REVIEW: Marc Bolan & T-Rex – Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow (1974)

Dan takes a look back on Bolan’s classic album from 1974.

Artist: Marc Bolan & T-Rex
Album: Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow
Year: 1974

Welcome to the criminally underrated world of Marc Bolan and T-Rex, yawningly referred to by most music writers with the same tired clichés of ‘Pixie’, ‘Wizard’ or ‘Elf’. Paleeease! Marc is as likely to hoard lucky charms as Sun-Ra is to own a real spaceship. It’s truly grating when writers resort to turning great artists into caricatures and it diverts the attention away from his greatest strength, the music. So lets forgot the Middle Earth references (yes I admit Marc had a penchant) and concentrate on his true legacy. Because for a couple of years in the early 70’s this guy was as big as they came, and recording music that influenced the future careers of many, including Bowie, Roxy Music, Talking Heads and Alice Cooper. Indeed his influences can be heard in every decade since. To simplify his style down to simply glam is also an insult and I wish to dispel that little favourite as well. OK. That having been exercised from my devilish quill, it is time to review my favourite T-Rex album, and NO it’s not Electric Warrior or The Slider. I fumbled late and obscurely upon Bolan’s work, first tripping over Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust in a freaked out state of mind I didn’t notice The Slider pulsating like a black hole until too late. Because in my rush to miss stepping in its murky depths my left foot thought it was my right foot and vice versa, consequently I fall face first into Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow. My very first T-Rex album!

The cover should have been enough for me to pick myself up, dust myself off and start listening to Red Hot Chilli Peppers again (yeah right!). Now check this out and tell me you don’t see a similarity.

Zinc

Wayne

Inspiration Wayne? I would go so far as to say this could make the perfect soundtrack. Either way it’s his most bizarre cover and happily the content is equally as peculiar. The general feeling on this album is that it is not his best work, that stronger albums had preceded this and that his appetites and his ego were taking their toll. For my mind it entirely depends on how you come about an artist and an album. I had no benchmark other than the obvious hits and was therefore in the enviable position of hearing this album unfettered of any prejudices.

‘Venus Loon’ crashes in like a brick thrown through glass. Nothing thrills and excites more than crunchy power chords and that famous low “Yeah” screamed out with echo set to 11, a trademark that became a standard of 70’s glam sound. That’s just the first 7 seconds! 10 seconds in he wastes no time stuffing around like today’s copycat bands (I’m looking at you Franz Ferdinand). This is frenetic, joyful abandonment. Enhanced to the T-Rex sound is the Cosmic Choir, a mostly female led chorus which moved from backup to meeting Marc on his turf, out front and gorgeously loud. These guys played a major role in the sound of this and the next album. Coming in just on 3 minutes and ending with Bolan’s orgasmic panting, this is a killer track…. and I’m spent, sorry love! ‘Sound Pit’ is more of the same, which is a good thing, I think I got my second wind. ‘Explosive Mouth’ is freaked out blues with a sexually charged chorus “And I want to lay my lips on your explosive mouth”. C’mon baby give me a break, how about a cup of tea? ‘Galaxy’ is the perfect car tape mix for the space fighter pilot in a distant war hundreds of years from now. “Change’ is Jim Morrison and John Lennon’s love child conceived on Pink Floyd records. ‘Teenage Dream’ would have made a great addition to the Kinks ‘Schoolboys in Disgrace’ album. It also just occurred to me how similar Rocky Horror Picture show is to this album, it is uncanny, and I can’t believe I have never noticed that before. Things get a little hung-over with ‘You’ve Got to Jive to Stay Alive’, the Spanish Midnight second half is a gorgeous contrast to the first half’s frenetic rock. ‘Interstellar Soul’ falters as does ‘Painless Persuasion’ while ‘The Avengers’ is a catchy funk driven gem with a killer Bolan solo and double bass ala Good Vibrations. This leads to my all time favourite T-Rex song ever. It captures in a few minutes the full glory of all that is good and freaked out and just plain creepy about this genius. ‘The Leopards Featuring Gardenia and the Mighty Slug’. It is a waste of time to describe this song and to be honest I have absolutely no idea what the hell it’s about, I just know I love it. “Cycle Michael grotesque school desk in my brain”. Umm, OK.

Follow up album Zip-Gun would follow the same track, albeit a bit poppier and was my second introduction to the man. I love it almost equally if not for the fact that Zinc was where I popped my Rex cherry. Strangely, upon getting to the two biggest albums I was not nearly as excited by them as I was these two. My hope is that one day I will meet my kindred spirit who will gush with the same Rextacy over these albums as I do. Oh to dream.

