Many double albums could be distilled to quality single LPs. This one album might have made a good EP, since there are four worthwhile tracks, but the remaining nine are flights of Bolan’s fantasies that might be interesting to his numerous devotees but less so to more casual listeners.
The three best tunes are all on the first side. “Tenement Lady” is composed of two minisongs, the first being an up-tempo rocker and the second a string-laden ballad. One verse is quaintly moving in its coupling of lust and discretion: “O my darling there are many ways/To love you/Under sheets of silk I shyly peep/At you.
For all its simplicity, “Mister Mister” works. A nice sax complements a bouncy tune which culminates in the repetition 19 times of four nonsense syllables. The pleasant effect is reminiscent of the ending of “Everybody Is a Star.” The best cut is a ballad, “Broken Hearted Blues,” which is also the least pretentious thing on the record. Clocked under two minutes, it is a story lamenting aging that advises those not yet old to revel in their youth: “When the hills of the sun/Make you feel that you are young/Get good now/And face your face to the wind.”
Interrupting this trio of songs is the ominous “Rapids,” which warns of the boring music and bizarre lyrics to come. “Your father said/Clean your toes Rose/And go and lick some uncooked meat.” The listener can do one of three things; laugh cry, or go find some uncooked meat to lick. Bolan’s lyrics this time out are, quite simply, ludicrous. Not arty, ludicrous. Three tracks employ a vocabulary of less than 20 words each. But the worst comes when Marc, the winner of the 1973 Maria Schneider look-alike content, starts writing at length. “You can have my juice,” he tells the foxy girl in the fourth and final worthy track, “Electric Slim and the Factory Hen.” What was an offer at the end of side one becomes a threat as side two begins: “I’m gonna get my teeth in youÃ I’m gonna get my mouth on you.”
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We are treated to bogus profundities (“O God life is strange/People come and people go/Some move fast/And some move slow.”). We are exposed to weird sequences of alliterative words strung together (“Frozen Joe the Ballet Boxer/Chromed his toes to get his rocks offÃ All the rats and all the peacocks/Built a ship and flew to Venus”). And we are presented the most puzzling line of the year, “Pain is meat and meat is people.” Outside of its possible utility as a frustrated shopper’s slogan, this remark is useless.
The musical virtues of the bulk of Tanx are also few. To Bolan’s credit, the album’s songs do not employ the same riff. But almost every song is constructed internally around one basic line.
No one will take pleasure in demeaning this effort. For years various people have been waiting for Marc Bolan to fulfill what they thought in different ways was his potential, whether it be in poetry, thoughtful soft rock, or out-and-out hard rocking. We have been waiting so long for him to fulfill his potential that at this point one has to wonder if that potential is really there.
This album is a sad indication that Bolan really hasn’t progressed and I can’t see many people being truly pleased with it. But I’ve been wrong before. Three years ago in these pages I excitedly predicted that “Ride a White Swan” would be an American hit.