Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The New… T.Rex

‘Dandy Xtreme’ is the new ‘The Dandy’. Starburst are the new Opal Fruits. But what about music? Which bands are rising up to take over the musical direction, style, and tone of previous, classic bands who have since split up or retired? In this occasional series, we look at new bands who are proudly continuing the musical traditions started previously by other acts.

The Old...


T.Rex were a band in the 1960s/1070s from England. Although founded by Mark Bolan as a folk act, under the influence of band-member Steve Peregrin Took (seriously) the band started to go a little wonkier with their music, turning poppier and rockier at the same time, and inadvertently inventing glam rock in the process.

It all started for the band with some glitter, as all good stories of triumph should. Scheduled to perform on Top Of The Pops, Bolan was made-up with glitter under his eyes. This glittery figure with wild hair and a guitar quickly wound up the general public and everyone (this is hyperbole, isn’t it?) started mimicking the look. Realising they were onto something, the band members all started to take on the look, and by the mid 70’s the band were on a roll. It helped that alongside their wild image, the band-members could put together a darned decent song, however. Their music, which before attracted hippies with their baroque songs of wizards and whatever, was slowly edged out in favour of more sexualised tracks and groovier guitar stuff. Electric guitars followed.

Alongside Gary Glitter, Roxy Music, and David Bowie, T.Rex formed an army of powerful glam rock acts that swept Britain and Europe, and eventually America. Founded on funky/fuzzy sounding guitars and tracks founded on the principle that people should want to dance and sing along – resulting in simple, rhythmic chants making up the majority of T.Rex choruses – glam rock was all about marrying the pop with image. Bolan and Took were at the heart of everything, living up wild lives filled with drugs, drink, and dolly-birds (couldn’t think of a better ‘d’ word to describe women). It was this that led the band to their eventual collapse through exhaustion. Nobody could keep up with Bolan.

And that included Bolan himself. In 1977 he was killed in a car crash in the early morning, less than a mile away from his house. The band were no more, but they left behind a legacy that has touched bands from The New York Dolls right through to Goldfrapp.

The New...

Of Montreal

At least I’m still giving myself these little challenges. Pitching Of Montreal to you as the new T.Rex is not dissimilar to pouring burning sand into my eyes and screaming “the birds! The birds are back! Warn Hitchcock!” It’s not really going to achieve anything.

Of Montreal, despite the name, are Americans. The number of people in the band tends to wax and wane as time goes on, with only Kevin Barnes, the main singer and lyricist, staying around for long periods of time. They tend to make extremely poppy, psychedelic songs with heavy use of synthesiser, and throw all manner of instruments into their songs at unexpected points to surprise the listener. Highly experimental, they currently spend most of their time pushing the boundaries of pop and glam-rock together. They’re a long way from the restrained madness of T.Rex.

If you look at the career paths of both bands, though, you can start to see a similar narrative thread forming. Both band started off by making folk-rock songs which featured an acoustic guitar and none of the glitz or glamour that both bands are known for. These slower, quieter songs were designed to showcase aspirational and irreverent takes on traditional love songs, with Of Montreal giving us songs like “Tim I Wish You Were Born A Girl” on their first album, Cherry Peel. Kevin Barnes, erstwhile bandleader of the group (in the same way Conor Oberst is the ‘leader’ of Bright Eyes) then moved off into a world of glam rock, and these influences settled into his music quickly. The music got louder, fuzzier, leant more heavily on psychedelia, and got better. As they’ve gone on, the band have quickened the pace and started stampeding towards the charts – haven’t been picked up yet, but they certainly can’t be too far away. When new album ‘Skeleton Lamping’ comes out later this year, you can look out for all the hallmarks of the band as they now stand: electric guitars, singalong choruses, and lots and lots of handclaps.

You can even hear similarities between Bolan’s voice and Barnes’ hushed vocals. Neither singer ever attempted to wrestle away attention from the music with hi-somersaulting vocal tics or weirdness, instead letting the musicians do all the work while they slided in over the top and quietly stole the show without anyone noticing. If you pick up an Of Montreal album, Kevin Barnes is the star of the show without ever really showing up. And, of course, with the glam style comes a certain image you have to send out. This is Of Montreal:

Can’t argue with that.

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