When Marc Bolan made Electric Warrior in 1971, he took the masculine ethos of brass-tacks rock ‘n’ roll and turned it inside out. The raunchy, hardline blues rock of “Jeepster” and “Bang a Gong” subordinated the core sincerity of the form to the external trappings of sleaze and vanity. The Slider, T.Rex’s follow up the next year, was a proclamation that he was never going to look back. Everything from the cover to the explosive opening track, “Metal Guru”, is an unapologetic exercise in egotism. Of course, there’s something a little tongue-in-cheek about the whole getup, but it’s not self-awareness that saved T.Rex from self-indulgent insignificance. In fact, it was something of the opposite. Bolan’s uncontainable imagination transformed every absurdity into an irresistible drug for the bored or frustrated listener. It’s no wonder that the Bolan mania which swept the UK was termed “T.Rextacy”.
Electric Warrior is the album that’s been immortalized on best-of lists and dorm room walls as T.Rex’s legacy in the rock canon, but The Slider is just as addictive. The 1972 follow-up was Bolan’s best-selling album, his moment in the spotlight after the previous year’s classic paved the way for mega-stardom. His swagger and his swing are consistently, magnificently promiscuous. His lyrics and his guitar playing are passionately, gratuitously emotive. Take the title track. The song’s form enacts its content, sliding exquisitely through just three and a half minutes of swirling violins, plodding guitars and vocal shenanigans. Bolan sings nonsense with unerring bravado: “I could never understand the wind at all / was like a ball of love / I could never never see the cosmic sea / was like a bumblebee”.
Like all the best drugs, T.Rex works its magic in small, potent doses. The band anticipated punk in more ways than one. Not only did albums like The Slider reject the highbrow pretensions of progressive rock and art rock, but they reorganized the musical landscape into self-contained, easy-to-swallow capsules. “Telegram Sam” and “Metal Guru”, the album’s lead singles, are irresistible on repeat. The same can be said for most of the album, and the reason is that Bolan’s songs are patched together with all too familiar, beloved musical parts. T.Rex rarely leaves the orbit of three or four foundational chords. The melody is hardly more complicated. The band lays on the extras, which come mostly at the level of the arrangement, with such relish that the music is impossible to resist.
This reissue from Fat Possum Records will be a welcome sight for anyone who’s been hankering to see fresh copies of The Slider on record store shelves. Beyond that rather superficial pleasure, however, it doesn’t bring much to the table. There are no bonus tracks, and there are no liner notes or extra packaging that would make a $14 price tag seem like a drop in the bucket, even for a classic like this one. Serious fans will get the most mileage out of the expanded 2005 reissue from Rhino and the handful of imports that appeared as recently as three years ago.
As the relative unavailability of The Slider up to now posthumously implies, T.Rex never did get its due in the United States. Something about the fever that swept the UK kept the sickness from becoming an epidemic. For a few years, though, Marc Bolan had the floor with a nation of followers. With that license, he turned rock music on its head. Countless artists who came after on both sides of the Atlantic owe him obvious, often acknowledged debts. As such, the band’s token masterpiece, Electric Warrior, should really be more like a gateway drug than an obligatory taste of the addictive, ecstatic world of T.Rex. The Slider is the obvious next step to up the dosage.