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Big Star: Third/Sister Lovers (Rykodisc)

This weird beast – due to it’s solely underground reputation for most of the thirty-five years – has turned up on various labels, sometimes under the bowdlerized title “The Third Album” But, however it’s labeled, this is the finest “pop” – as opposed to rock’n’roll – testament of one Alex Chilton. And, from all accounts, he was drunk & on downers at the time…hence the scare quotes.

It also marks the first full-blown collaboration between two of the greatest individualists of Memphis, that bastion of individualism – Alex Chilton, and legendary producer James Luther Dickinson (a personal hero of mine) who made record companies frightened...right up to the day of his death.

Let’s set the scene…Big Star, the band that most rock historians cite as perhaps the key influence in the development of so-called “power-pop”, had fallen apart, leaving Chilton & drummer Jody Stephens to record & deliver an fulfill contractual obligations. On the other hand, those obligations were to a label that was itself falling apart – as was Chilton himself. Meanwhile, he had the keys to a local studio, and a producer that was prepared to go all the way. And the result?

Fractured & dislocated, at times suicidally depressed – but always uniquely beautiful – it was deemed unreleasable at the time, and came out in varied, and truncated, versions during the two decades following its recording in 1974/5. From the haunting and (literally) neo-classical pop of “Stroke it Noel” to the jarring & skeletal “Downs”, from the horrific – and emotionally flattened – “Holocaust” to the great lost Christmas song “Jesus Christ” (where are the seasonal reissues of this gem, I wanna know?) the album frequently belies its reputation as a downer classic. And yet, what is true is that Chilton’s fragility clearly underlies the whole thing, however strangely that may play itself out in some of the more upfront material.

Unlike those who release such things, I was somewhat of an agnostic as to the form of the thing…at least until this definitive version came along... For which we can thank the Lord – or, more precisely, Alex Chilton & James Luther Dickinson – that all of these sounds, finally, made it to disc from the benighted mid-70s, that veritable armpit of musical history…

So get this it has all the tracks (for a change), and in the correct running order, whats’s more. And prepare to take a dive...

John Henry Calvinist