Review Summary: Good honest bluesy glam rock, with an even mix of nonsensical cult classics and uncertain grooves
Following commercial successes with their two previous albums, T. Rex arrived at the precipice with Tanx
. Marc Bolan still had the songs, still had the sexual ambiguity and arguably had no need whatsoever to get his groove back, not having lost it just yet. The over-indulgences were just about to affect the band and its iconic front man, but the phenomenon known as ‘T. Rextasy’ was still riding high in their home country. But there’s a slight, almost imperceptible weariness
to some of the songs on Tanx
; or at least an uncertainty, that any devout fan would have immediately picked up on as storm clouds on the horizon.
In an attempt to diversify the T. Rex sound, the band seemed to lack courage, or were unable to agree on something, because they ended up with a hit-and-miss affair, that hits far more often than it misses thanks to Bolan’s songwriting but still nevertheless occasionally sounds a little bit lazy. ’Shock Rock‘
and ’Country Honey‘
are inoffensive enough but fail to break any new ground (or the two minute mark, for that matter) and contain repetitive lyrics that could be chucked together in ten seconds. ’Rapids’
is a squealing, squelchy slow rock stomper that sounds like any other early 70s glam rock song, and doesn’t move on one bit from T. Rex’s old output, and ’Mad Donna’
is as affected as it sounds.
But perhaps that’s all a bit harsh, because ultimately, it’s still a terrifically fun album. It’s a good job Marc Bolan had the guile to ensure he didn’t just stick to one guitar riff. He nails his colours to the mast with the wonderfully bouncy ’Born to Boogie’
and carries on his tradition of (literally) fantastic song titles in ’Electric Slim and the Factory Hen’
. This latter is imbued with some extra warmth and drama by the cunning application of strings, and a horn section can be heard squealing along in the happy-go-lucky, tap-your-foot singalong ’Mister Mister’
. ‘Tenement Lady’
is simply two good ideas for two different songs (a bass-heavy rocker and a string-laden ballad), but glued together, and it still works. There’s even some pretty heavy duty female backing singers in final track and drawn-out climax of the album, the glam-blues-gospel epic ’Left Hand Luke and the Beggar Boys’
. These are just some examples that their experiment was perhaps more successful than most fans give credit for.
Lyrically, of course, it’s exactly the same situation. Largely nonsensical, the lyrics nevertheless just sound so right
. It’s not just for the phonetic value; there’s always something implausibly refreshing about ostensible rock songs refusing to wander into dramatic cliches about love and instead urging the listener to lick uncooked meat, informing them that all the rats and all the peacocks built a ship and flew to Venus, or just casually throwing in the word myxomatosis. Then again, the occasional line here and there (particularly in the superb ballad ’Broken Hearted Blues’
) shows meaning, and you’re left deciding whether it’s you, missing a plethora of clandestine metaphors, or that Marc Bolan is so clever he can convince you to look for a message that isn’t there. Either way, they certainly get you interested.
is not without its share of filler, but it remains an album that is rather unfairly criticized by T. Rex fans as not being up to the might of its two predecessors. Probably their last great album, the hidden gems here (particularly ’Broken Hearted Blues’, ‘Life Is Strange’ and ‘Left Hand Luke and the Beggar Boys’
) are often overlooked, and some would do well alongside other T. Rex classics like ’Children Of The Revolution’
. If nothing else, Tanx
is fun, accessible and, yes, groovy. And you can’t really complain about that.