Marc Bolan / T. Rex

Spaceball: The American Radio Sessions

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Recorded during Marc Bolan's U.S. visits during 1971 and 1972, Spaceball is the first full re-counting of four American radio sessions previously made partially available as a bonus LP within the Marc label's Till Dawn compilation in 1985. Eight songs, taped in L.A. in 1972, are reprised from that set; 11 more are collected here. The overall mood of the two CDs is sparse, but astonishingly dynamic, with the earliest session -- taped for WBAI, New York, in June 1971 -- especially remarkable. It opens with a pair of unaccompanied Bolan performances, previewing the as-yet-unreleased "Cosmic Dancer" and "Planet Queen." The guitar heavy "Elemental Child" follows, a surprising inclusion given the song's freak-out dynamics, but it's an effective piece, all the more so after bandmates Mickey Finn and bassist Steve Currie join in a few minutes into the song. The trio then launches into another hard rocker, "Jewel," stretching it out towards the 11-minute mark and introducing the fourth member of the band, drummer Bill Legend, again midway through the performance. The set ends with a restrained but still enjoyable "Hot Love," a U.K. single. In stark contrast to the bombast of the first session, a visit to WPLJ a few days later sees Bolan and Finn alone at play, reiterating "Cosmic Dancer" and "Planet Queen," then adding a rambunctious version of Carl Perkins' "Honey Don't" and an ad hoc, ad-libbed blues built around the then-unrecorded "Get It On." It's a less-essential outing, but it has its moments. The other two sessions included here date from early 1972, at a time when the band was touring to promote the Electric Warrior album. It is intriguing, then, that Bolan used the occasion to preview his next album, The Slider. The eight-song session for the L.A. station KDAY features five new songs; three more consume a (sadly, poorly recorded) set at Boston's WBCN. All are performed by a talkative Bolan alone, returning to his acoustic roots with affable charm and surprising assurance. The versions of "Spaceball Ricochet" which open and close the two broadcasts are at least comparable with the album release, while "Ballrooms of Mars," certainly one of his finest period compositions, is simply sublime. Placed against such a performance, the popular notion that Bolan's songs had degenerated into variations on the same chords and catch phrases seems too simple minded for words. Of course, Spaceball as a whole cannot be placed in the same esteemed company as the conventional albums of the era. But in an artist catalog which has now been expanded to incorporate everything from sub-bootleg live performances to fragmentary demos of unfulfilled chord sequences, it is certainly the equal of any other archive effort, and an exalted companion to the BBC albums released elsewhere.

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