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I Am The Cosmos – Chris Bell

March 13, 2012

First published October 2009

Rhino Handmade 2CD Expanded Version

Much hoo-ha recently about Big Star as a result of the release of the box set. Many of the reviews (including ours) were keen to share credit between main-men Alex Chilton and the less well-known Chris Bell. Chris never released a full LP in his short life but in 1978 Chris Stamey’s Car Records released a single of his two best known tracks, I Am The Cosmos b/w You and Your Sister. Then in 1992 Ryko released a selection of tracks compiled by Chris’ brother David. This new release from Rhino Handmade adds further songs to give 27 tracks across 2 CDs, remastered and in superior sound.

The Handmade collection suggests an erratic but impressive talent.  For me Chris Stamey got it right – the two tracks on the now very scarce Car single are the absolute pick of Bell’s songs. Both tracks are on CD1 with out-takes on CD2: a longer version of Cosmos with Clapton/Harrison guitar at the end and two versions of Sister, one acoustic and one where a mellotron replaces the original elegant string arrangement. There are other good songs –I Got Kinda Lost, Though I Know She Lies – but no real stunners. Of the out-takes and previously unreleased material some is manifestly inferior to what we’ve heard before, such as the remake of I Don’t Know. The only superior alternate version is The Speed Of Sound, where the original rather intrusive synthesiser solo is replaced by a guitar part that fits the song much better. Also worth hearing is the faux-British accent at the end ‘Clacton Rag’ – how on earth did a good ol’ boy from Memphis end up in Clacton ?

Anybody who doesn’t have I Am the Cosmos and You and Your Sister in their record collection is plainly nuts. And if you ain’t got ‘em this is a good place to get ‘em as there are other fine tunes included. However it is hard to avoid the conclusion that had Bell stayed with Chilton they could have collectively surpassed all but the very best songs here. Another rock’n’roll ‘What If…?”

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