Sunday, 27 October 2013

Marc Bolan & T. Rex - Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow (UK 1974)


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Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow – A Creamed Cage in August is the ninth studio album and a UK-only release by Marc Bolan & T. Rex, released in February 1974. When originally released the initial pressings were a multi-layered triple gatefold sleeve, a latticework image of the current cover featuring singer Marc Bolan's face in a pale gold surround. Japanese manufacturer Teichiku reinstated this as an elaborate limited edition paper sleeve in 2001.

At the time, Marc Bolan's success in the UK was beginning to slip, as a result of two factors: his constant desire to "crack" the US market (which resulted in a lessened effort on the UK charts) and his desire to expand T. Rex's sound. This can be seen on 1973's Tanx, which included new guitar effects, chord changes, string arrangements and other studio "tricks" Bolan had not employed before. Because of this, Bolan decided not to release the album in the USA, but instead released Light of Love in its place.

Gimmick Foldout
He had been listening to a sizeable amount of US soul and R&B, no doubt influenced by his new affair with a backup singer and clavinet player he had hired for his 1973 US tour – Gloria Jones. These new sounds, in retrospect, were a year and a half before David Bowie's pioneering Young Americans album, often credited with making the most successful transition from UK glam rock (which was losing popularity) to radio-friendly, soul-influenced pop/rock. However, as successful as Bolan was in combining his new influences, the boogie/rockabilly sound at the core of the classic T. Rex sound can still be heard in the guitar work and the harmonies, in particular on the track "Nameless Wildness".

The songs reflect a darker mood than on Bolan's earlier releases, with lead track "Venus Loon" having quite grotesque subject matter. This was surely refective of Bolan's inner uncertainty about his status in the rock world now that he was no longer a teen idol. Other songs such as "Galaxy" and "Change" contain similar forebodings and dark imagery. The music, too, is ambitious and complex, containing some of Marc's most inventive extended guitar solos.

The album divided fans and critics into the two camps – a schizophrenic critical reaction that would remain with him until his death – some derided him as a washed-up teen idol, and others believed he would eventually make a resurgence in popularity. At that moment, however, Zinc Alloy marked a downturn in his fortunes – the contemporaneous album single, "Teenage Dream", made it only to No. 13 in the UK charts. While that would be a success for most groups, Bolan had spent all of 1971–1973 enjoying constant Top Ten and Top Five UK hits, including four #1's.

Bolan had said in the late 1960s that at the peak of his career, he would change his stage name to "Zinc Alloy", which is what he was going to address himself as with this album. However, the band name "Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow" sounded a bit like "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars", Bowie's band name 2 years earlier, so Bolan decided to put the name "Marc Bolan & T. Rex" on the cover. The album itself was going to be called "A Creamed Cage in August", hence why it is on the back cover. [Wikipedia]

Gimmick Foldout
By late 1973, Marc Bolan's star was waning fast. No longer gunning out those effortless classics which established him as the most important figure of the decade so far, he embarked instead on a voyage of musical discovery, which cast him so far adrift from the commercial pop mainstream that when his critics said he'd blown it, he didn't even bother answering them back. Or that's the way it appeared at the time, and today, too, it must be acknowledged that 1974's Zinc Alloy & the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow is not classic Bolan, even if one overlooks the transparency of its title. After all, hadn't Bowie already done the Fictional Someone & the Somethings from Somewhere routine? Indeed he had, as his fans kept remarking at the time, and when the knives began slashing Zinc Alloy to shreds, that was one of the fiercest wounds. Time, however, has healed almost all of them. Indeed, hindsight proves that, far from losing his muse, Bolan's biggest sin was losing his once-impeccable sense of occasion. 

The world wasn't ready for this latest T. Rex, and the fact that it wasn't interested in the old T. Rex either is just another object lesson in the fabled fickleness of pop fans. How faulty was Bolan's timing, though? As it transpired, he was out by no more than a year, maybe less than six months. The era of disco was coming, and with it the wholesale transformation of a wealth of rocking talents. But while David Bowie was barely dreaming of young Americans' fame, and Bryan Ferry was still road testing the pharmaceutical properties of l'amour, Bolan was up to his neck in American radio, pulling out an album which exceeded his assumed capabilities no less than it shot right over the heads of the kids who once bought all his hits.

"The Groover," the spring 1973 single which many regarded as the first sign of Bolan's fall from grace, marked the birth of this new fascination, a simple but solid slab of funk-inflected rock which did, indeed, groove. (The track is one of five bonus tracks appended to the album's Edsel reissue). The yearning, heavily orchestrated hit "Teenage Dream" hit notwithstanding, the heart of Zinc Alloy, then, simply followed in "The Groover"'s footsteps, an abandoned romp through the R&B influences which Bolan had always acknowledged, but never truly explored -- the solid James Brown drive of "The Avengers (Superbad)," "Interstellar Soul," "Liquid Gang," and the implausibly slight, but impressively groove-ridden "You've Got to Jive to Stay Alive." 

Into the same bag, one can also throw the period b-sides "Satisfaction Pony" and "Sitting Here" -- both of which have also been added to the album. Deeply soul-soaked songs like these aren't simply a new direction. They are the very signposts which would soon be guiding so many other English rock talents down some very unfamiliar alleyways. Zinc Alloy was released in March, 1974. Bowie began rehearsing his Philly Dogs tour in July. Yet, even with such credentials to uphold it, this isn't quite Bolan's soul album. Those demons would be exorcised on a second record cut with singer Sister Pat Hall and elsewhere in his collaborations with girlfriend Gloria Jones. Besides, the production here was just a little too cautious to truly convince the wary listener. Neither can it be neatly categorized in the same fashion as, say, Bowie's Young Americans -- Bolan looked across the spectrum for his influences, but he never once went to Philadelphia. Rather, it straddles that same pop/rock, funky R&B landscape as early Funkadelic, Sly Stone and Co., neither fish nor fowl, dead fish nor foul, but something somewhere in between. Approach it with caution. But get in there regardless. [AMG]

01. "Venus Loon" – 3:01
02. "Sound Pit" – 2:50
03. "Explosive Mouth" – 2:26
04. "Galaxy" – 1:48
05. "Change" – 2:47
06. "Nameless Wildness" – 3:06
07. "Teenage Dream" – 5:45
08. "Liquid Gang" – 3:17
09. "Carsmile Smith & the Old One" – 3:16
10. "You've Got to Jive to Stay Alive – Spanish Midnight" – 2:35
11. "Interstellar Soul" – 3:26
12. "Painless Persuasion v. the Meathawk Immaculate" – 3:26
13. "The Avengers (Superbad)" – 4:28
14. "The Leopards Featuring Gardenia and the Mighty Slug" – 3:36

Bonus Tracks
15. "Truck On (Tyke)" – 3:09
16. "Sitting Here" – 2:21

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2 comments:

Gringo Louis said...

Hi Chris. I am an old fan, since Dirty Funky. I always had you at mu bloglist and be very happy when you come back...
I saw that you added some non english blogs, If you can, please add mine...

http://somvalvulado.blogspot.com.br/

Thanks

Anonymous said...

the very crazy Marc Bolan !

thanx, man !