[Review] T. Rex: Tanx (1973)

Tanx adds horns and mellotron to the T. Rex sound. To their legacy, it adds nothing.

Kronomyth 8.0: Tanx, but no tanx.

Life is strange. One moment, you’re a cool demigod of the demimonde; the next, you’re stinking up the universe with vulgar poetry and the shrill sounds of strangled saxophones and meddlesome mellotrons. There are some people who will tell you that Tanx is a worthy successor to T. Rex’s last two albums, but those people are living in a moon-eyed daydream. Scrape off the surface gunk and, yes, you’ll find some of the old genius at work, but all you’ll be left with are a few scraps.

Electric Warrior and The Slider left much to the imagination. The part of you that knew “Ballrooms of Mars” might not have contained the wisdom of the ancients gladly left the room, and for two minutes it was you, T. Rex and the inscrutable cosmos as one. You can’t reasonably sustain the same illusion on Tanx. Marc Bolan grunts and grinds his way through a greasy fog of saxophones, mellotrons and electric guitar while spewing out nonsense lines like “Clean out your toes Rose and go and lick some uncooked meat” (from “Rapids”). You sort of knew that Bolan’s lyrics didn’t always make sense, but you didn’t expect them to give offense.

To my tastes, Tanx throws away a perfectly good formula that Bolan had been honing since the first T. Rex album. Faerie poetry, trembling vocals and those wonderful grooves of unearthly beauty were the band’s best assets. Bolan and longtime producer Tony Visconti were clearly after a bigger sound on Tanx, adding saxophones (courtesy of Howard Casey), mellotron (from Visconti himself) and opting for a more aggressive attack. The album didn’t feature a fleet of tanks for nothing; this was an all-out sonic assault. Unfortunately, Bolan was a lover, not a fighter, and frankly had no more business trying to be a lead guitarist than David Bowie or Ian Hunter.

So is Tanx to be avoided? No. This is T. Rex one year removed from some of the greatest music ever recorded. I’d no have no trouble vaunting “The Street And Babe Shadow” to the top of my T. Rex list on any given day, and you could make a case for “Broken-Hearted Blues,” “Shock Rock” or “Born To Boogie” as worthy heirs to the warrior’s throne. But the cracks that were so carefully concealed in the past are on full display for the first half of “Tenement Lady” (which cruelly teases us with what might have been), “Rapids,” “Mister Mister” and “Mad Donna.” Then again, I like T. Rex but fall short of being a fanatic. Bolan inspires blind devotion in some, and they’ll be happy to tell you that Tanx is a steamroller of a record. I won’t argue that point, since it left me feeling flat. The expanded remaster adds a few latter-day singles (“20th Century Boy,” “Solid Gold Easy Action”) and a creepy Christmas message from beyond the grave. As long as you’re giving Tanx a go, you might want to steer in that direction.

Original elpee version

A1. Tenement Lady (2:54)
A2. Rapids (2:48)
A3. Mister Mister (3:29)
A4. Broken-Hearted Blues (2:02)
A5. Shock Rock (1:41)
A6. Country Honey (1:46)
A7. Electric Slim And The Factory Hen (3:02)
B1. Mad Donna (2:16)
B2. Born To Boogie (2:04)
B3. Life Is Strange (2:30)
B4. The Street And Babe Shadow (2:17)
B5. Highway Knees (2:32)
B6. Left Hand Luke And The Beggar Boys (5:15)

CD reissue bonus tracks
14. Children of the Revolution (2:27)
15. Jitterbug Love (2:56)
16. Sunken Rags (2:52)
17. Solid Gold Easy Action (2:20)
18. Xmas Message (0:12)
19. 20th Century Boy (3:38)
20. Free Angel (2:13)

Japanese CD reissue bonus tracks
14. Cadillac
15. Free Angel

All songs written and composed by Marc Bolan.

The Players

Marc Bolan (vocals, guitars), Steve Currie (bass), Mickey Finn (conga, hand percussion, vocals), Bill Legend (drums) with Howard Casey (saxophones), Tony Visconti (mellotron, string arrangements). Produced by Tony Visconti.

The Pictures

Front cover photography by Peter Howe. Back cover photographs by Mike Putland and friends. Cover design and preparation by John Kosh. Sleeve adaptation by Joern Kroeger.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on March 23, 1973 in the UK (EMI, BLN/TC-BLN/8X-BLN 5002), the US (Reprise, MS-2132), Germany (Ariola, 86 645 IT), Japan (EMI Odeon, EOP-80777), Mexico (EMI, SLEM-456) and Yugoslavia (EMI, LSEMI 70540) with gatefold cover and poster; reached #4 on the UK charts and #102 on the US charts. 8-track and cassette feature different track order.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1983 in Japan (EMI, EMS-50106) and Japan again (SMS, SP20-5060).
  2. Re-released on elpee, picture disc elpee and cassette in October 1987 in the UK (Marc On Wax, RAP/RAPD/RAPC 504).
  3. Re-released on expanded compact disc in July 1994 in the UK (Demon, DIAB 9004) with 7 bonus tracks.
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in 1995 in the US (Edsel, 391).
  5. Re-packaged with Left-Hand Luke: The Alternate Tanx on 2-for-1 expanded 2CD in 1995 in the UK (Edsel, REXLUX1012) with 7 bonus tracks.
  6. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in 1997 in the US (Chronicles, 534 356) with 7 bonus tracks.
  7. Re-issued with Left-Hand Luke: The Alternate Tanx on 2-for-1 expanded, remastered 2CD in 2002 in the UK (Edsel, MEDCD-716) with 7 bonus tracks.
  8. Re-issued on picture disc elpee in 2005 in the UK (Get Back, GET-634P).
  9. Re-released on expanded compact disc in 2007 in Japan (Imperial, TECI-25433) with 2 bonus tracks.
  10. Re-released on expanded super-high material compact disc and limited edition expanded SHMCD in 2008 in Japan (Imperial, TECI-26528/26565) with 2 bonus tracks.
  11. Re-released as 180g vinyl elpee in 2011 in the US (Fat Possum, FP1238-1).
  12. Re-released on blue/red vinyl elpee on April 19, 2014 in the UK (Demon, TANXLP001) with gatefold cover, lyrics innerseleeve and poster to commemorate Record Store Day.

2 thoughts on “[Review] T. Rex: Tanx (1973)

  1. I think you have a typo in the second paragraph of this review: “The part of you know that knew “Ballroom of Mars” might not have contained the wisdom of the ancients gladly left the room…”

    Also, your latest Nilsson review has been received and noted! That album is not cheap. If I eventually find my way to securing a copy, it might be via the local used record store.

    1. Thanks, Dave! I totally missed that twice. You know, you could just listen to Aerial Ballet on youtube with the youtube adblocker, which I guess would be ripping off the ghost of Harry Nilsson four cents, but I can’t support watching a commercial every two minutes either. Honestly, why can’t we download an album for $1.99, have 25 cents go to the artist and let Jeff Bezos, Daniel Ek or whichever ridiculous monkey has insinuated themselves between the artist and their audience keep the rest for their collection of ivory backscratchers? It’s not supposed to be this complicated to buy a digital recording of a work produced over 50 years ago.

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