Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Big Star - 'Third/Sister Lovers' (Rykodisc)

I just finished writing a post on our sister blog about how Radio City is Big Star's finest hour, but I'm about to babble so much about my love for Third that you'll think I was lying then. I mean, some would go as far as to call this "the best album of all-time", but those people probably talk to ghosts. I knew this guy in college who felt that way. He considered this his all-time favorite record and to be honest, he's the one who turned me onto it after an initial listen (a few years earlier) failed to move me. "So many artists try to make these really depressing records," he told me, talking about Joy Division I think, "but Alex Chilton was so genuinely miserable you can really hear it in every song." You know how sometimes you hear a record again but it sounds different because of how it's framed? Well, his saying those words definitely made me hear things differently -- for example, the guitar whizzles in "Kizza Me" sound to me now, like, I dunno, pain. But is this actually a Big Star record, or the weird transitional period between Big Star and solo Alex Chilton? (Much like Instinct by the Moles is really a Richard Davies solo album). Or has Big Star just shed another member, replacing Andy Hummel with a bunch of session dudes, Steve Cropper, and some strings but retaining their essential "band"-ness? This CD issue claims to restore the 'proper' sequencing but that's never been agreed on anyway. It opens with 'Kizza Me' which is one of the filler tunes - a perfectly adequate power rocker that would be fine on #1 Record, but apart from the above mentioned guitarwhizzles feels a bit limp. I think it's just because I want 'Thank You Friends' to be the opening cut. Has anyone in rock music before ever realised that sarcasm can be suffering? The liner notes would indicate that Chilton's major problem in the mid-70s was his own failure to become a rockstar, though methinks things are probably a bit more complicated. Either way, 'Thank you Friends' is a wonderful kiss-off, masquerading it's bile behind a spry chord progression. It goes right into 'Big Black Car' which just sounds like a man exhausted, on the verge of giving up. I think the big celebrated cuts (at least by This Mortal Coil), 'Holocaust' and 'Kangaroo', have always confused me a bit. Are they the masterpieces, or the exceptions to true misery? Is 'Holocaust' just a tad on the wrong side of overwrought? 'Kangaroo's dramatics don't bother me quite as much, maybe because the 12-string guitar is so beautiful, but 'Holocaust's piano just feels a bit too overboard. The real holocaust is between the doors of the Big Black Car. Except, sometimes 'Holocaust' sounds amazing to me, and moves me almost to tears -- music is subjective and weird like that, dontchaknow! But back to the first half - I'm not fussed about the 'Femme Fatale' cover, and 'O, Dana' doesn't do a lot either. But Jesus Christ, 'Jesus Christ'! Religion can be suffering too. So yeah, past the 'Kangaroo' hump we get 'Stroke it Noel' which is a song that I love almost beyond description. I love the jaunty strings but only because they are so undercut by the way Alex sings 'Do you want to dance....' with about as little enthusiasm as possible. And then Jody Stephens 'For You' which is utterly beautiful and the perfect balance needed at this point. I don't know what needs to be said about the closing trilogy that hasn't been already said or covered by others. 'Nighttime' makes me think of other songs; the one by (fellow purveyor of some genuine depression) Smog, where he sings 'I walk the city streets at night / and I'm scared shitless' and also J-Church's completely different song of the same time that is everybit as sentimental and bittersweet. We'll hear at least two covers of 'Blue Moon' and one of 'Take Care' before we finish the Cinderblock tour, so I'll just quote this brilliant line - "This sounds a bit like good-bye / And in a way it is, I guess" -- and then we'll start to wrap this up. But wait, there's bonus tracks! If you get past 'Nature Boy' and a rather rote Kinks cover, w get to 'Dream Lover' and 'Downs', which are real gems. I've started to think of Radio City - Third - Like Flies on Sherbert as a trilogy of sorts, and you can certainly here the progression: joyous, slightly loose rock and roll --> bent-out-of-shape Tonight's the Night Style bashing about --> utter ramshackle insanity. 'Dream Lover' is halfway into Sherbert, and 'Downs' pretty much all the way there. But because that's in the C's, we're gonna have to wait awhile to get there.

1 comment:

  1. I love the way music affects people, me included. Thanks for taking the time to talk about our songs.

    "For You" is the first song I had ever written...not that I have amassed a catalogue of originals sense. The compliment is appreciated that much more.

    As you probabbly know there's a wonderful demo version of "Stroke It Noel" called "Lovely Day." It's on disc 3 in the Keep An Eye On The Sky box set.

    I still work at Ardent. Our latest release is on a band called Star & Micey. starandmicey.com

    Have you heard Chris Bell's Cosmos delux edition. There were such great moments of discovery listening to it. You can only get it at rhino.com.

    Thanks again,

    Jody (jstephens@ardentmusic.com)

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