The third Tyrannosaurus Rex album, and their debut U.S. release, Unicorn was also the first to steadfastly state the game plan which Marc Bolan had been patiently formulating for two years -- the overnight transformation from underground icon to above ground superstar. Not only does it catch him experimenting with an electric guitar for the first time on record, it also sees Steve Peregrin Took exchange his bongos for a full drum kit, minor deviations to be sure, but significant ones regardless. And listen closely: you can hear the future. The opening "Chariots of Silk" sets the ball rolling, as slight and lovely as any of Bolan's early songs, but driven by a tumultuous drum roll, a pounding percussion which might be the sound of distant gunfire, but could as easily be a petulant four-year-old, stamping around an upstairs apartment. Either way, it must have been a rude awakening for the bliss-soaked hippy acid-heads who were the duo's most loyal audience at the time -- and, though the album settled down considerably thereafter, that initial sense of alarm never leaves. By the time one reaches the closing "Romany Soup," a nursery jingle duet for voice and whispered secrets, you feel like you've just left the wildest roller coaster on earth. If the peaks are astonishing, however, the troughs are merely comparative. "Pon A Hill" is certainly more remarkable for the backing chorus of absurd twitters than for a fairly standard Bolan melody. But "Cat Black," a song which had been around since before Bolan joined John's Children, comes on like a lost Spector classic, with apoplectic percussion and a positively soaring, wordless chorus. "She Was Born to Be My Unicorn," meanwhile, drifts by on piping Hammond and tympani, while "Warlord of the Royal Crocodiles" is no less resonant than such a title demands. Reprising his role on the duo's first album, DJ John Peel reappears to read a brief children's story, but that truly is the only real point of contact between Unicorn and its predecessors. Indeed, in a moment of pure prescient enthusiasm, Melody Maker's review tagged the once painstakingly eclectic acoustic duo "electrified teenybop" and, had things not gone horribly awry between Bolan and Took during their first U.S. tour that same year, all that T Rex was to achieve in the first years of the next decade might have instead fallen into place during the final years of the '60s. Because again, you can already hear the storm brewing. ~ Dave Thompson
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- Electric Jewels (Bolan, Marc)