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WORTH REPEATING: The Electric Warrior

The Slider

 

THE GUARDIAN: Indeed, he was so good at it that it sometimes feels as if his image overshadows his music. In the popular imagination, his career is condensed into the astonishing run of hit singles that began with Ride a White Swan and ended with 20th Century Boy; thereafter there was irreversible decline, an embarrassing failure to match the achievements of his friend and rival David Bowie. As The Vinyl Collection box makes clear, it was a bit more complicated than that. It picks up the story in 1970, missing out the years when he tried his best to convince the world he was a hippy. The records he’d made in the 60s as Tyrannosaurus Rex had worked best when you could hear Bolan’s natural feeling for pop and tough rock’n’roll chafing against the buttercup-sandwich whimsy of the era. On T Rex he finally gave up trying to fit in, and allowed his instincts to the fore: more electric guitar; sharper, simpler rhythms; vocals doused in the old-fashioned slapback echo found on Heartbreak Hotel; strings accentuating his penchant for what Julian Cope would later characterise as the “Glam Descend”, chord sequences lurching in downward patterns that sound simultaneously melancholy and triumphant. By the time of the following year’s T Rex Vinyl CollectionElectric Warrior, he was the biggest star in Britain, rashly claiming he could write No 1s for ever. It was outrageous hyperbole, but Electric Warrior and its followup The Slider could have made you believe him: almost every track could have been a hit single. He made pure pop – the melody of Telegram Sam sounded like a playground chant – but saw making pure pop as no reason to sacrifice a sense of depth. It was wryly self-referential – scattered with references to how pretty and successful Marc Bolan was – and marked by the disquieting feeling that something rather sinister lurked at its edges, occasionally finding its way into the lyrics. Nothing overbearing, just odd, ineffably creepy lines amid the crunching guitars and assertions that life was a gas: “All schools are strange”, “I danced myself into the tomb”, “It’s a shame I’m like me”. His music was also filthy, in a way British pop just hadn’t been previously. Audiences had screamed at plenty of pop stars before, but Bolan was the first pop star to make it abundantly clear that he knew exactly why they were screaming. The British charts had never really played host to anything quite as direct as Jeepster’s closing scream of “I just wanna SUCK you” or Baby Strange’s intimations of S&M: “In winds of passion, my whip is lashing.” MORE

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