The title poses a pertinent question. After a stellar year (1972), during which T.Rex enjoyed two No.1 singles (Telegram Sam and Metal Guru), played sell-out shows at Wembley’s Empire Pool (now Arena), released a Ringo Starr-directed concert film of the aforementioned (Born To Boogie), and had a top-five album with The Slider, the magic of main man Marc Bolan began, slowly but inexorably, to fade.
The photos included in this four-CD/ five-LP box set – shot by Keith Morris, many of them previously unpublished – tell part of the tale. Bolan has cropped his corkscrew hair and lost his elfin looks. He’s cheerful and buoyant, but his cheekbones have gone and he’s put on the pounds. Compare and contrast these images with the mysterious, sunken-faced charisma that exudes from Bolan’s portrait on the cover of The Slider. Something ain’t quite right.
That feeling is born out while revisiting Tanx, the 1973 album that kicks off this collection. It’s T.Rex, but not as we know them. Tracks such as Electric Slim And The Factory Hen and Left Hand Luke And The Beggar Boys (apparently a dig at bitter rival David Bowie, viz. Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars) sound fuzzy and off-kilter. They don’t ring true. Moreover, Bolan has lost his lyrical genius, as evinced by the bizarre couplet: ‘Myxomatosis is an animal’s disease/But I got so shook up, mama, that it ate away my knees.’
Of course, he was trying to move forward and shed his teeny-bop image, deriding glam rock as ‘sham rock’ and somewhat laughably talking up his ‘street punk’ credentials. He had also become obsessed by the output of the American black music radio stations while on tour over there. But, significantly, by far this era’s most memorable track is a non-album one, a glory-days retread titled The Groover that had one critic fuming: “Why make the T.Rex single again?!”
Nevertheless, it was the last Bolan song to enter the Top 10, peaking at No.4. Things got even crazier on 1974 album Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow/A Creamed Cage In August: soaring soulfulness; mass orchestration; nary a cross-legged pixie in sight. Oh, and yet more unhinged lyrics: ‘Cycle Michael, grotesque school desk in my brain/ Mincing Quincy, dropping bop drops down the drain.’
It’s enough to make you walk down the street with a frog in your hand.