Note: This is a recurring series in which we ask our unimaginably young interns to review classic albums they've never heard before. Our current intern at All Songs Considered is Sarah Ventre.
Photo courtesy of the artist.
My earliest memory of hearing T. Rex is riding in the car with my mom when I was about ten or eleven years old. "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" came on the radio. She turned it up loud and a huge smile came over her face, as she began singing with reckless abandon. I knew I liked the song, but at the time I didn’t find it especially compelling. The words just didn’t make a ton of sense to me.
After All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton gave me a copy of Electric Warrior, the album with "Bang A Gong" on it, I listened to the whole thing and found it sweet, sexy, and clever. After the second or third time through, I began waking up with tracks I previously had never heard of ("Planet Queen," "Mambo Sun," "Girl") pleasantly stuck in my head, and its subtle, nuanced details began to stand out.
Everything about the band's outward appearance is loud, flashy, and flamboyant. But the more I listened, the more I realized that it was surprisingly and thoughtfully understated. Even in heavier tracks, frontman Marc Bolan's voice rarely rises above a soft lull, and yet the vocals are one of the defining characteristics of T. Rex's sound. Instead, Bolan's whispers, breaths, sighs, deep, quiet tone, and shaky vibrato all become magnified, sounding effortless and smooth.
Bob told me that at the time this record came out, it largely appealed to teeny boppers, but I can't help but notice that many of the lyrics are sophisticated, quirky, offbeat, and even dark at times. Because much of the music is sweet and poppy and easy to listen to, it's easy to miss the words the first few times through.
Slowly though, gorgeously poetic phrases, often with the most unconventional metaphors like, "You’ve got the universe reclining in your hair," "She used my head like a revolver," and "I’m like a child in the sand on the beach of the land of you," began to stand out.
"Girl" was perhaps the most arresting song on the album. Sad, dark, and beautiful, with haunting lyrics. "Girl / Electric witch you are / Limp in society’s ditch you are / Visually fine / Oh yes you are / But mentally dying." Once I officially went head over heels for the record, I couldn't quite stop myself from looking for video footage, and I came across this gorgeous performance of Bolan singing it alone with a guitar.
What was also really striking was that several of the tracks could easily pass as new songs. This record is an obvious influence on some of today's hippest taste-makers, like the Dead Weather, of Montreal, and The Black Keys. The music is dirty and gritty, soft and sweet, and romantic and coquettish all at the same time.
Having said this, a part of me can't help but wonder how I would have felt about the album had I been alive when it came out. Would I have been annoyed with it, assuming that it was eccentric just for the sake of garnering attention, merely dismissing it as hipster bull? Would I have deemed them some sort of insignificant teen sensation? Or would I have found it innovative, charming, and compelling, the way I do now?
It's hard to say out of context. Even though I liked the album upon first listen, it took me a while to realize just how much I love it. Teasing out all of its levels and articulating how I feel about it is wonderfully challenging. What I walked away with is one of my new favorite records. And I'm upset that I haven't been listening to it longer. This is one I won't let go of.
Read more "You've Never Heard..." posts from past interns.