Thursday, May 19, 2016

Radio City - Big Star

Radio City
Big Star
Ardent ADS 1501

This is a Concord Music Group reissue of Big Star's second album.  A couple of years ago I attended a Big Star tribute show at the Wilshire-Ebell Theater featuring a bunch of power pop musicians including members of the Posies, Bangles, R.E.M., the dB's, Yo La Tengo, Luna, Let's Active as well as the sole surviving member of Big Star, drummer Jody Stephens.  It was a fantastic show played with obvious love and respect by the musicians.  They played Big Star's albums "#1 Record" and "Third" in their entirety but just a handful of cuts from this album.  I guess that makes sense, "#1 Record" is the only the Big Star album with Chris Bell in the line-up and "Third" has a big cult following.  However when I feel like listening to Big Star, this is usually the album I reach for, it is my favorite of the three.  The album gets off to a strong start with "Oh My Soul" in which Alex Chilton combines the blue-eyed soul sound of his previous group, the Box Tops, with the effervescent power pop of Big Star with dazzling results.  The song is full of shifts in tempo and melody punctuated by frenetic guitar solos and a buoyant vocal from Chilton as he sings about romantic frustration.  I consider this to be one of the band's best ever songs.  Chilton and bassist Andy Hummel co-wrote "Life is White" which continues the soul/power pop fusion albeit in a far less charged manner.  The sound is notable for the density of its sound, in particular the howling harmonica that runs through it.  It is a merciless kiss-off song.  Hummel's "Way Out West" expresses romantic yearning for an absent lover.  It is a catchy song driven by a solid power riff with a lovely chiming guitar solo in the break.  "What's Going Ahn" is another Chilton/Hummel collaboration.  It is a slow song with a poignant vocal from Chilton and lots of ringing guitar runs to keep things interesting.  The song expresses disillusionment with love.  The side concludes with Chilton's "You Get What You Deserve" which is a rocker full of hooks and compelling guitar licks and other power pop niceties.  It is an enigmatic song about being realistic about life and accepting it.  "Mod Lang" was written by Chilton and drummer Richard Rosebrough who filled in for Stephens on a few tracks of the album.  It is a riff driven rocker that expresses dissatisfaction, a classic rock and roll theme that suits the song's heavy sound. "Back of a Car" is a Chilton/Hummel tune about romantic confusion and insecurity.  With its soaring vocal, jangly guitars and hyperactive drumming it laid the foundation for a generation of power-poppers to come.  It is another one of my favorite tracks.  "Daisy Glaze" is a group composition about self-destructive behavior in the wake of a break-up.  It is a delicate song with a sensitive vocal from Chilton that shifts into high gear near the end for a power-pop rave up that gives the song a strong finish.  "She's a Mover" is a Chilton song about a wild woman.  It is a straight ahead rocker full of energy and guitar riffs.  Chilton's "September Gurls" is one of the greatest power pop songs of all time, a true classic.  It is a simple song about the ups and downs of love, but the imagery in the lyrics is memorable and the hook-laden tune makes the words' impact powerful and lasting.  The song blew me away the first time I heard it (in the Bangles' cover version) and the Big Star version is even better.  I've heard it countless times and it still sends me every time.  Chilton's "Morpha Too" is a silly love song with a childish tune driven by a piano.  It is the weakest track on the album but still fun.  Chilton also wrote "I'm in Love with a Girl" which is a joyous love song.  In contrast to the rich sound of the rest of the album, this song simply features an acoustic guitarThe simplicity of the arrangement emphasizes the vocal which serves to show what a terrific singer Chilton was.  I find his high sensitive voice very appealing.  It gives the album a tender and heartfelt finish.  I love this record and rank it among the very best albums of the 1970s.  I wish I could have heard it back when it came out instead of having to wait 15 years until I finally got it on CD.  I grew up in the 1970s hating the music of my generation and admiring the music of the 1960s.  Perhaps if I could have heard this instead of the Eagles or the Doobie Brothers or any of the other crap that was on the radio in 1974, I would have felt better about my own generation.  Nonetheless I'm glad this music is finally widely available on vinyl and getting the respect it has always deserved.  Recommended to fans of the Posies and Sloan.          

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