Luke Haines is an English musician and writer. He has recorded under the name of the Auteurs and Black Box Recorder. His books include the bestselling Bad Vibes – Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall. His latest solo album, Smash The System, is out on Cherry Red Records on October 7, 2016. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter and his website.
To the U.K. reader, the late, great Marc Bolan will need little explanation. To the U.S. reader, Bolan, who during in his lifetime made little impact on the United States — one minor hit, “Get It On (Bang a Gong),” in 1971 — may need a little context.
Bolan runs in the blood of English rock & roll boys and girls — like sarcasm, sliced white bread, Benny Hill, dressing up in women’s clothes and Brexit! Worldly (non) delights all, but Marc Bolan (born Marc Feld in East London) represents all things otherworldly as well. As a child, he was a superstar in his own head, then, in the late ’60s, he became an underground superstar. With T. Rex, he was an actual glam rock superstar (in the U.K.) — and, eventually, after his untimely death in a car crash in 1977 (aged twenty-nine), he was a dead superstar. In the late ’70s, at the dog end of punk, Bolan was quickly forgotten as just another dead teen idol. It took about fifteen years for his influence to penetrate the post-punk deluge. David Bowie and Brian Eno told us that they came from Mars and (with a nudge and a wink) we knew what they meant. Marc Bolan didn’t need to say anything like that; we just knew he was from outer space.
When you’ve finished reading this go out and buy Ty Rex.
Ty Segall — West Coast one-man band, fuzz superstar, underground superstar, superstar who is very much alive and superstar in his own head — knows where Marc was coming from. Hell, Ty even made an album a few years back called, brilliantly, Ty Rex in which he lovingly obliterates T. Rex classics such as 1970’s “Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart” and “Elemental Child.” He also makes a blistering distorto nuke out of Marc’s 1973 transcendental glam anthem, “Twentieth Century Boy.” (Bolan would so have approved.) When you’ve finished reading this go out and buy Ty Rex — then buy Ty’s excellent new album, Ty Segall.
I’m apologizing to Ty right now for the amount of T. Rex in this review, but there is no way around it, and, besides, a lot of T. Rex is a good thing, right? And too much Rex is even better. As the main man once said, “Always keep a little Marc in your heart.” This is exactly what Ty Segall has done: he has kept a lot of Marc in his heart — in fact, his heart and arteries are positively plumped with so much Marc that he’s in danger of having a heart attack. The clues have always been there; Ty’s first album was called Horn the Unicorn (Unicorn being the title of a classic 1969 Tyrannosaurus Rex album) on Wizard Recordings (“The Wizard” was a mid-’60s Bolan solo single). And now, Ty Segall rocks beautifully with the magical abandon of early (approximately 1970 if you must know) T. Rex.
[The song] may or may not feature the phrase ‘warm hands, warm cock.’
The first track, “Break a Guitar,” vomits out a fantastic moronic Sabbath Masters of Reality riff, but when Ty starts bleating some great nonsense lyric about, er, “breaking a guitar” all thoughts of Tony Iommi are forgotten as the vocal is pure Slider-period Rex. The second track, “Freedom,” is pure speed-ass viper rock, and “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)” is a great, unfashionably sprawling, stream of consciousness Burroughsian automatic writing poetry freak-out. It may or may not feature the phrase “warm hands, warm cock.” If it doesn’t, it should. What “Warm Hands” does feature are a couple of brutal edits, one of the most unhinged guitar solos of the last decade, and Ty bleating out in his best Bolan “Elemental Child” voice, “I’m gonna give you one/I’m gonna give you some Shoom!” I can only concur.
Gone are any “lo fi” Todd Rundgren comparisons; this Ty Segall album is largely about bringing the noise with a white-hot live band: Emmett Kelly, Mikal Cronin, Charles Moothart and Ben Boye. The whole thing sounds like it was written and recorded in the time it took to play it — which is a good thing. But it’s not all fuzz and bluster, feedback and fucks. “Talkin,” new single “Orange Color Queen” and “Take Care (to Comb Your Long Hair)” are mini-masterpieces. Indeed, “Orange Color Queen” is so ludicrously Bolan that I can hardly believe the cheek of it. That said, I’d have given the last ringlet of my own corkscrew hair to have written it. (So would Marc.)
Ty Segall is a Twentieth First Century Superstar. He may not be selling the amount of records that a superstar needs to sell, but he’s a superstar in his own head and that’s what counts in rock & roll. Who knows, maybe an independent film director will tear him or herself away from Arthur Russell’s back catalogue and use “Orange Color Queen” or “Take Care (to Comb Your Long Hair)” as the theme song to the new My Private Idaho and make Ty an actual superstar. But until then, just dig the boogie — and always keep a little Ty in your heart.
(Photo credit: Kyle Thomas)