CD Review of In Space by Big Star
Big Star: In Space
Big Star: In Space

Reviewed by Jason Thompson


he Big Star legacy has just been deflated. It’s 30 years later and Chilton, Stephens, and the Posies boys have cranked out an unexpected album that doesn’t have a whole lot of oomph behind it. It’s all right and all, but you can’t go back, and really, why would you want to? But the Big Star legacy has often been compared to that of the Velvet Underground’s, a far more important band that was exponentially expanding the parameters of late ‘60s rock and the whole notion of what a band could really do with its own unique ideas. Big Star, on the other hand, merely played their Britpop-infected tunes to dead ears in the early ‘70s. If they had really wanted to be successful, then they should have been the Raspberries. But since that wasn’t possible, and their distribution at Stax was complete shit, a cult emerged. But that poor distribution and almost zero radio play is the only comparison between Big Star and the VU.

Besides that, the original Big Star albums are a mixed affair. #1 Record is the only release that has the original lineup of the group, but there’s plenty of fluff in between the gems. The second album, Radio City, is fully deserving of any accolades it gets, as it truly is a blast of inspired power pop that still sounds good today. But that Sister Lovers album has always been a doozy. A weak, lopsided hunk of paranoia that has had far too many praises thrown on top of it. It’s funny the kinds of things that critics and fans will sometimes declare as “genius,” but for maybe three or four tunes, Sister Lovers is a shoddy mess that fails to prove anything. It came out belatedly (guitarist Chris Bell was killed in a car accident in 1978) and no one cared until the hipster elite said it was fantastic and Ryko reissued it, along with the completely abysmal Big Star Live (easily one of the dullest live albums ever) in the early ‘90s.

So you know the rest. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies got together with Alex Chilton some years back and “reformed” Big Star and put out a live album. The fans were thrilled to a degree, because Chilton’s solo output had never been anything to hang your hat on. Anyway, more years passed and now we have In Space, from Big Star version 2.0. It isn’t really Big Star, but more or less another album that sounds like an Alex Chilton solo affair with a couple Posies sounding songs thrown in, as well as the token Jody Stephens track.

In Space has been hyped as having the spontaneity of Sister Lovers in its style, but that really doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day, nor will it mean squat to the fans who are immensely wowed by that particular album. The first cut, “Dony,” is a nice slab of classic Alex Chilton getting his shit together, with enough hooks to put enough promise down, but then, what the hell is with that sax solo? Christ, it sounds like something that sneaked out of a shitty old John Lennon single. How archaic. Still, it’s good enough overall, and the second song, “Lady Sweet,” is as Posies as you can get. After all, this is a band once again, much like Wings was, or Utopia. So the other guys get to sing some. Doesn’t matter, though; Jody Stephens’ “Best Chance” is so-so at best.

Then there’s the throwaway junk. “Love Revolution” is one of the worst things Chilton’s ever made, period, with its idiotic bullhorn get-together-peace-and-love bullshit messages spewed over the intro. This is Alex being goofy again. Thing was, in his old Big Star days, he didn’t let his gut hang out so much, even on that third album. There’s also the tossed off “funk” of “Mine Exclusively” that sounds like a leftover from Chilton’s High Priest days, as well as the pointless instrumental “Aria, Largo.” Three tunes there that should have just been scrapped completely, right there.

The rest is a decent hodgepodge. “Hung up on Summer” is slightly lethargic and stoned, “Do You Wanna Make It” is another sloppy soul excursion in the Chilton canon, “February’s Quiet” is a good enough song to remind one of the first Big Star album, and “Makeover” is Big Star falling apart all over again. In other words, you’ve heard it all before, and done much better. Don’t call it a comeback.

In fact, just call it filler. For anyone, such as myself, who was a little more than curious about this album, you can certainly find a lot of better albums to put your money down on. In Space will be looked back upon as nothing much at all. It has a couple moments, but overall it’s nothing that Chilton couldn’t have entirely cranked out under his own name. It’s amazing to think that this group has purportedly inspired so many, when overall they’ve always been a sort of hit-or-miss band. In Space proves that Big Star is fucking dead. But of course, Andy Hummel has known this for decades.

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