T.Rex: The T.Rex Box Set Collection/The Vinyl Collection

He lived faster than most: the complete works of Marc Bolan’s behemoths.

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There’s much formatting fun here: T.Rex’s titanic totality comes as an eight-album vinyl box set (with a limited edition on coloured vinyl) or a 10-CD set (with two bonus albums featuring extra singles and B-sides as good as Cadillac, Sunken Rags, etc). All this is very sexy and adorns a Christmas tree glitteringly, but frankly this music would sound great even if heard down an interstellar phone line from the moons of Jupiter, which coincidentally is whence Marc Bolan drew his inspiration.

Between 1970 and 1977 T.Rex released this opulent octet and left a legacy since unmatched for possessing the great indefinable ‘it’, the crackle and strut of electric confidence, the savant swagger and swoon of blind and justified self-belief. Others have been more talented, shrewder in diversifying. Few have hit – and left – their mark so acutely.

In 1971 came both the transitional T.Rex ‘debut’, with the hippie troubadour twitching into rock on early lasers like Jewel and affecting oddities like The Visit, and the commercial breakthrough (via Get It On and Jeepster) of Electric Warrior, now established as a motivational monolith. The Slider, released the next year, was a generational touchstone, the glam rock god in unstoppable flow through flawless hits Metal Guru and Telegram Sam, and cosmic ballads like Spaceball Ricochet.

Then, just as Bolan was getting slammed for repeating himself, he detoured into unique mash-ups of gospel, funk and blues – but still got slammed for repeating himself. Tanx (’73) and Zinc Alloy & The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow (’74) are two of the decade’s most extraordinary tangents. Too multifaceted and mercurial for audiences at the time to assimilate, they pulse and jitter like electric eels now. Tanx is a riot of confessionals and manic direction shifts, Zinc Alloy a vision of futuristic “interstellar soul”.

Distressed by the poor response to these two, Bolan retreated, tried to play safe as his fame ebbed, and wound up being a smaller, repressed version of himself on Bolan’s Zip Gun, Futuristic Dragon and Dandy In The Underworld. The ultimate confidence player, he just wasn’t the same with his ego’s wings cruelly clipped, though each of these has flashes of genius, not least the almost subconscious heart-tug of The Soul Of My Suit.

In their pomp, T.Rex were elemental, uncompromising, sincere and pretentious, and they made the least British music of all time./o:p

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.