"Marc Bolan sounds supercharged and in control of barely keeping it in control": T. Rex confound the critics on Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow

In which Marc Bolan adds some R&B to T. Rex's glam template and opinions have been divided ever since

T. Rex: Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders of Tomorrow cover art
(Image: © T. Rex)

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T. Rex: Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders of Tomorrow

T. Rex: Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders of Tomorrow cover art

(Image credit: T. Rex)

Venus Loon
Sound Pit
Explosive Mouth
Nameless Wildness
Teenage Dream
Liquid Gang
Carsmile Smith & the Old One
You've Got to Jive to Stay Alive – Spanish Midnight
Interstellar Soul
Painless Persuasion v. the Meathawk Immaculate
The Avengers (Superbad)
The Leopards Featuring Gardenia & the Mighty Slug

T. Rex's ninth album Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow represented something of a departure for frontman Marc Bolan. Released in 1974, the album diverges from his earlier work and adopts a more experimental and funkier sound, one influenced by the black American music Bolan had been introduced to by his partner, Gloria Jones. 

Critical reception of the album upon its release was varied. While some appreciated its experimental nature and departure from T. Rex's usual sound, others found the changes – especially the in-your-face backing vocals – challenging to embrace (YouTube has versions of the songs with the Cosmic Choir removed).

Despite mixed reviews, Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders of Tomorrow has developed something of a cult following in the years, with many hailing the album as a testament to Bolan's artistic evolution and willingness to explore new musical territories.

Other opinions, meanwhile, haven't softened via the passing of time. One Classic Rock review described the album as "the depressing sound of a drowning man desperately attempting to use a feather boa as a life jacket," while another simply called it a "disco inferno of woefully undercooked glam trash." Your mileage may vary.

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Other albums released in March 1974

  • Aerosmith - Get Your Wings
  • Camel - Mirage
  • Rush - Rush
  • Three Dog Night - Hard Labour
  • Queen - Queen II
  • Chicago - Chicago VII
  • Frank Zappa - Apostrophe
  • Eagles - On The Border
  • King Crimson - Starless And Bible Black
  • Kansas - Kansas
  • Bob Seger - Seven
  • Mott The Hoople - The Hoople
  • Grand Funk Railroad - Shinin' On
  • Boz Scaggs - Slow Dancer
  • Peter Frampton - Somethin's Happening


What they said...

"Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow is also better than its reputation suggests. Bolan was still sufficiently in tune with the zeitgeist to call time on the glam era he’d started with the floridly elegiac Teenage Dream, and sufficiently ahead of the curve to start experimenting with soul music 18 months before Bowie released Young Americans. The problem was that, like the man who made it, Bolan’s music was evidently not as light on its feet as it had been." (The Guardian)

"The era of disco was coming, and with it the wholesale transformation of a wealth of rocking talents. But while David Bowie was barely dreaming of young Americans' fame, and Bryan Ferry was still road testing the pharmaceutical properties of l'amour, Bolan was up to his neck in American radio, pulling out an album which exceeded his assumed capabilities no less than it shot right over the heads of the kids who once bought all his hits." (AllMusic)

"Marc’s confidence shines through in this album, and perhaps his relationship with Gloria was reflected in his music here, with Marc feeling assured enough to greater express his feminine side and to further explore his sexuality, having expressed a more stereotypical masculinity in TanxExplosive Mouth is probably the most expressively sexual Marc ever was, and it sounds very much like the sort of baton Bowie and Prince were to pick up and run with later." (We Are Cult)


What you said...

Matthew Joseph Hughes: Huge T.Rex nerd here. Definitely his most manic album, but not necessarily in a bad way. I wish the production had a bit more balls, but it's still a really cool album. Hardcore fans are divided on the backing vocals most of all (Sister Pat Hall & Gloria Jones). I guess it's hard to compare to how great Flo & Eddie were on the last couple albums, and this change in direction could have been a shock, but they're different kinds of songs, different sounds and styles from Electric Warrior or the Slider - and I don't think Marc gets enough credit for pushing into that fusion of rock and soul. A lot of the bad press said Marc had gotten stale and formulaic in his music, but this album doesn't sound like what came before, so I'm not even sure they gave it a fair listen! It would have done better with better single choices. Venus Loon for example!

