Big Star: Big Star: Complete Third

Doug Collette By

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In perusing the credits of the Big Star's Complete Third box set, it may be puzzling to notice only the names of original members guitarist/vocalist/composer Alex Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens, plus, almost as prominently, producer of the Ardent Studios Memphis sessions, Jim Dickinson. And the notation of baroque strings and horns may well seem contrary, at least at first, to The Beatles/Byrds influences ( as self-conscious as they sometimes sounded) duly noted by esteemed rock writer and music lover Bud Scoppa in one of a number of liner note essays in this unusually packaged three-CD set.

But upon reflection, and absorbing the the sixty-nine tracks within a box set that includes every demo, rough mix, outtake, alternate take and final master ever known to exist from the sessions, it all makes sense. Big Star was progressing beyond the instrumental lineup of the original quartet, including guitarist/songwriter Chris Bell and bassist Andy Hummel: despite or perhaps because of the personnel disruptions, including the former's tragic passing, the groups' burgeoning imagination, ignited by the group's personal conflicts and dissolution inevitably led them down a path similar to their forebears, that is, to use additional instrumentation in more complex lush arrangements and production. Thanks to Michael Graves' audio restoration, those nuances come through with largely impeccable clarity, in marked contrast to the figurehead Alex Chilton's own state of mind, self-professed to be lacking in lucidity, as documented in the thirty-two page booklet affixed to the inside of this light-weight cardboard cover .

Complete Third, in fact, reflects all the contradictions inherent in the emotional upheaval afflicting Big Star in its later stages and the insight is unrelenting as it is unerring. Passage through the demo recordings to rough mixes on to the final masters represents something of a dream sequence of Alex Chilton's thought processes, not just of this specific stage of his creative and personal life, but of the evolution of Big Star in general. As such, the two versions of "O, Dana," as far removed as they are from each other, together constitute a far cry indeed from the tuneful likes of "In the Street" from the band's debut: used as theme song for "That 70's Show" over the course of its tenure on network television as well as in syndication during the Nineties and beyond, the inclusion of various Big Star tunes on the series is reflective of the group's under-the-radar but otherwise indelible influence, as declared by R.E.M. and the Replacements.

Having configured a track sequence back in 1992, Jim Dickinson deserves kudos for his participation in assembling the puzzle for this hazy but nevertheless vivid portrait, but further compliments go to the accredited producer of this set, Cheryl Pawelski, for accomplishing the daunting task of imposing further form on apparent chaos, the likes of which drove engineer John Fry (who had worked the boards on the group's first two albums) from the eye of this artistic hurricane. In a format resembling studio tape boxes, the unconventional packaging in a near-long box fold out set is right in line with the foursome's unashamedly idiosyncratic nature throughout their fitful career. It is, in itself, a reflection of the music it contains, consistently fascinating ("Thank You Friends" in all its subliminal sarcasm), though not always easy to hear (the palpable apprehension in the cover of Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale") in its wan dislocation.

A suitable companion piece to Keep An Eye on the Sky (Rhino, 2009), the four-CD set that included over fifty-unreleased tracks (including, to be fair, many from Third but not this expanse), this exhaustive edition should hold no little fascination for those curious about the recording process itself, but, more importantly, for devoted fans who's suffered through what amounts to tease releases in the past—at various points throughout the Seventies, then the late Eighties and up until now the early Nineties. Comprehensive as it is, Complete Third should also placate those hesitant until now to really catch up on the Big Star legend as source of influence on indie rock and on its own willfully idiosyncratic terms.

Track Listing: CD 1: Demos To Sessions To Roughs: Like St. Joan (Kanga Roo); Lovely Day; Downs; Femme Fatale; Thank You Friends; Holocaust; Jesus Chris; Blue Moo; Nightime; Take Care; Big Black Car; Don’t Worry Baby; I’m In Love With A Girl; Big Black Car; I’m So Tired; That’s All It Took ; Pre-Downs; Baby Strange; Big Black Car; Kizza Me; Till the End Of the Day; Thank You Friends; O, Dana; Dream Lover. CD 2: Roughs To Demos:Big Black Car; Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On; Take Care; Holocaust; Nightime; Thank You Friends; Nature Boy; fter Hour; Stroke It Noel; Lovely Day; Nightime; Blue Moon; Till The End Of The Day; Big Black Car; Holocaust; Down; Kanga Roo; Femme Fatale; For You; Thank You Friends; Take Car; Kizza Me; Till The End Of the Day; Nature Boy (Fry Rough Mi; Mañana; CD 3: Final Masters: Stroke It Noel; Downs; Femme Fatale; Thank You Friends; Holocaust; Jesus Christ; Blue Moon; Kizza Me; For You; O, Dana; Nightime; Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On; Kanga Roo; Take Care; Big Black Car; Dream Lover; You Can’t Have Me; Till the End Of the Day; Lovely Day; Nature Boy.

Personnel: Personnel Alex Chilton:vocals, guitars, keyboards; Jody Stephens:drums, vocals; Lee Baker: guitar Jim Dickinson: bass guitar, drums, mellotron; Steve Cropper: guitar; Jimmy Stephens: bass guitar; Tommy Cathey: bass guitar; Tommy McClure: bass guitar; William Murphey: bass guitar; William Eggleston: piano; Tarp Tarrant: drums; Richard Rosebrough: drums; Carl Marsh: reeds, woodwinds, synthesizer, string arrangements; Lesa Aldridge: vocals; Tommy Hoehn: backing vocals.

Title: Big Star: Complete Third | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Omnivore Recordings

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