By the time the listener reaches the fifth volume of chronologically arranged outtakes and unreleased songs, one fact becomes appallingly apparent. If Marc Bolan switched a tape recorder on, chances are it will be found within the Unchained series. And if he switched it on during 1974, it'll probably have a gospel backing track, as Bolan's (pre-Bowie) fascination with soul music continued to writhe in the back of his mind. It is, of course, a sign of Bolan's own growing discontent that, for the first time in the Unchained series, an individual year is represented by one, not two, CDs -- for which less forgiving ears might well be thankful. For starters, the bootleggers have already covered a lot of this territory, and those tracks which they missed have either been pillaged for sundry other posthumous compilations, or were reworked by Bolan himself: "Bolan's Zip Gun," the unused title track to his 1974 album, resurfaced as the overture to 1975's Futuristic Dragon, while "By the Light of a Magical Moon" simply reworked the old Tyrannosaurus Rex track. "Jet Tambourine," meanwhile, is simply the demo for a song, which, confusingly, appears in its finished form on volume four in this series. It was also a year of unfulfilled promise -- Bolan raised a lot of hopes discussing his dream of extending and re-energizing "The Children of Rarn," a song/story which originally appeared on 1970's T Rex album. It never happened and, spread across both this volume and the succeeding volume six (documenting 1975), it's hard to say whether it would have worked out well or not -- the excerpts here are simply too ramshackle to give any true indication of what might have emerged had Bolan not been distracted before finishing the job. "Children of Rarn" was still rooted in rock. But his heart was headed for soul. The best indication of Bolan's state of mind during 1974, then, is gauged not by this collection but via another of his 1974 projects, Marc Bolan Presents Sister Pat Hall, the recreation of an album Bolan produced for backing vocalist Hall in 1974, and whose relevance to the Bolan story itself really depends upon the listener's personal mania. But the fact that you're up to Unchained, Vol. 5 would suggest you're going to find it very important indeed.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson