Revisiting T. Rex’s Last Hurrah, ‘Tanx’
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For much of his career, Marc Bolan of T. Rex was an unstoppable force of rock and roll — pure, raw energy and genuine flash. All things, however, must come to an end. With the release of Tanx in March 1973, Bolan’s star would start to fade, but not before leaving us with one more classic LP.
Up to that point, Marc Bolan and T. Rex had sailed to the upper regions of stardom in their U.K. homeland. Spurred by a run of 11 Top 10 singles in just three years, including four No. 1s, as well as the huge success of Electric Warrior (1971) and The Slider (1972), the period was often referred to as “T. Rextasy” in England.
Tanx was Bolan’s last great hurrah and his eighth LP in just under five years. With producer Tony Visconti, Marc had developed a signature sound and style that was the essence of “glam rock,” yet he was hardly a one-trick pony.
He was aided again, as he had been on the previous pair of LPs, by his top shelf band: Mickey Finn (percussion and vocals), Steve Currie (bass), and Bill Legend (drums). But with Tanx, Bolan made the conscious decision to change things up a bit. Some of the more whimsical, teenage rampage style was replaced by a slightly more “mature” approach. That being said, the swagger and stomp of Bolan is still in full bloom on such gems as “Tenement Lady,” “Rapids” and “Country Honey.”
Elsewhere the majestic folk side of Bolan is more than evident in “Broken Hearted Blues” while “Electric Slim and the Factory Hen” weaves in sweet soul vibes into the mix as well. “Born to Boogie,” also the title of the great Bolan film, is a bopping rocker bubbling with his natural charm, and “Life Is Strange” is another in a long line of classic slithering Bolan sliders.
The album closer, “Left Hand Luke and the Beggar Boys” ends things on a slightly epic note. Clocking in at just under six minutes, it features strings and some gospel-influenced backup vocals to dramatic effect. The whole LP shows the influence of American soul music to greater degree than on any of his previous discs. This is a path he would travel for his next few releases as he sort of deconstructed the “T. Rex sound.” This move, along with what may have been a general glam fatigue at the time, would also lead to his fall from the top.
Though no singles were released from the album, the string of classic 7″ wax that lead up to the album is nothing short of stunning. “Children of the Revolution,” “Solid Gold Easy Action” and “20th Century Boy” all preceded the LP, while “The Groover,” another Top 10 hit, followed shortly thereafter. The album itself sailed to No. 4 in the U.K., but couldn’t crack the U.S. Top 100. What followed was a slow, but steady, decline in not only sales and general mania, but in overall quality over the next few LPs. Not until his final album, Dandy in the Underworld from 1977, did Bolan start to regain his fire, in part due to his love of the punk movement.
Sadly, Marc Bolan’s died in a car crash six months after that final album was released. Though never a star in the U.S. the way he was in England, Bolan’s legend has justifiably grown over the years. He was a truly unique character who made some incredible records, and Tanx was his last great triumph.
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