Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: 'Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star'


In the few years before making his name in Big Star, Chris Bell bounced around a few different Memphis bands. The interesting thing about each of them is that Bell’s retro sensibility was already well in place when he strummed for The Wallabys, Ice Water, and Rock City, which featured fellow future-Big Star Jody Stephens behind the kit. Like Big Star, each one of these bands owed more to mid-sixties British pop than circa-1970 American Rock. Some of their songs, such as Rock City’s “Think It’s Time to Say Goodbye” and Ice Water’s “All I See Is You”, sound like they could have been on #1 Record. On the rare occasion Bell sang lead, the results often ended up in Big Star’s trick bag, as when that band recycled Rock City’s “My Life Is Right” and “Try Again”.

However, the new early-Bell compilation Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star is not limited to Big Star-esque power pop. There’s also a pronounced psychedelic influence on a lot of this stuff that never bled onto Big Star’s records so unabashedly. The Wallaby’s “Feeling High” is pure Syd Barrett bounce while the title track sounds like a groovy outtake from Crimson & Clover. The aptly named “Psychedelic Stuff” has a whiff of The End about it.

The only time that Looking Forward really sounds of its time is when Rock City cobble together an almost proggy suite of songs about the dubious nature of religious leaders. This five-song sequence also contains this compilation’s only blunder since a couple of random songs are senselessly programmed within the suite. Otherwise, Looking Forward really holds its own as a superb collection of tracks that mostly look back at pop’s 1966/1967 peak.
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