Tyrannosaurus Rex - Prophets, Seers & Sages: Angels Of The Ages - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Tyrannosaurus Rex - Prophets, Seers & Sages: Angels Of The Ages

by Jeff Penczak Rating:7 Release Date:2015-01-26

Universal’s attempt at a Rhino Handmade version of Bolan and Took’s sophomore effort fails miserably, partially because Bolan recorded so many takes of individual tracks that collecting all of them is a fool’s errand. There are also numerous takes of tracks that didn’t make the album, so completists will probably swarm to these goodies, but most are probably already available elsewhere (see my diatribe here).

Given that the compilers had an incomplete collection of alternate takes to work with and chose to go with what was at hand (I’m sure more will be uncovered in time for the super-duper 50th anniversary edition in a few years), the sequencing of this set is horrible. Takes are both out of chronological and sequential order and are nowhere near each other in the tracklisting. Even if someone wanted to use all these extras to do a little musical archaeology – comparing differences across takes and across different dates to uncover Bolan’s creative process in melding a song just the way he wanted it - they’d be totally hampered by the scattershot sequencing.

Here’s just one of many examples to illustrate this mess: take eight of the 22/4/68 session for ‘Conesuala’ appears 14 tracks before take four, which is another 12 tracks before take three from the 10/6/68 session. Presuming most people will listen to these tracks as sequenced on their CD, how can they possibly remember or even notice the differences and nuances between takes spread over 25 tracks apart?

If you are going to offer fans a glimpse into Bolan’s creative process, at least sequence all your extra takes together (and in numerical and chronological order) to facilitate such an endeavour. Otherwise, what’s the point of just dumping a bunch of tracks onto an extra disk and turning it loose on the public?

But enough about the package, how about the music? There’s more Tiny Tim-on-acid played by busking hippies on display, but the songs are stronger. And all griping about the sequencing aside, there are 42 (!) bonus tracks spread across the two disks (including at least two alternate takes of every album track), although as is the case with the My People Were Fair… reissue, all 10 of John Peel’s BBC Top Gear tracks are on the BBC box just released in 2013.

Bursting through the hippie haze, the album opens with the hallucinatory ‘Deboraarobed’, a forward/backward rendition of their debut single that presaged their debut album. Oh, that Bolan, what a wascally wabbit! (He repeats the process later in ‘Juniper Suction’, but it doesn’t work as well, probably because listeners were already familiar with ‘Debora’ and the latter track was simply passed off as another case of Bolan going over the edge.)

‘Stacey Grove’ is another fascinating anthropomorphic melding of person and place, and Bolan continues his remarkable wordplay with such nonsensical (but admittedly fun to say) titles as ‘Trelawny Lawn’ and ‘Salamanda Palaganda’, whose lyrics, like much of the album are delivered in an incomprehensible marble-mouthed bleating. Even here, Bolan was ahead of the game, using the sounds of the words to impart a feeling, an emotion more than to tell a story. As such, the later made-up languages of Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins) and Jónsi Birgisson (Sigur Rós) can be traced back to Bolan’s bold experimentation.

Most of the tracks are very short (11 of the 14 are less than two-and-a-half minutes) and, as such, feel like fragments rather than completed thoughts – possibly explaining why there were so may takes trying to arrive at a final 'releasable' version. This may put off listeners who start to get caught up in Bolan’s imagination, only to have the rug pulled out from under them. So the album should definitely be listened to in a single setting to experience its full impact.

Not many artists were recording this type of music around this time (Incredible String Band are an obvious touchstone, but Bolan always insisted that he wanted to capture an unplugged Syd Barrett in these recordings and there is certainly an affinity with Barrett’s childlike, fairy-tale characters and freeflowing wordplay). Although it’s a stronger and more enjoyable album than the debut, Prophets, Seers & Sages failed to capture the public’s attention and is one of only two Bolan albums that failed to chart. (You can research the other on your own). Perhaps folks were too stumped by the contents of the debut after they got it on to their turntables and finally listened to it to bother with this one (although, surprisingly, the non-LP single that preceded it, ‘One Inch Rock’ – included here – charted higher than ‘Debora’!)

Despite its flaws (and the problematic packaging and presentation of this reissue), it’s definitely worth a few spins if only to experience Bolan and Took before cult stardom watered down their output, eventually leading to a rethink that birthed T. Rex, causing the much-publicised break with Peel. But that’s another story….

Comments (1)

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The first four Bolan albums are essential listening to any unwashed Bolan fan. This is escapism that we all need from time to time. Never mind the 'jumble' with the tracks, just enjoy the journey.

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