Monday, December 26, 2011

Big Star 5: In Space

After a decade of sporadic gigs (fueling continued interest in their tiny catalog) the reconstituted Big Star put out a new album in the middle of the second Bush administration. In Space is a Big Star album in name only, in that the players are the two Posies who joined Alex and Jody in 1993. In fact, Alex does not dominate the proceedings, and on the handful of songs that are certainly his, the sound is more like the schizophrenic R&B of his post-‘70s solo work. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you like that sort of thing.)
The album is frontloaded with a handful of songs that do conjure the spirit of the band as people would like to remember them. “Dony” has a ragged edge and is catchy despite itself. “Lady Sweet” is the Posies version of the sound they’d like to hear. They harmonize with Jody on “Best Chance We’ve Ever Had”, and do a Beach Boys homage for “Turn My Back On The Sun”. Then Alex takes over for six minutes of silly funk in “Love Revolution”, a re-write of “Tighten Up” complete with calls to his “brothers and sisters” and a horn section. Thankfully, the old sound returns to Jody for “February’s Quiet”.
Alex wants the crowd to dance, which is obvious on his delivery of “Mine Exclusively”, a song that pre-dates even the Box Tops. The sound (and attitude) continues of “A Whole New Thing”, which pushes the irony in its beat-combo arrangement. “Aria, Largo” is hamfisted arrangement of a 400-year-old classical piece played on stiff guitar and bored drums. “Hung Up With Summer” sounds like it was recorded immediately afterwards, with a lot of the same guitar tones. “Do You Wanna Make It” is lyrically minimalist, conjuring memories of the Wonders as they toured the country’s finest state fairs. And it all comes to a sloppy end on “Makeover”, a jam with rambling “lyrics” cribbed from beauty ads. (It’s probably Paul Westerberg’s favorite track.)
In Space is not going to satisfy anyone’s dream of a fourth Big Star album, and the jury’s out as to whether anyone would care if not for the brand name on the label. At less than forty minutes, it delivers for about half. The Posies sound thrilled to be involved, but the real joy of the album comes from Jody Stephens, an exceptional and highly underrated rock drummer. His fills never fail to raise an eyebrow.

Big Star In Space (2005)—

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