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Tyrannosaurus Rex: A Beard of Stars

June 29, 2011

beard of starsToday’s roll: 91 – 14 – 28. (This is an old review using a 2d10 system)
Result:
A Beard of Stars by Tyrannosaurus Rex.

A Beard of Stars is the beginning of a period of transition for Marc Bolan from elfin bard to cosmic glamour-naut. According to T.Rex lore, Bolan always intended the then named Tyrannosaurus Rex to be a rock’n’roll band but he was too poor to buy an electric guitar. So instead he and ridiculously monikered lanky percussionist Steve Peregrin Took sang acid-folk odes to mythical woodland creatures on acoustic guitar and bongo for three albums. This might seem like an odd starting point for someone who aspires to be a space-age Elvis, but anyone who’s seen the T.Rex documentary Born to Boogie can tell Bolan was completely out of his tree.

Regardless of delusions of grandeur (which turned out not to be delusional once “T.Rexstacy” swept the world in the ’70s), Bolan had a plan and the first thing he needed to do was fire the hippie. Ridiculously monikered lanky percussionist Took was out in favour of prettier, ridiculously monikered lanky percussionist Mickey Finn. And he finally had enough dough to purchase that electric guitar. Both make their first appearance on the opening track “Prelude” which is perhaps the worst album opener ever, even at just over a minute in length.

I normally savour this kind of meandering wankery and it’s still nearly unlistenable. It sounds like a one-take improvisation but this is belied by the fact the expanded edition CD contains an almost identical “1st take.” Even the same bum notes were apparently meticulously worked out by Bolan before hand making him either a genius or a delusional egomaniac. Again I direct you to the film Born to Boogie.

After this slight misstep, A Beard of Stars turns out to be another solid set of the airy-faerie Tolkien-inspired weirdo folk Devendra Banhart would make his name emulating decades later, but with the added texture of electric guitar sneaking in at times.

What makes Beard an important record in Bolan’s career is it’s the first to hint at the complete reinvention to come—the melody to “Woodland Bop” would later be recycled for “Cosmic Dancer” and “Elemental Child” sports both his signature guitar boogie and falsetto vocal harmonies. The wonderfully titled “Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart” even uses bass guitar which begs the question of what this set of songs would have sounded like given the Electric Warrior treatment and a full band.

Bolan and Finn were clearly trying make a gigantic rock record, with minimal instrumentation, on a shoe-string budget. The mood is playful, slightly amateurish and experimental. They might have failed in their goal but they ended up creating a sort of timeless template for the kind of lo-fi bedroom recordings Pavement and Sebadoh popularized in the ’90s and bands like Woods still reference. Never careful to keep the levels out of the red, Bolan’s vocals and guitar take on a fuzzy, immediate feel over top of the distorted thwacking of Finn’s hand-drums.

This expanded edition also contains a mountain of rarities. Bolan obsessively recorded and was famous for his vault of copious demo tapes and the entire album is duplicated here in lackluster demo form. Included also are demos for several non-album singles circa the same period, none of which are as good as the singles themselves, irritatingly not included (especially missed is the the spectacular single cut of “Find a Little Wood”).

Ultimately, despite its successes, Beard simply isn’t as magical as Tyrannosaurus Rex’s first three albums nor as exciting as Electric Warrior, The Slider and Tanx to come later under the T.Rex banner. 

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