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The Slider
T. Rex

Reprise 2095
Released: August 1972
Chart Peak: #17
Weeks Charted: 24

Marc BolanIt seems to be layed out for us in Ringo Starr's incredible grainy high contrast b&w cover photograph, but what is it? Boy, man, girl -- it's not a woman but these days you never know. The human who writes the one graph record blurbs for Billboard looked at the picture and came up with an astute connection: Marc Bolan looks like a silent film star, a tossled Theda Bara, a black-haired scarecrow Lillian Gish. It's an amazing photograph, even more so on another level when you consider who shot it: Ten years ago England's children were creaming over the photographer; today several million British kids are faunching over this weird hermaphrodeity, this electric metal faun, Marc Bolan, forking over pounds and new pence for singles and albums by the million, shimmying and orgazumming over the Slider's hypnotic, synapse-searing brand of Robot Rock. Where will it end? Certainly not in England, where the T. Rex phenomenon had captured the hearts and minds of yet another generation -- 14 million records sold in three years, more than the Beatles or Rolling Stones ever did, more than Billy Fury, Cilla Black, Adam Faith and Lulu rolled together. The cat's got the whole island wired!

But maybe not in these United States where the good Warner Brothers paid more than a million fazools to Marc's own record works for the American rights to his music, hoping to laugh all the way to the bank on the teeny shoulders of this latest of Monsters. The fickle yank record-buying public was not so impressed: Bolan's first album for Warner, Electric Warrior, (there's an earlier and worse one on Blue Thumb) sold only moderately well, with the simian single "Bang a Gong (Get It On)," with its imagery of motive copulation and rhythmic dullard/hoodlum ambiance, going Top 10 all over the land late last winter.

T. Rex - The Slider
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
And so here comes The Slider, released in late August in the eye of a "T. Rextasy" hype hurricane, having already blasted off back home to the tune of ringing cashboxes and hysteria-crazed squeals from the now usual wet-pantied audiences. Bravely, the Warners rushed two separate singles into the breach: "Metal Guru" ended up buying the farm in every market from Delaware to Burbank except for the lovely village of Detroit (where else?), where it did quite well, while "Telegram Sam," the archetypal Bolan strutting robotic, died a thousand deaths from sea to shining sea. Just so. I can imagine the ghosts of the crotchety old brothers Warner going Hmmmmm...

Which is unfortunate, because T. Rex/M. Bolan have cranked out maybe the strangest, most viscerally foreign sounds to emerge from the whole of western rock & roll, something so new as to be downright outrageous and scary yet something so familiar, a hybrid of Chuck Berry rock & raunch grafted to the most monolithic, surreal of Beatle orchestrations -- indeed, it seems that almost any of The Slider's tunes could have come from the Beatles' White Album. No wonder Ringo is so interested (he's even made a film of Bolan's English performances): the aging moptop is probably vicariously getting his ego-rocks off while suffering from a nagging case of nostalgia-past shock. It must be tough for the old boy not to be screamed at anymore.

In any case, The Slider (recorded in Paris and Copenhagen) starts off the insidious but catchy "Metal Guru" with the diabolical castrato caterwauling of Messrs. Howard Kalan and Mark Volman, ex-Mothers presently reincarnated as the Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, perfectly high-strung companions for Bolan's leap into musical purgatory. Their somehow perverse wailing is the perfect foil for young Marc's macho yet omnisexual car fetish (Stick shift as lingam? Bucket seat as yoni? Exhaust pipe as anus?): "Metal Guru has it been/Just like silver-studded sabre-tooth dream/I'll be clean you know/Pollution machine/Oh Metal Guru, is it you?"

"Mystic Lady," with its gorgeous surreal chorus, is a lovely lump of flash, slow and easy, the most sophisticated piece on the album. "Rock On" gets us back into the cybernetic metal-man effect as does "Baby Boomerang," both devoid of any meaning other than you can dance to it (more about that later) and that their scat-dada lyrics are fun to sing. Other than that, Marc's lyrics read like those in a vintage 1959 Anthony Burgess speculative sci-fi yarn about the androgynous teenagers of the future.

