In Space (Omnivore Recordings)
For a long time, pretty much up until the release of this 2005 reunion album in fact, Memphis power-pop band Big Star were one of those that bands that floated around in mythos territory. Stories were told, the albums beloved, but they were around for such a brief period (four years) that anyone blinking missed them.
Two classic album released during their initial lifespan — 1972’s #1 Record and then Radio City in 74 — cemented their reputation for putting out jangle pop blessed with gorgeous swathes of melody and the catchiest of hooks. Imagine Cheap Trick, if they lived up in Laurel Canyon.
A third album, Third/Sister Lovers, surfaced in ’78 when the band had broken up, and then that was it for a long time. They passed into rock & roll legend, bands citing them as a major influence in interview after interview, while fans clung onto everything singer Alex Chilton did.
Then in 1993, Chilton reformed the band and they started playing out, before In Space dropped in 2005, 37 years after the previous album.
“Alex, Jon, Ken, and I had talked about making an album together but it never seem to go anywhere,” said original drummer Jody Stephens on the press release for this rerelease. “Then out of the blue, at a performance in London, Alex announces to the audience that we will be making a new album. A year or so goes by and Alex brought it up again. This time he had a plan: to write and record a song a day. Maybe record 15 tracks and then concentrate on the ten most appealing ones . . . I believe the budget I put together was for 15 days tracking, five days for overdubs and 10 days to mix. Songs unheard, Jeff Rougvie and the Ryko folks agreed to the budget and I booked the studio time. It was remarkably easy . . . well, up to that point anyway.”
The original print of the album featured ten originals and two covers — The Olympics’ “Mine Exclusively” and Georg Muffat’s “Aria, Largo.” All are magnificent, from the paisley underground vibe on opener “Sony” to the MC5 tribute on “Love Revolution” and the backhanded compliment aimed at the Beach Boys on “Turn My Back on the Sun” — that song starts with a “Wouldn’t it be Nice” jingle before explaining why the sun is bad (it can blind you).
This is a timely reminder that Big Star did release a fourth album and, while it doesn’t get mentioned by other bands as many times as the other three, it was a piece of work that did no harm to Big Star’s legacy. The rough mixes and demos on this reissue allow up to dig a little deeper into a band that still maintains an air of mystery. With Chilton and bassist Andy Hummel both passing away in 2010, that’s priceless.