Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review: Reissues of Big Star's '#1 Record' and 'Radio City'

At a time when Rock & Roll was succumbing to its most self-consciously epic excesses and the simple pop was looking like a product of the past, Big Star swept in and did their best to right this sad wrong. Sadly, no one really knew it but the frustrated Rock critics they easily won over with their breezy harmonies, jingling guitars, and effervescent, emotion-packed, three-minute tunes. So Big Star has gone down as one of those groups like The Velvet Underground or The Pixies who made only the slightest commercial ripples during their time but had a tidal wave effect on the artists they influenced from R.E.M. to Teenage Fanclub to Elliott Smith.

Most of those artists didn’t really get the word out about their love of Big Star until after 1992, which is when Stax-owned Ardent Records dumped their phenomenal first two LPs onto a single compact disc. This is never a great way to present individual albums, creating the illusion that each one runs on too long, and if there is one thing you can’t say about the power-poppy #1 Record and the wilder, more ragged Radio City is that they are long-winded or self-indulgent. In the wake of renewed respect for and interest in Big Star exemplified by the recent and very excellent documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Stax is returning #1 Record and Radio City to their individual states. These reissues feature new liner notes by fan Mike Mills of R.E.M. (same notes on each disc) and have been remastered from the original analog source tapes. To be honest with you, Ardent’s old twofer sounded really good and I don’t notice a dramatic sonic upgrade aside from a touch more warmth and detail. At least they didn’t attempt to make these albums sound “modern” by leaning on the levels. In fact, the press materials boast that listeners might have to turn up the volumes of their stereos after popping in these CDs. Never a bad idea when listening to Big Star under any circumstances.

Get #1 Record and Radio City on Amazon.com here:

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