Tyrannosaurus Rex

Regal Zonophone, 1969


REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso


This album is what happens when you throw one too many eyes of newt into your cauldron, causing your fairytale brew to bubble over spilling mystical fog all across the floor. If you thought their first two albums were weird, you ain't seen nothing yet. In my many years of music listening, I've never come across another album that sounds quite like this one. Even among Tyrannosaurus Rex's discography, Unicorn stands alone. It's an enormous leap beyond their previous albums artistically and after it the band's sound began to transform in fundamental ways.

Their arrangements have become more developed and elaborate, which expands the available color palate by a huge amount. This is still acoustic guitar driven music first and foremost. But they make terrific use of piano, harmonium, recorder, a more diverse selection of percussion including full-on drums (played briefly and unconventionally of course, but it's a drum-kit nonetheless), and is that an electric bass I hear briefly on “Like A White Star?” It all contributes to a thick, otherworldly mood, which the album is absolutely drenched in.

Bolan and Took twist and manipulate their voices in what would be pretty silly ways if it didn't seem like they were taking this stuff seriously. At times, they sound like birds chirping or little gremlins crawling around. Through all the vocal oddities, Bolan's harmonies – sometimes with Took but more often layered with his own voice – are more addictive than ever.

While they do play off all of this eerie weirdness as if they really mean it, this album isn't afraid to have fun either. After all, fairies and pixies spend most of their time fluttering about and getting into mischief. So it's fitting that the majority of the record is spent on wild flights of fancy, and the songs aim for blissful moods as often as they aim for brooding ones. The greatest example is one of the biggest highlights “Cat Black (The Wizard's Hat)”. Not only is it stunningly gorgeous, bolstered by its elaborate arrangement, but it's also got one of the most delightful melodies on the album.

Another thing I love about this record is the linear way that the songs are structured. Even though these tracks are all pretty short, you usually haven't heard everything a song has to offer unless you listen to the entire thing. Most tracks feature unique intros and outros, moving between various little sections that prevent the record from growing stale, even for a moment. The endings are especially notable. “Like A White Star” builds to a gloriously ecstatic coda, as does “The Sea Beasts.” “Iscariot” is the most harrowing song Bolan ever came up, highlighted by a tremendously well-written melody. It would stand as one of his best songs if that were all it was, but it's the climactic harmonium solo that really puts it over the edge.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The melodies are essential component of why this album works so well. Anybody can plop a bunch of weirdness down on a record. But it's a lot more difficult to do so while crafting exquisitely memorable tunes at the same time. Even extremely brief tracks like “The Seal Of Seasons” and “Stones For Avalon” lodge themselves firmly in my head. Undoubtedly this is a stronger bunch of tunes than featured on the first two Tyrannosaurus Rex albums. In fact, I hesitate to say that Bolan ever did better. The catchy tunes of his glam rock years were much more conventional in their construction. These tunes feel wholly unique.

The lyrics are impressionistic word salad, full of fantasy names and tall tales. It’s exactly the kind of poetry you would expect a bunch of Tolkien-obsessed hippies to pen. But it's hard to put much emphasis on the lyrics because if you're able to understand a word Bolan is singing then you're much more attentive than I. It doesn't really matter, though. I may not know what the heck a “Nijinsky Hind” is supposed to be, but I do know that the song transports me to another place every time I hear it. And that counts for far more.

“Romany Soup” is a slightly frustrating album closer and the source of my only significant complaint. The song itself is a brooding apocalyptic chant that makes for a great climax to the record. The annoying thing is that, as they did on their debut, it's preceded by a completely useless John Peel-narrated skit. But this time, it rambles on and on for three entire minutes. The dialogue may fit the mood of the album, but due to its length, it takes me out of the listening experience and makes the album end on a more underwhelming note than it could have considering the musical segment of the track is just as stellar as everything else.

Steve Peregrin Took left the band soon after the release of Unicorn, so the majority of the bonus tracks here represent his final work with Marc Bolan. “King Of The Rumbling Spires” and “Do You Remember (Cult)” show them dabbling with a full-band sound for the first time to great effect. The other tracks, including “Demon Queen” and “Pewter Soldier” among others, are just more examples of Tyrannosaurus Rex at their absolute peak. All of these are fantastic and essential for fans of the band. In addition, there's a recreation of the main album using alternate takes which makes for an interesting listen. However, seeing as the album is nearly perfect as it is, I doubt anyone will prefer these takes to the official ones.

Not only is Unicorn the best Tyrannosaurus Rex album, but it's one of the best and most unique albums of its era. A lot of music claims to take the listener on crazy psychedelic journeys, but Unicorn doesn't make any promises. It doesn't need to. It simply quietly exists in its own mysterious little world waiting for listeners to come and explore.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2015 Ken DiTomaso and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Regal Zonophone, and is used for informational purposes only.