Adam Ranger: Not heard this all the way through before. I had let popular opinion sway me against it. So having given it a full listen, what do I think?

Well, it's most definitely a Marc Bolan and T Rex album and not the abomination I had been led to think. Some great tunes that certainly nod to previous greatness. Venus Loon (sounding a bit bowie-esque to me), Nameless Wildness, Expressive Mouth and The Groover [from the deluxe edition] are my top picks.

Bolan's time signature and guitar tones are all over this album. A downside for me are the backing vocals, which come across as incredibly annoying at times, especially on Liquid Gang (a bit second-rate Rocky Horror-style.. and Carsmile Smith.

But there is much to like here. Not his best work.. but not one for the "avoid at all costs " pile either.

Mike Canoe: With the exception of a couple of albums, I generally only know Marc Bolan and T. Rex at the greatest hits level. What probably surprised me the most about Marc Bolan once I got past songs like Bang A Gong or 20th Century Boy was how his songs were more likely to be easygoing shuffles or gentle boogies and not something that matched the phrase "electric warrior."

Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow changes all of that for me. On this album Bolan sounds like a 100% rock star with noisy, reeling, squealing songs to match. And if Bolan was wearing Ziggy Stardust's apocalyptic messiah hand-me-downs they fit him pretty well.

From the scratchy guitar and dubby "Yeahhh..." that kicks off Venus Loon to the Lou Reed doppelganger of the closing track, The Leopards and everything between, Zinc Alloy is a remarkably enjoyable rocket ride.

Even though he was apparently deep into the drugs at that point, Bolan sounds supercharged and in control of barely keeping it in control. His voice is at his whooping vibrato best and, as always, the lyrics sound great even if they make little narrative sense. And like Ziggy, Zinc Alloy played guitar, reeling off rude, fluid solos at will.

All of Bolan's gifts are blessed tenfold by a massive tsunami of sound including string arrangements and mellotron by producer Tony Visconti and heavenly harmonies by the incredible Cosmic Choir led by new musical partner/foil/muse Gloria "Tainted Love" Jones.

It's been a while since there's been a "new to me" album that has so many good songs on it that it's hard to pick a favourite. Sometimes it's the awfully titled but otherworldly and beautiful Sound Pit, sometimes it's the whooping, celebratory Interstellar Soul, sometimes it's the ominous Change or aforementioned The Leopards, sometimes it's one of the songs with a really long title and equally long guitar solo.

Pretty much all of it is fun.

Greg Schwepe: The joy of streaming platforms is that (“for a low monthly subscription!”) you have access to every album your favourite artist made, but you couldn’t afford to buy when you had to buy “a la carte.” Sometime in the early seventies, I obtained a 45 rpm copy of Bang a Gong (Get It On) from someone in our neighbourhood. Probably from the older brother (who had good musical taste) of a friend who had bought Electric Warrior and no longer needed the single. That song stuck with me forever but I somehow forgot about T. Rex once I got to record buying age. Then when Def Leppard recorded their version of 20th Century Boy on their Yeah! covers album I totally remembered about T. Rex again and made several purchases to get my Bolan kicked back into gear.

I had been slowly making up for lost time on Spotify with my now accessible entire catalogue of T. Rex albums, checking out the ones I hadn’t heard yet. Zinc Alloy And The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow had escaped me until it was chosen as this week’s pick. And as has happened with many other albums the group has picked to review; “Well dang, why didn’t I listen to this one sooner?!”

Venus Loon starts off with a very Bolan-esque chunky guitar lick and you have that ultimate T. Rex groove complete with female background vocals, string-sounding accompaniment, and distinctive drumbeat. Explosive Mouth is raunch all around. Slightly raunchy lyrics (but who cares?) and super-raunchy guitar lick. The slightly trippy Galaxy is next and all of one minute and fifty seconds, making me wonder how this could have sounded as a full-blown song, not just kind of a short segue to Change.

