We are taking a look at the Marc Bolan tribute album Angelheaded Hipster and its plethora of esteemed artists who joined in to pay tribute to the T. Rex singer and glam rock pioneer. It is officially how we want all of our tribute albums to be from now on.
When we say esteemed guests I can expect to hear a collective snort of derision from any diehard T.Rex or Bolan fan. After all, who could match up to the starry-eyed presence of one of rock’s greatest figures? But when you include Nick Cave, Devendra Banhart, Joan Jett, U2, Peaches and more on the list of guests, you know that something special is about to happen.
And something special most certainly did happen. Pressing play on this record and ready to be thoroughly disappointed (being an avid T. Rex fan myself) the first point of contention arose almost instantly. Taking on, as the first track of the LP, ‘Children of the Revolution’ was Kesha. A song that has already been butchered before (thanks Pete Doherty and Live 8) could be up for another dismantling from the former pop princess.
It may well be the first track but it is here that the beauty of this tribute album really comes to the fore. Not only does it have the expert ear of the late, great Hal Willner pushing the LP’s musical direction, but it has a host of truly dedicated fans singing the songs. Kesha may well be dismissed as the aforementioned “pop princess” by some musos (myself included) but on this performance, she is only thinking about the king of glam and channels his starry-eyed glamour without feeling chintzy.
All 26 of the songs on this record have not just been lovingly replicated but also span into their own style. It means, for example, that Peaches’ version of ‘Solid Gold, Easy Action’ is industrialised and interpreted rather than ignorantly replicated. It makes the entire album not only a tribute to Bolan but a showcase of the bands and artists making the recordings.
Other moments of joy come from Father John Misty’s cover of ‘Main Man’, Nick Cave’s powerful vision of ‘Cosmic Dancer’—a track he naturally adds a haunting beauty to—also providing idiosyncratic tracks are King Khan on the classic ‘I Love To Boogie’ (is there any better fit) as well as Sean Ono Lennon on ‘Mambo Sun’. There’s also room to hear Joan Jett sing ‘Jeepster’ and Devendra Banhart take on ‘Scenescof’ for a truly bewildering array of talent.
There is a little bit of everything here. If you were looking for a reflective moment while pondering getting out of bed on the weekend then hit play on Cave’s cover, if you’re looking to start the party later that night then the gruff vocal tones of David Johansen on ‘Bang A Gong’ are the way to go. If you’re cooking breakfast the following morning then turn to Joan Jett’s jumping version of ‘Jeepster’. If you continue like this you will come to the end of the weekend having soundtracked the entire experience with sensational covers.
This is, without doubt, the most impressive thing about Angelheaded Hipster, the sheer volume of talent on offer. Not only brought in by Willner over a number of years for specific songs, but the artists on this record are also here because they truly want to be. Forget tribute albums of old who rush the recordings so as to reach a particular anniversary or special date, Willner lovingly constructed this record over a number of years and the extra care and attention permeates the sound.
Marc Bolan may have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year, a title he rightly deserves, but I’d argue that there is no better tribute to the singer than this record. Most tribute albums leave you wanting to listen to more and more of the original artist. This album has just been on repeat ever since I dropped the needle. It may not eclipse Bolan’s work but it certainly comes close to matching it.
Through this album, you can not only see the wide-ranging influence Bolan had on those who have heard and continue to hear to this day but that the spirit of such a troubadour will never die.