Song 337: T. Rex, “Cosmic Dancer” (1971)

electric warrior jpeg

I’m always surprised to be reminded that T. Rex’s Electric Warrior came out in 1971. It doesn’t sound to me like it’s only a couple years removed from the sixties; with its thumpy and reverby rock, it sounds more to me like the glam-fabulous mid-seventies. But I guess that’s because the album one of the first examples of the genre.

On the other hand, in many ways, Electric Warrior sounds nothing like any era. There aren’t many singers who sound like Marc Bolan, for one thing. Then there’s the combination of sweetness and dirtiness that results in a kind of weird, unsettling kind of rock. You don’t know if you can entirely trust it, but you also don’t see why you shouldn’t. Bolan’s delivery is convincingly genuine, but it’s also off-putting in its lightness. It’s all just a little bit strange.

Case in point: “Cosmic Dancer,” a beautiful song about what it’s like to be an artist. Throughout the song, Bolan asks himself—and you, the listener—if he’s an outlier. “I danced myself right out of the womb/Is it strange to dance so soon” he wonders. Later, he asks, “Is it wrong to understand/The fear that dwells inside a man/What’s it like to be a loon/I liken it to a balloon.” You get the sense that Bolan isn’t too happy with either his artistic sensibilities or his direct knowledge of man’s true nature.

I might not think about the song’s sadness without those lush strings, which lend the song a heightened drama. They’re my favorite thing about “Cosmic Dancer,” and they elevate the song from plaintive folk ballad to operatic existentialism. It’s all gorgeous, and it’s only the album’s second track. No wonder Electric Warrior, with its similarly beautiful cover, is so beloved.

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