Children by the millions wait for Alex Chilton when he comes `round…
When Paul Westerberg sang that line from “Alex Chilton” in 1987, it had been twelve years since Big Star had recorded its final album, and the rippling effects of their influence were nearly hitting their peak. With only three albums recorded, Big Star’s combination of Beatlesque harmonies and sunny pop, and the jangly guitars of the Byrds, ended up becoming the blueprint for an entire generation of musicians. The effect was slow and methodical due to both the fact that the music was still somewhat ahead of its time, and because not many people even heard Big Star’s work thanks to distribution problems. Alex Chilton was the primary force behind Big Star, as founder Chris Bell left the band after the first album, #1 Record. Now, thirty years after the recording of Third / Sister Lovers, original members Alex Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens have inducted Posies’ members Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow into the fold to release In Space.
Auer and Stringfellow `joined’ the band for what was supposed to have been a one-off concert in the band’s home state of Missouri in 1993, but that turned into a world tour and then at the surprise of everyone including Jon and Ken, a stab at new material. Goals don’t get much loftier than trying to regain the majesty that was Big Star. Chilton and friends would be the first to say so, and they not so subtly urge listeners not to compare, but to consider this `Big Star 2005.’ In Space does have some moments which do bring to mind those early days, but for the most part, it is something new. The addition of the two `new’ band members makes this a hybrid of sorts, a kind of homage to itself, like Rivers Cuomo joining in on a Cars reunion. What’s strange is that their compositions are almost more `Big Star’ than Chilton’s. Take “Lady Sweet” for instance. The song contains all the tenderness of “Thirteen” and the catchiness of “The Ballad of El Goodo.”
Stephens gets in on the act of recalling the past with his songs, “Best Chance We’ve Ever Had” and “February’s Quiet.” A Beach Boys influence also finds its way into the album, especially in “Turn My Back on the Sun” with its “Ba-ba-ba’s” in the background, and the intro which might make some turn their heads thinking, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” “Hung Up With Summer” is the other Wilson-inspired tune, if you couldn’t have already guessed by the title. The rest of the tracks on In Space delve into unfamiliar territory for the band. “Love Revolution” is a disco soul jam, “Mine Exclusively” is a cover of the Olympics’ song, “A Whole New Thing” is a ’50s rave-up as one would hear on very early Beatles’ albums, and then there’s the classical by way of electric guitar “Aria Largo.” “Do You Wanna Make It” is a ’50s/ early ’60s number that is like a bookend for “A Whole New Thing,” while closer “Makeover” is a jam session that takes aim at capitalism, advertising and the technological world in which we live, sort of a “Step Right Up” for the dot com age.
In Space may not meet all of the anticipation for a new Big Star record that might have built over the span of thirty years, but after that long, expectations can be somewhat unfair. “Lady Sweet,” “Best Chance We’ve Ever Had,” “Turn My Back on the Sun,” “February’s Quiet,” “A Whole New Thing,” and “Hung Up With Summer” are the strongest songs on the album, and the addition of the two Posies members ironically added that link to the past that most fans were hoping for. It might not be “#2 Record,” but Big Star’s brand of pop is still evident even after all this time.