OK, let's recap on 2005's Reunions You Thought Would Never Happen
Until Hell Freezes Over. The original Gang Of Four decided
that being quite possibly the best band ever trumped their personal
differences and toured the world to adoring hordes, the House Of
Love overcame rampant egotism and alleged mental illness to record
an album that stomped all over their lacklustre swansong Audience
With The Mind, and the beloved Bats got off their arses
after a ten year break to deliver another batch of jangle-folk-pop
to die for in At The National Grid.
But to top that, how about The Band That Invented Power Pop getting
back together after 30 FRICKIN' YEARS ? Yes, pop pickers, that's how
long it is since Big Star went into a studio and recorded a
new batch of songs. Memphis maverick Alex Chilton's increasing
eccentricity and dissatisfaction with the deaf ears of the music business,
plus co-leader Chris Bell's tragic suicide, put paid to Big
Star's largely unnoticed trajectory in the mid 70s, but together with
bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens the band
left an unsurpassed legacy of three albums (#1 Record, Radio
City and Third / Sister Lovers) that have influenced generations
of groups. Try the Bangles' beautiful cover of "September
Gurls" or Teenage Fanclub's "December", from
Bandwagonesque (a TFC original that could nonetheless have
fit right onto Radio City) for starters.
2005's Big Star isn't exactly the same group, having replaced Bell
and Hummel with Posies mainstays Ken Stringfellow and
Jon Auer. The two new guys aren't exactly my ideal replacements
- I find a lot of the Posies' work (with the huge exception of the
soaring Solar Sister), and especially Stringfellow's subsequent
solo work, annoyingly sweet. Still, they proved that they're members
of the rare breed that can work sympathetically with Chilton on the
1993 live Big Star reunion Columbia, and they do a fine job
on this record, too - you can sense that Chilton is finally enjoying
being part of a band again, as opposed to just churning out the old
greats for money.
In Space is such a rare, unexpected treat that it's worth
going over each song:
"Dony" - lurches into existence like some old Stones
song and then hits an ecstatic groove. It's unfortunately denied godlike
status by some unnecessary, honking sax halfway through - leave those
to the jazz musicians, guys !
"Lady Sweet" - Stringfellow / Auer song and thus a little
bit too, um, sweet for my tastes, but some crunchy guitars and soaring
harmonies pretty much rescue it.
"Best Chance" - an unremarkable Chilton number that sounds
like it came off one of his lesser 80s solo albums.
"Turn My Back on the Sun" - "ba ba ba" backing
vocals to match the Beach Boys-ish title, another Stringfellow
/ Auer song. Very likeable.
"Love Revolution" - this sticks out like a sore thumb -
a horrible, horrible disco number with inane lyrics to match. What
the heck were they thinking ?
"February's Quiet" - not just a relief after "Revolution",
this is a great minor chord Chilton pop song with suitably daffy words:
"She likes sugar in her tea, I just like her company".
"Mine Exclusively" - high energy rave-up that brings the
Hamburg-era Beatles to mind (actually a cover of 1966 tune
by The Olympics)
"A Whole New Thing" - OK, generic Chuck Berry-ish
riff but engaging tune and some good tub thumping from Stephens.
"Aria, Largo" - pointless guitar meandering on a classical
theme. I'd have singled this one out for a critical drubbing if it
wasn't for the horror that is "Love Revolution".
"Hung Up With Summer" - another nice, shambolic pop number
"Do You Wanna Make It" - more early Beatles-style raving
with some exciting guitar (Chilton's playing is a joy throughout the
"Makeover" - this final song has more high-octane guitar
and weird stream of consciousness lyrics, but is let down by the reappearance
of the tuneless sax.
Overall, In Space is a fine album that is certainly better
than anything its individual contributors have made for many a year,
but left me feeling a little wistful for what it could have been.
Still, if the other guys can drag Chilton back into a studio again
soon, there's no limit to what they might be able to come up with.
2. Lady Sweet
3. Best Chance
4. Turn My Back on the Sun
5. Love Revolution
6. February's Quiet
7. Mine Exclusively
8. A Whole New Thing
9. Aria, Largo
10. Hung Up With Summer
11. Do You Wanna Make It
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