"The Slider" is a slow and very sad song with an ominous thump beginning and clattering, disturbed delirium tremens rattlesnakes:

I have never kissed
A car before
It's like a door
I have always, always
Grown my own before
All schools are strange
And when I'm sad
I sssllliiide.

Whew! What? Where am I? Slide into what? The album gets scarier as it goes along. But the psychic energy is startin' to build: "Spaceball Ricochet" is an acoustic trance tune that leads into "Buick Mackane" (will you be my girl?), two minutes of more chilling glandular energy.

But side two is the nut. I can't listen to "Telegram Sam" (as loud as the speakers will bear) without leaping up and doing the stiff gyrating dance we made up for the whole album one stoned night. The dance is called The Robot (shoulder and knee joints rigid, elbow joints flexible but keep these hands pointingly straight and move like a zombie. Hard to do with a partner, though). "Telegram Sam" ain't just a tune, it's a machine, even revving up a little crankily at first, then slipping into a comfortable, hard-roaring gear that never lets up. The curious cast that inhabits the lyrics -- Telegram Sam ("you're my main man"), Golden Nose Slim, Jungle faced Jake and Purple Pie Pete ("your lips are like Lightning/ girls melt in the heat") -- they're all manifestations of the Bolan iconography: they're all himself.

"Rabbit Fighter" moves on with a pretty flare guitar (Bolan's not bad) and a tribute to Moondog, the saint of Sixth Avenue. "Baby Strange" is another spellbinder, the horniest of all the little pacers on this album. "Ballrooms of Mars" deals with more demons and black angels, but all this creepy crawly stuff is starting to get tiresome. Marc ends up more a purveyor of psychedelic baby food that would-be astral traveller. There's another one of those nice guitar lattices, more castrati action and another heaving orchestral come.

The final song, "Main Man," ends the album on a fitting note, a love song from Marc Bolan to himself: "Bolan likes to rock now, yes he does, yes he does..." The tune is a slow mesmerizer, a charm, a final soothing little slug of precious ego. It hits you in the end, after you've made the trip a couple of times. Everyone Marc's singing about is himself. He's his own Main Man.

A true phenomenon. I hope they're all happy together.

- Stephen Davis, Rolling Stone, 10/12/72.

Bonus Reviews!

"A rock star," Marc Bolan once remarked, "is slightly unearthly."

And then he explained, "A guy came up to me and said: 'How does it feel to be a God?' He said he'd seen me worshipped."

Since it has never been all that apparent whether God is fit to be God, we needn't waste any energy in attempting to determine whether Bolan is either. But the Pope notwithstanding, Bolan is not only bigger than Jesus Christ, but bigger than the Beatles as well. So now with Britain and the Continent conquered by his satin dazzle, T. Rex, starring Bolan as King of the Beasts, is very much a God looking for new lands to plunder.

The last T. Rex tour of the States did not establish the group as the huge sensation they are across the Atlantic. This brilliant new album will perhaps accomplish what Bolan in person could not. Whereas the stage show is all flash, and music is sacrificed for mayhem, The Slider, like Electric Warrior, and T. Rex, is an impeccable production by Tony Visconti, whose credits also include the production of two of Bolan's friend David Bowie's best albums. On this new record, Bolan is every bit the holy rocker he means to be.

The cover photo (taken by Ringo Starr) reveals a sad/sexy stare that is Garbo, and Dietrich, and Shirley Temple all in one. And when he sings, it's an impish, elfin Elvis we hear. A magician/musician in a top-hat.

With an intuition for poetry that implicitly understands the innate magic of words and sounds, Bolan creates songs that are at once simple and profound, primitive and futuristic, innocent and sophisticated. Those who mistake Bolan's reliance on basic patterns and repetitive rhythms and phrasing for anything less than the disciplined techniques that they are, should remember that communication (especially in forms as confining as popular music) depends a great deal on uncomplicated devices to convey ideas as concisely as possible. Bolan's originality does not lie in the forms he uses, but rather in the perverse and inspired ways he uses them.

Musically, "Ballrooms Of Mars," for instance, is a psychedelicized version on the archetypal Fifties ballad with a few weird chords, just so you're sure this is T. Rex. But the lyrics are a frightening ode of love/hate to a "diamond-browed hag" who is further described as a "gutter-gaunt gangster." When Bolan gently sings to her, "John Lennon knows your name and I've seen his," it's easy to see why dancing your life away in the Ballrooms Of Mars may just about be it.