Not a song on this album I don’t like. Which is why I decided not to wrap this up with a track-by-track review! The T. Rex sound ranges from their early acoustic-based trippy-hippie vibe (some of which is a little weird) to the fully glammed-up funky groovers found on Electric Warriors and The Slider

For me Zinc Alloy… contains the best of both worlds; really glammy stuff to the rest which is not too off the wall. You hear this stuff and it takes you back to the 70s, and that’s a good thing in this case. And in a case of judging a book by its cover, I might’ve seen the title earlier and thought “Is this one of T. Rex’s out there/bizarre undertakings?” Nope! 8 out of 10 on this one and should have checked it out sooner. Need to find a feather boa to wear while listening.

John Davidson: When I listened to the first few tracks I struggled to muster any enthusiasm for the rest. I did eventually get through it all butt didn't substantially change my impression.

Bolan was a singles artist (as so many of the most successful glam acts were in the 70s) and this is presumably his attempt at breaking out of that and creating a more serious work based on the music that inspired him at the time.

So far so good. That's what artists should do - follow the muse. Sadly the muse didn't gift him enough tunes on this one to make me want to listen to it. It's still very much Marc Bolan, but without that instant hit there's just not enough substance to make me hang around.

Bowie and Elton John managed to navigate long careers doing what Bolan tried to do here but rather than reinventing himself this feels more like a misfire.

Just to provide context. In 1974 the UK was at its post-war nadir. Bomb blasts killed dozens of people in England as the civil war in northern Ireland escalated. Hyperinflation, the oil crisis, power cuts and trade union strikes brought down the then Tory government replacing it with an equally inept Labour govt. In short the place was a hot mess. Much like this album.

Evan Sanders: This was a pleasant surprise, as I wasn't aware of the T. Rex output after they started to move away from the glam sound. Compared to the negative contemporary reviews, I think this one holds up well, and many of the songs feel like a glam/R&B fusion mash-up. Marc Bolan was probably a year or two early in adapting his sound to incorporate R&B, as his glam-rock counterpart David Bowie was successful with that approach in the mid-70s into the 80s, albeit with catchier songs. Zinc Alloy deserves more love, so let's give it a 6.

Dale Munday: The last album with the classic lineup. Never paid much attention to this album, but on revisiting really liked it, well 3/4 of it. The thing I have a problem with is the sound of Marc's lead guitar.

Gary Claydon: It's not unfair to say that, post-Tanx', Marc Bolan's star was on the wane and Zinc Alloy... is a perfect illustration of that.

The album starts reasonably well, a trademark 'yeeeaahh' ushering in the raucous Venus Loon but it's downhill fairly quickly from there. Clearly searching for a new sound (no bad thing in itself), nothing here works particularly well. The songs lack cohesion and, for want of a better description, warmth. Nothing really engages. The backing vocals are way too intrusive, mainly at the expense of Bolan's oft-underrated guitar work, although it still manages to punch through the somewhat thin production at times.

At its best, Bolan's work is liberally sprinkled with his own brand of (chemically enhanced) magic pixie dust. Unfortunately, Zinc Alloy... is just a bit of a mess.

Brian Carr: I always dug the groove and attitude of the small amount of T. Rex that I’ve heard in the past. So when I read the word “funk” in descriptions of the Zinc Alloy album, I was intrigued due to my love for funky music. The T. Rex swagger is definitely present along with some nice guitar moments that left me wanting more. 

I was disappointed to find that for all of the coolness contained, I thought the horns at times were overbearing. The background vocals were too obtrusive throughout, in my opinion. I could also pass on the moments of Dylan-esque vocal delivery. Overall, Zinc Alloy... might be good for another spin on better speakers (I listened on my iPad), but I’m not quite chomping at the bit to do so.


Final score: 6.57 (56 votes cast, total score 368)

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