Big Star Re-issues; Bare Necessities
(Ardent / Universal)
This brace of remasters from the world’s most ironically named group arrives refreshingly unadorned. No out-takes, demos or unreleased mixes; just two lean collections from 1972 and 1974 that run for 37 and 36 minutes respectively. No frills means that the emphasis is firmly on the highly melodic songwriting and incisive performances. If you are lucky enough to be coming to these songs for the first time you could start with the Mellotron-drenched Give Me Another Chance or the crisp In The Street or the haunting What’s Going Ahn, or… it is, quite literally, all good with no Mind Gardens or Sloop John B to interrupt the flow.
Chris Bell is all over #1 Record and his pop sensibility makes it the more accessible LP. Bell’s departure prior to Radio City gave Alex Chilton the chance to start subverting classic pop formats, a process that reached its apogee on 1979’s deranged Like Flies On Sherbert. Alex’s grit is the key to why Big Star are revered by a new generation of listeners, just as Lennon’s honesty differentiated his group from the Merseybeat masses.
The recording expertise of engineer /producer John Fry working at high-spec Ardent Studios means that the sound of these songs is as timeless as anything George Martin achieved at Abbey Road. 24-bit remastering helps the music to sparkle and brings new sonic detail into focus, even after 36 years of listening. Kudos to Universal for getting Mike Mills to write the sleeve notes, but using the same text for both releases is a bit Will This Do?
Forty years ago Big Star was a band out of time whose aspirations to be both melodic and rock out were hopelessly out of kilter with public tastes (critical taste was always positive). Now these records sound totally contemporary, in part because of music made in the interim by accolytes such as the Replacements and Teenage Fan Club.
These are two essential recordings: a music collection without #1 Record and Radio City is a smile with two teeth missing.