pretty fun album that has a pretty straight forward and simple style, while still having plenty of flair. Compared to the often imagery heavy folk work of the earlier Tyrannosaurus Rex, the second album under the name T-Rex sounds more like straight up rock-and-pop songwriting. It's a bit of a transitional album as well, sort of bridging the sounds from the albums that would proceed and follow it. Along with that, there is Bolan's songwriting, which I think is quite good throughout his career.
These songs have a seductive and simple quality to the lyrics and writing style that makes these songs seem very authentic, like they've been distilled to their essence, lacking any pretense and complications. This is true of the musical arrangements as well, which although dense, seem to have a definite sense of space and depth to the layers having not yet reached the thick layered sound that would come on their next album. In a way, that makes for a more complex artistic statement… a sort of complexity through simplicity type of social comment.
Deeper intentions aside, these are just some of the best swaggering, rough edged rock songs around in my opinion making Electric Warrior one of my favorite rock albums and a classic from T-Rex.
If you've never listened to T-Rex, this is probably a good place to start, although completists will want to begin at the very beginning and trace the band's heritage. This one is one of my favorites from this band, but there are a few that have become part of my regular rotation so don't limit yourselves to this one. Also, this album was re-released in a remastered format with bonus tracks, so if you're going to check it out, don't miss out on the extras this version offers.