Album Reviews: Marc Bolan tribute, Kathleen Edwards and Fast Romantics

AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T. Rex 

Various artists (produced by Hal Willner)


AngelHeaded Hipster arrives as a tribute to the corkscrew-haired genius of Marc Bolan, as intended, but also as an unplanned salute to its producer Hal Willner, who worked on this project for years until his COVID-related death in April. Like Willner’s previous tributes (among them, to Thelonious Monk, Kurt Weill and Disney music), Hipster is ambitious and often ingenious, demonstrating not only passion for his subject but also his artistic fearlessness and wide-ranging musical tastes. 

The two-album set spans Bolan’s entire career: Roughly a third of these 26 songs come from T-Rex’s commercial twin peaks of 1971’s Electric Warrior and its followup, The Slider; another third from his folkier, pre-glam 1966-1970 era; and the rest covers 1973-77 when Bolan’s musical powers remained strong in the face of the public’s waning T-Rextasy. 

Bold song choices: 1966 single Hippy Gumbo is here from Beth Orton; Telegram Sam and 20th Century Boy are MIA. Willner’s quality control ensures Hipster’s hit-to-miss ratio heavily favours the former, and the record works best when Bolan and the artists’ personalities find room to co-exist. Nick Cave wrings existential rumination from a funereal Cosmic Dancer. Marc Almond revisits the themes of Soft Cell’s Youth as he dramatically emotes a boldly arranged, Sketches of Spain-flavoured Teenage Dream. Peaches distills the stomping glam of Solid Gold, Easy Action into a minimalist electro throb. Devendra Banhart inhabits the dream-folk womb of Scenesof. Todd Rundgren reimagines Planet Queen as psychedelic swing. Vocal stylists like BORNS (Dawn Storm) and Metric’s Emily Haines (Ballrooms of Mars) remind us that, like his glam contemporary David Bowie, Bolan’s indelible melodies rarely followed predictable trajectories. 

A few acts, such as Kesha (Children of the Revolution), Joan Jett (Jeepster) and Sean Lennon/Charlotte Kemp Muhl (Mambo Sun), don’t veer far from the peerless originals, while the only misfires come from Nena (a lifeless Metal Guru) and U2 and Elton John, whose collaboration on Bang a Gong is neither dirty nor sweet and sounds like an Escape Club b-side. Hit the skip button on those and Hipster will have you dancing with your lizard leather boots on.

— David Veitch

Kathleen Edwards

Total Freedom

Dualtone Records


Nah. Thankfully just an extended coffee break of a gone away.

But it’s nice to have Kitty the Fool back after almost a decade, have her come curling up against your leg, purring, scratching, licking, turning her back and batting at you in a way that’s almost as comforting as it is commanding of your attention.

After a lengthy hiatus — one explained throughout her latest album Total Freedom, most obviously in opening, heartbreakingly apologetic wonder Glenfern — folk-pop feline Kathleen Edwards returns to the world that left her scarred and scared, yet wiser, wizened and an even better, more assured artist than when she left us.

She came back.

And with her she brought an unbelievable sense of poise, turning her 10-track clawing of a cushion into one that sits and sticks, a sweet spot that’s in the sun, yet still casts shadows.

Funny that, her being a pooch person, yet perhaps the one true lesson learned is that sometimes we can be that faithful hound, other times that creature that needs you only if it needs you. A bird on a feeder, a sleeping dog, but total freedom.

Edwards has that.

Or like that cat, makes you think that she has that, yet proving here she needs you, begrudgingly, giving only as much affection as she’s comfortable with while being entirely honest about that.

Doesn’t matter.

We need her.

Glad she couldn’t stay away.

— Mike Bell

Fast Romantics

Pick It Up

Fontana North

The Odds will never be Sloan, and Fast Romantics will never be Stars or Metric.

And that’s a wonderful thing.

While one may overshadow the other or others, all can coexist in the wonderful guitar- or rock-pop spectrum that seems nichier now than it ever has been.

Thanks to the Romantics’s frontman, former Calgarian Matthew Angus, the band will always have a certain timbre, a certain weight that holds it so slightly back — not dancefloory enough, not retroey enough, not Mother Mothery enough, but so damn good.

The man can seemingly endlessly churn out cinematic tracks of melodicism that recall mid-era Simple Minds or Psychedelic Furs — or perhaps, more fittingly, something found on the soundtrack of a lesser known John Hughes film, like, say, Some Kind of Wonderful (think Flesh for Lulu or Stephen Duffy) — while also still forging ahead, holding the music in place until the rest of the world may or may not take notice.

Oddly, Angus and Co. seem to be aware of that, here, or rather old enough to no longer care, no longer chasing that elusive million dollars, just delivering the goods.

Pick It Up really is a singable, hummable hit machine, even if the real machine behind the hits is one that goes a little too fast for it to catch up to or care if it does.

— Mike Bell