Review : Big Star - Keep An Eye On The Sky
PitchforkBig Star aren't just rock's greatest cult band; they were arguably rock's first cult band. Like Magellan, they discovered a new route to iconic status, but theirs was more circuitous and didn't involve such niceties as sales, audience, tours, or really anything resembling actual success. Instead, they maintained a slow, dim burn throughout the 1970s and 80s, their memory kept alive by critics, collectors, record store clerks, and younger generations of musicians such as R.E.M. and the Replacements. It's easy to read that history in the band name and album titles, which today play like ironic gestures toward out-of-reach celebrity. But Big Star were sincere about being big stars and having #1 records. They didn't set out to be cult: Striving for celebrity and confirmation, they wrote what they thought should be hit records, and they played to please. Their appeal should and could have been broad. By comparison, their loyal audience nearly forty years later is a fluke.
Despite their unprecedented longevity and surprising durability, Big Star have been under-anthologized, with a strange string of lackluster releases. Alex Chilton's pre-band solo debut, 1970, took more than 15 years to make its way to record store shelves, and the band's first two albums, #1 Record and Radio City, have been joined at the hip now for decades, starting with the British combo release in 1978 throughout Fantasy/Concord's recent remaster. Big Star's final album, Third/Sisters Lovers, gathered dust for nearly five years before finally getting a small release, and even that tribute album was delayed for nearly a decade. During that time, The Best of Big Star and Big Star Story tried foolishly to whittle the band's short career down to one negligible disc....full text
EwOverlooked in their '70s prime, these Memphis natives have long since been recognized by critics and fellow musicians as power-pop pioneers. Anyone who still needs convincing will find the case for Big Star's legendhood made beyond a reasonable doubt on Keep an Eye on the Sky, a four-disc retrospective. The spare demos, crystal-clear concert recordings, and handsomely produced liner notes are a fan's delight, but it's the three original albums included here — 38 haunting ballads and fist-pumping anthems, some in unreleased mixes, each one a gem — that still shine brightest. A...full text
NoripcordIf you read my Big Star interview that coincides with this review, you might notice, in some small, funny way, a slight sense of pride on the part of the musicians. How ironic that in 2009, 37 years after the band’s debut album came and went to the notice of, well, pretty much no one, they can finally sit back and smile on their not-so-modest achievements. Yes, gentlemen. I think it’s about time that you deserve to revel a bit.
Yet after all these years, it’s easy to see how the surviving members of Big Star are a bit jaded despite their unpredictable longevity. They churned out three albums in the legendary Ardent Studios – all three garnering almost unanimous critical praise, I might add – and each one slipped into the twilight without even a whimper of commercial acknowledgement. If their fate was due to lazy songwriting or poor production values or subpar musicianship, they would have no sympathy for their frustrations. But this is different. They had something special. Their songs were extra-ordinary. And all along, they knew it.
Little by little, other people started knowing it, too. And now, Big Star find themselves in that spot that so many aspiring bands dream of – unspoiled by major success but instilled in the minds of many future musicians, some who went on to have hit singles covering Big Star songs, and others who even named their songs after them. All this has culminated in a definitive Big Star release, the 4-disc box set, Keep an Eye on the Sky....full text
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