Much of the album is dominated by this idea of escape. Sex, drugs, death, and a ride in the cosmic car are all that's left us. As Bolan croons, "How can I lay/When all I do is play/The Spaceball Ricochet." The title song offers a new escape (or perhaps it's just one of the old ones in disguise): "And when I'm sad, I slide." This leaves us no choice. Slide on down to your local record store right away and bring Bolan home to your mother for dinner. Just to get even.

- Bruce Harris, Words & Music, 11/72.

An enterprising and full-value CD compilation of the last genuinely big UK teeny-bopper star. The Slider was Bolan's enormous best-selling album released in 1972 at the peak of his popularity. To this have been added seven additional tracks comprising various A and B sides of the T. Rex singles released that same year.

Bolan, an aspiring singer songwriter, teamed up with drummer Steve Peregrine Took as the acoustic duo Tyranosaurus Rex achieving cult notoriety for Bolan's obscure mythologizing. Took fell out with Bolan's political and musical bearings and quit. Bolan, now recording as the abbreviated T. Rex with percussionist vocalist Micky Finn, returned to the style he had previously adopted as part of the glam-rock band John's Children. The duo enjoyed a surprise hit in Ride a White Swan and there followed almost three years of hysterical adulation and hit singles.

Recorded in Paris and Copenhagen, the sound from CD is both phasey and fuzzy -- often opening promisingly with grinding guitar chords but frequently lapsing into dullness. The sound is small and hissy ("Baby Strange") though the singalong track "Metal Guru" does peep out from behind its heavy and impenetrable string arrangement. Packing in most of the memorable T. Rex material, this disc is ideal for those looking for a single representative disc. The sound is no better or worse than expected for early Seventies tapes; certainly better though than the old singles or contemporary vinyl.

Marc Bolan died in a car smash on Barnes Common, London aged 30.

- David Prakel, Rock 'n' Roll on Compact Disc, 1987.

Surprisingly, The Slider was T. Rex's highest-charting record, without the benefit of a hit single. Even without a hit, the record was a gas, powered by the killer riffs of "Baby Strange," "Buick Makane," and "Telegram Sam." The Slider offers nothing new -- it's still the same trashy glam-rock that made Electric Warrior and Tanx sublime -- but that's why it's special. No one else could get away with "Metal Guru," "Baby Boomerang," and "Chariot Choogle" without seeming like a fool. Bolan does it with style and grace, and with a wink. It's tremendous fun and the last great record he would ever make. * * * * *

- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Slightly more restrained than Electric Warrior, The Slider came at a time when even Marc Bolan's lesser songs were brilliant. A glam-rock superstar at his peak. * * * *

- Todd Wicks, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

Recorded in Paris and Copenhagen with producer Tony Visconti, The Slider was released in the summer of 1972 at the peak of T.Rexstasy. Among the charismatic Marc Bolan fans was David Bowie, who dedicated his hit "Lady Stardust" to Marc. The Slider was successful on both sides of the Atlantic and marked a breakthrough for glam rock in the United States.

"Telegram Sam" (200,000 copies sold in the UK in its first four days) and the ecstatic "Metal Guru" -- both UK No. 1s -- are gold-plated classics. But there is plenty of quality material elsewhere too: charming, off-kilter ballads ("Mystic Lady," "Ballrooms Of Mars") as well as uptempo rockers ("Rock On," "Main Man"). Bolan proved once again that he was the master of refined, catchy tunes. And of spontaneity too -- he lost interest if any track required more than two or three takes, imbuing his best work with a vibrant immediacy. His talents were not confined to composer and bandleader, either. The lyrics are typical of Bolan -- dadaistic, witty, perverse, and full of surprising associations and metaphors.

It was not all harmony in the studio, however; producer Visconti has commented that he felt that by this stage the group were definitely working to a formula, while Bolan's ego was starting to become outsized. That said, the magic is still working here.

Bolan died in a car accident in London in 1977, leaving a musical legacy that has influenced a diverse range of musicians, from gothic-rock knights Bauhaus to American hard-rock band Guns N'Roses.

- Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Jach, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

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