Before you swagger off to HMV to get your oh-so-cool Devandra Banhart CD that GQ reviewed alongside the new Palm Pilot and Calvin Klein’s latest polo shirt range, remember that new is not necessarily new, and old is not necessarily old.

Solid baby! Rating: 8/10

  • 01. Venus Loon
  • 02. Sound Pit
  • 03. Explosive Mouth
  • 04. Galaxy
  • 05. Change
  • 06. Nameless Wildness
  • 07. Teenage Dream
  • 08. Liquid Gang
  • 09. Carlisle Smith & the Old One
  • 10. You’ve Got to Jive to Stay Alive
  • 11. Interstellar Soul
  • 12 Painless Persuasion
  • 13. The Avengers (Superbad)
  • 14 The Leopards Featuring Gardenia and the Mighty Slug

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10 Responses to REVIEW: Marc Bolan & T-Rex – Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow (1974)

  1. Ron says:

    Bolan’s post TANX albums are all highly underrated. Though I dont think that those later albums are great as individual albums, there are plenty of fantastic experimental songs from each that show how much creative genius this man had. Thanks to the age we live in now, one can pick and choose these gems from the later albums (ala: Chrome Sitar, Jupiter Liar, Dawn Storm, Think Zinc, Solid Baby, Interstellar Soul, Sound Pit, Teenage Dream, Galaxy, Explosive Mouth, Dandy in the Underworld, Jason B. Sad, Pain and Love, I Love to Boogie,Celebrate Summer…..etc. There are more good tracks from the later albums but these are just examples of faves) and put them on an ipod itunes collection and mix it in with all the earlier classic Bolan stuff to get the full depth and breadth of the Bolanic canon. One of my all time favorite Rock’n’Rollers!

  2. Frank says:

    As you say here, Zinc Alloy rocks. A worthy follow-up to Tanx, with more great Bolan songs and performances. Hopefully it, and Futuristic Dragon and Bolan’s Zip Gun and Dandy in the Underworld, will now be discovered by the American fans Marc longed for, since they are officially all now released in the US on Rhino. Go and buy these now!

  3. Gordy says:

    Bolan is an easy target, he had the balls to try things out when the public wasn’t ready for it and then later on somebody else would be getting praise for going down the same road. Zinc Alloy can even be heard in Beck yet Bolan gets the put downs. I remember someone said ‘if he tried to be a bit darker’ well loads of musicians play the dark n moody card but Bolan was bursting with energy and had no respect for the establishment or doing things the BBC way. America thought he was too dangerous. Too many cliches about the post Slider albums when reviewers just repeat previous reviews. I love Zinc, Zip Gun and Dragon and someday I am sure people will smell the coffee and give praise where it is due.

  4. dhutch says:

    i think zinc alloy was marc as his best
    though tanx does come in close
    zinc is my fav cause it has all my favs
    galaxy, explosive mouth, liquid gang, truck on, midnight
    and my all time superbad

  5. finton says:

    You are right on the money – Zinc Alloy is the best Bolan album. I can never understand why Tony Visconti underrates it so much – everything he says about it actually pertains to the vastly inferior Tanx. Futuristic Dragon is also a blast.

  6. Ray says:

    Bolan is the ‘real deal’ he wrote songs of ‘TRUE GREATNESS’ The songs on ‘Unicorn’, ‘My People Were Fair…’, ‘Prophets…’, ‘A Beard Of Stars’, ‘T.Rex’ etc. help make my life worth living…they take me off to an amazing, beautiful, mystical place that time forgot. Some of his songs are actualIy to me some of the highlights of life up there with old Oak trees, snow covered mountain ranges, glorious sunsets, starfilled nights, forest trails etc. Thank God for Marc Bolan!!!

  7. Ray says:

    Zinc Alloy blows my mind… how in the world did the guy ever come up with such amazing, far out, mind-blowing stuff???

  8. Richard says:

    I bought Zinc when it first came out in the UK in 1974.I was 16 at the time. This album like the man himself is highly underrated.

  9. steven says:

    i remember buying zinc in 74,i was 14,and remember on first play that nameless,was the only trex sounding track.i was pretty dissapointed at first,with the rest of the tracks.of course over time,i see it for what it was,a progression.I do however remember thinking at the time,why did,nt he cut out some of the album filler stuff,i.e spanish m and jive etc,call it venus loon,(which is the best track) instead of all the cream zinc stuff,and use the same cover shot.maybe it would have been better recieved.i would love here anyone else,s views.(by the way tanx is my all time great trex album.) stevie

  10. Greg says:

    Zinc and Chilli Peppers Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic are 2 of my favourite albums, their similarities are quite remarkable.

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