Review Summary: And when I'm sad...
For all the fame and adoration people have (rightly) attributed to Electric Warrior since its time of release, The Slider marked the point at which Marc Bolan spread his wings and emerged as a true superstar. This isn’t to knock the former album or play down its great qualities (or minor inconsistencies), but whereas that album thrived off its fay disconnect from all things mundane (scorching closer Rip Off
excluded), The Slider came down to earth and doubles down on the concept of material greatness. Here Bolan swapped out Electric Warrior’s easy-loving, breezy-going spirit and carefree grooves for a far more self-conscious mentality through which he obsessed over his public image and took his mystic persona to whole new frontiers. John Lennon knows your name, and I’ve seen his
or I’m trying to write my novel, but all you do is play
, for instance, are not lyrics you would ever encounter from T. Rex pre-Slider.
This sense of materiality and inflation was fortunately dealt with in anything by prosaic terms. Where once Cosmic Dancer
was a naive self-portrait straight out of a fairytale, The Slider
is a willfully inscrutable weave that challenges the listener to locate the personal voice behind lines such as I could never understand the wind at all/Was a ball of love
, I have never kissed a car before/It’s like a door
, and the wry chorus of When I’m sad, I slide
. The answer is most likely found in the same attitude that drives the song’s slightly pompous but endlessly compelling groove, which is an apt synecdoche for the album as a whole: The Slider is grandiose, hyperbolic and hubristic, but the force of its self-fashioning is so engaging and authentic in its zany creative scope that it uniformly triumphs through these qualities.
There’s something emotionally heavy about The Slider that makes it far less appropriate for casual listening or background music than its predecessor. Even songs like Rock On
, Telegram Sam
and Spaceball Ricochet
, which aren’t too far removed from the free flowing innocence of Electric Warrior, are played out with a concerted edge that never surfaced on that album even at its most intense. Clearly disinclined to hold back on this ethos, Bolan fleshed it out to its full in brash, sweeping strokes: Buick Mackane
is a gloriously forceful rock ’n’ roll tour de force, Mystic Lady
and Rabbit Fighter
are supremely kitsch exercises in beautiful sentimentalism, the legendary opener Metal Guru
is one of rock’s most ecstatically immediate hours, and the diabolical romp of Chariot Choogle
was a hand-in-glove fit for Mike Patton of all people, by way of a Fantômas cover decades later. The intensity and drive behind these songs could easily have been embarrassing in other hands, but Bolan’s rich songwriting and palpable charisma carried such an obvious spark with them that The Slider’s robust qualities struck gold time and time again.
The album’s greatest quality, however, is the fragile, delicate side that comes with its forthright attitude as a natural counterpart. Its confidence and swagger are deeply ambivalent, carrying a distinctly bittersweet edge too strong to seem like nostalgic happenstance. This adds a maudlin quality that resounds through even the most triumphant moments here (looking at you, Metal Guru
). However, no track here draws these threads together quite as devastatingly as the knockout closer Main Man
. Playing out as a simultaneous musical wind-down and thematic culmination, this song is chock full of haunting harmonies and lyrical twists of the knife. The vertiginous misgivings of sentiments like Heaven is hot babe, watch it glow, watch it glow
are drawn out crassly but heart-wrenchingly in the final verse:
As a child I laughed a lot
O yes I did, O yes I did
Now, it seems I cry a lot
O tell me true, don’t you？
That final unanswered question is mirrored by the chorus (Are you my main man, are you now？
), a plea for affirmation that undercuts every confidence gesture made in the preceding songs. Bolan never finds an answer to this either, and so the album falls to a close with a gesture of doubt that adds fresh depth to its various of rollicking glam rock and weighs heavily on a sentimental listener. It’s this weight that brings The Slider as a whole to resound with such fresh pertinence today, all of its youth, naivety and hubris as timelessly evident as ever. Even by the sum of its parts it’s an utterly essential rock album, but this reads as a somewhat token endorsement that hardly scratches the surface of the value carried its charm and bittersweet depth. This one’s a firm keeper.