T. Rex

Prince of Players: The Alternate Dandy in the Underworld

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Upon its original release in spring 1977, Dandy in the Underworld was widely applauded as Marc Bolan's best album in three years, a blending of his own recent moves toward a rootsier, R&B-inflected sound and the sudden shock of punk rock. It is no surprise, then, to discover that Bolan's demos and rough mixes for the record echoed those same discoveries. Prince of Players (its title taken from a lyric in the title track) follows the standard Edsel procedure of unearthing each of the original album's songs in alternate form, offering up a glimpse of how Bolan arrived at the final cut, but also showing just how disciplined that process was. None of the demos vary too much from the finished thing, but they do pack an unexpected freshness -- the distorted guitar solo which bisects "I Love to Boogie" is positively overwhelming, while the speed with which Bolan was moving is illustrated by the fact that several tracks no longer exist in early studio incarnations, and are replaced by live renditions instead. Equally startling is the realization that for the first time in some years, Bolan was actually recording material as he wrote it, rather than relying on existing compositions as he had in the past. Only two songs on the completed album predated the sessions -- the previous summer's hit "I Love to Boogie," of course, and "Visions of Domino," recounted from the earlier "Funky London Childhood." The regular album is accompanied, as usual, with a smattering of associated singles and B-sides, again in varying states of incompleteness. Most are entertaining, and a couple are vital -- fast-forward, for example, to the rough take of "Celebrate Summer," the last single Bolan released during his lifetime. It was intended as a celebration not only of the season, but also of all the seismic shocks that had shaken British music that year (summer was heaven in 1977) and, if you can get past the tape hiss which betrays the track's homegrown origins, "Celebrate Summer" captures why. Bolan is in his best voice in years, and if you want further evidence of his newfound fire, an instrumental take of the same song is all but indistinguishable in places from the Damned's "Neat Neat Neat." Neither is that an accident -- the young punks supported T Rex on their final U.K. tour. Prince of Players is the final album in Edsel's re-examination of Bolan's 1972-1977 album catalog, meaning that the six albums that Bolan recorded during that period have now spawned 23 different collections -- and, it has to be said, the barrel has been scraped down to the woodwork on more than a few occasions. The alternate, almost-instrumental version of "To Know Him Is to Love Him" is no better than the completed take, and the closing "Weird Strings" is just that. Weird strings and freaked electronics. But even in the face of material that Bolan himself would never have allowed off the shelf, everything is, in its own way, irresistible. And why? Because everyone still loves to boogie.

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