Monday, March 12, 2012

Big Star 6: Keep An Eye On The Sky

One of the modern rules of the music business is that sooner or later, everybody gets a box set. (This remains true even well after multi-disc collections weren’t necessarily packaged in boxes anymore.) Even bands that only had a couple of albums, given enough street cred, will be anthologized in time.
And so it happened with Big Star. Two albums while they existed, a legendary third album that went through various permutations on its way to being official, and every critic starting from 1992 insisted they were the bee’s knees, and some of us would be inclined to agree. But if you’re not already a fan, why should you care?
For the handful of us who do search out every scrap of tape related to the band, Keep An Eye On The Sky provides enough of an alternate view of Big Star as should ever be available. Over the first three discs comes enough alternate takes and mixes of the songs we’ve already inhaled, with the expected handful of surprises to keep us both interested and no resentful that we’ve bought the same three albums again. A few pre-band tracks set up where the boys came from, including a Chris Bell excerpt from another studio opus that would go unheard until put squarely into context later on. A smattering of Alex Chilton demos brings several songs down to their bare bones. Along the way, we get to hear some embryonic versions of certain studio creations, like the intro to “Jesus Christ” and the original lyrics for “Stroke It Noel”. The two best songs from Chris Bell’s so-called solo period, “I Am The Cosmos” and “You And Your Sister”, are placed well within context to show that such a studio rat might have been well served by sticking with the band instead of going his own way, recording in England and smashing his car into a pole.
Something of a holy grail arrives on the fourth disc, which presents an entire concert from the quiet period just before the second album was recorded, without Chris Bell but with the original “other three”, running through songs from the first two albums, playing some unexpected covers—Flying Burrito Brothers?!?—and a rendition of “ST 100/6” that incorporates the mid-section from the outtake described above.
Again, this collection, while comprehensive, is really for fans only. Anyone else would be best advised to go for the two-fer of the first two albums before even considering if they need anything else. And if you are already a fan, there will be enough on Keep An Eye On The Sky to make you feel as if you’ve spent your money well.

Big Star Keep An Eye On The Sky (2009)—4

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