If, like me, the early Tyrannosaurus Rex LPs were the real-time soundtrack to your tie-dyed youth, you may remember how "A Beard of Stars" divided the band's fanbase: hard to imagine in these po-mo mix `n match times, but droves of sandle-shod freaks were outraged that their underground "progressive" band had embraced (whisper it, softly) POP! With its shorter songs, catchier melodies and electric riffs, "Beard" smelt to them of "sell-out".
Bare months before its release, Bolan had sacked Steve Took, his partner of three albums, during sessions that would yield several tracks intended for the new album. (One of the joys of this reissue is its inclusion of these lost gems, most noticeably, "Find a Little Wood" and "Once Upon The Seas of Abyssinia") Took, unlike Bolan, was a genuine, acid-dropping hippie who provided the band's link to the W11 Freak Scene. His less-than-amicable departure certainly lost Bolan support, but his "underground" following was, in any case, fading along with the last blooms of Flower Power. A deceptively canny study, Bolan drafted in an easier-going, if less virtuoso, side-man in Mickey Finn. Finn played broadly the same range of instruments as Took and, with the addition of a beard, he even resembled his predecessor physically: "The kid's `ll never notice the difference!" exulted Bolan.
"A Beard of Stars" cemented and reflected the new dynamic perfectly. Gone are the lyrical excesses of the preceding albums, replaced with simpler, more direct poetry that retains its preoccupation with classical mythology and Tolkienesque legend, but does so in simpler words and sweeter melodies. (Even die-hard disciples had to admit that The Elf's earlier flights into Edward Lear Land could grate painfully on the ear: producing a rhyme for "Stonehenge" by the expedient of inventing a mythical serpent called a "clenge" might be permissible once or twice; to scatter neologisms until the lyrics read like an Esperanto shopping list, smacks of desperation.)
The new maturity in Bolan's craft becomes apparent even before the disc is spun. Compare and contrast these ungainly lines from the lyric sheets preceding "Unicorn" LP:
Of the misty coast of Albany
With its charm
Pining pillar of the wild willows end
For your manly friend.
To the simple radiance of "Beard"'s opener, "A Day Laye":
Every Dawn of our lives
A Heart is forged
And liked with Lore to one so similar
Born with life-dust
Stored beneath its Soul
To bless and pass on to its Children
"ABOS" is loaded with similar gems. The lucid stanzas of "Organ Blues" would surely please Haiku-Master, Basho:
Well there's Gold in the Mountains
And a People living in the Sea
This new purity of approach illuminates every track, sometimes to transcendental effect. "Lofty Skies" captures a moment of epiphany between two lovers; "Fist Heart, Mighty Dawn Dart" an Ur-Rex foray into grandiose mythology displays a new urgency, propelled by pounding percussion and multi-tracked handclaps, while the original LP's closer, "Elemental Child" is a joyous six-minutes of alliterative nonsense that catches Bolan's wide-eyed delight at his rediscovery of the electric guitar at the moment it happened, and features some of his best Buddy Holly yips and hiccups into the bargain. If your cup of joy ain't overflowing by now, you shouldn't have bought this record in the first place: you just ain't worthy.
So say it loud, "A Beard of Stars" is Tyrannosaurus Rex at the peak of their form, a collection of songs and sounds fit to stand beside the so-called "Classic Albums" of the period, and many times more enjoyable generation or so later: have you actually tried listening to "Disraeli Gears" or the Floyd's "Piper" all the way through lately? Of course not; they sound atrocious.
The expanded, re-mastered CD package offers these timeless songs in clear, tactile sound with extra tracks, rare band photos, lyrics and more. You won't buy many records this year that will still delight and surprise you in a year's time, let alone a generation's time. This will, I promise.
King of Kidlington,
Overlord of Oxford,
Scourge of the Universe,
King of the Rumbling Spires