Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs: T. Rex, Electric Warrior Vinyl LP Review
David Price auditions this limited edition audiophile vinyl pressing of a nineteen seventies Rock classic…
Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs
T. Rex, Electric Warrior Vinyl LP
AUD $125 RRP
It wasn't just Dylan who went electric after a promising early career in Folk music. Back in the mid-to-late nineteen sixties, it was a well-trodden path that many artists followed – leading to predictable accusations of “sell out” from musical purists. Marc Bolan's Tyrannosaurus Rex suffered the same fate when in 1970 – after four obscure Psychedelic/Folk records – he renamed his band T. Rex and released Ride a White Swan. Things would never be the same again…
Together with producer Tony Visconti and familiar Mickey Finn, Bolan created a fresh new sound that was – for a brief period in the first half of the nineteen seventies – hugely influential. The tight-knit production sounded like nothing else around at that time, with fuzzy, overdriven electric guitars, warm bass guitar and dry, close-mic'd drums. At the same time, Bolan's lyrics – which had previously been shamelessly Tolkienesque – lost their mysticism and went slightly surreal. Meanwhile, on stage, the hippy garb was dropped, with Lamé suits and “corkscrew hair” proudly taking its place.
The band's infectious guitar riffs, nonsense lyrics and striking stage presence went on to define what came to be called Glam Rock. Indeed, when Electric Warrior was released on September 24th, 1971, several rock critics declared it to be that genre's first-ever album. Then – just three months later – former Tyrannosaurus Rex support act David Bowie released Hunky Dory, and the pop world changed forever. Glam dominated the British charts right up to the arrival of Punk and New Wave circa 1976-77, with Bolan creating a host of wannabes and imitators up to his tragic death on September 16th, 1977.
Recorded in London, LA and New York, Electric Warrior was Bolan's sixth album, but his first fully electric one. It hit the UK album charts like a meteorite, topping them for eight weeks and going on to outsell every other LP of that year. As a package it was perfect and so of its time – Visconti's soaring production, Bolan's studiedly English vocals and American rock'n'roll riffery, plus a brilliant album cover designed by zeitgeisty art group Hipgnosis – made it an iconic pop artefact.
The lead single Bang A Gong (Get It On) became a massive chart hit and was swiftly followed up by Jeepster. Cosmic Dancer – arguably the finest song on the album, and/or Bolan's best ever – was inexplicably never released as a single. Bolan was lampooned by some critics of the time for only having one tune that he endlessly rehashed, and there's some truth to this. Yet there's no denying how catchy it was, as all his later music oozes charm and style. He was also far more influential than he was given credit for back in the day; his guitar playing went on to inspire a generation of musical luminaries from Paul Weller to Prince, no less.
Played nearly half a century on, Electric Warrior still sounds crisp, fresh and self-assured. Recording quality is light years behind today's state-of-the-art, but this Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs version does a great job of letting its basic warmth and charm flood out. To my ears, T. Rex always sounded better on vinyl than CD, and this sumptuous reissue really drives the point home. The rich timbre of the instruments – largely lost on digital transfers – is here vibrant and glowing, while Bolan's voice sounds wonderfully intimate, expressive and earthy.
Some might question the premium £69 price of this numbered limited edition. However, it's far less than collectors routinely pay for dog-eared original pressings of this record – and is likely to command more on the secondhand market in years to come. As you'd expect from this label, it's done to the company's usual sublime standards in terms of mastering, pressing and packaging. Spread over two 45RPM 180g twelve-inch discs, it plays dramatically better than other versions I've heard, including my own Japanese first pressing – with an inky-black background and a wonderful lustre to Bolan's lead guitar. Mobile Fidelity's version of Electric Warrior is a fitting tribute to one of the most important Rock albums of the nineteen seventies, and beyond.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.