George Starostin's Reviews



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Pat Pierson <> (17.12.2002)

Dear sir,

Great stuff.....I just wanted to comment on the Big Star piece. Their influence on the '80s and the '90s was enormous and can be traced back to as early as 1978 when new wave/power pop bands were all over the place (some were covering Big Star material, too). Since I've exhaustively spent my life in search of such music, I can easily say that their impact was just about as important as the Velvet Underground, and is very easy to trace. You can hear it in The dBs, Let's Active, Game Theory, 3 O'Clock, Rain Parade, Bangles etc. But it also arose in '70s bands like Piper (i.e. "Who's Your Boyfriend"), Dwight Twilley Band, Shoes, Cheap Trick, Scruffs, Flashcubes, Van Duren and many others.

The Big Star profile got a jolt (as you stated) when The Replacements released the homage, "Alex Chilton" and grew into the '90s when bands like Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, Velvet Crush, Wilco, The Jayhawks, Lemonheads etc. showed much artistic kinship to the band.

The truly amazing thing, like you point out, is that even though they do sound influenced by The Kinks, Beatles, Hollies, Who, Byrds, they don't sound like they're trying to sound like them. And their profound luck of being in a state of the art studio during rock's sonic heyday (71-74) made it that much more magical. They are also one of the few bands to have a Beatles-type lineup (at least in the beginning) where two major talents (Alex Chilton & Chris Bell) combined to make music. If their luck was better, band members Jody Stephens & Andy Hummel would've offered more brilliant songs to the world than just the handful they cut with Big Star, all of which added to the band's ouevre much the way Harrison's did to the Beatles. And they all looked like they belonged in the same band.

Tim Blake (01.08.2006)

If I could think of one band that pretty much defines 'classic rock' it would be Big Star. Sure, they weren't very well known, original, or even particularly interesting, but you listen to their stuff and you're struck by how tied it was to it's time. No. 1 Record and Radio City are still eminently listenable, but they're so rooted in a 'classic' sound that they pretty much define the term. Not The Eagles, not Fleetwood Mac...Big Star! It's interesting, but to me songs like 'Feel', 'In The Street', 'Don't Lie To Me', 'You Get What You Deserve', 'September Girls' and others are purely 70s, they don't sound a thing like anything the Beatles, Hollies and all those 60s bands would have done. These songs pretty much escapulate the term '70s rock'. However, that said, a LOT of the rest of the songs are total Beatles/Hollies worship ('The Ballad Of El Goodo' would have fit perfectly with The Byrds, man), and they share a lot with Badfinger as well, though I would say Badfinger were certainly much more 60s than Big Star. Big Star had a huge 60s influence dripping through everything they made, but Badfinger basically were a 60s band caught in the 70s, as opposed to just being heavily influenced. I still feel that what Big Star were doing should have fit in fine in the 70s, if tentatively. On the other hand, Badfinger were hopelessly out of time (but I listen to them all the time, love their music).

It's also interesting that you can hear huge amounts of Radiohead, Oasis, Porcupine Tree, Coldplay and many other British and alt-rock bands in these songs. I sincerely think they must have all been influenced in some way by Big Star. In fact, the style of The Bends almost sounds like straight plagiarism of this band! Just with a bunch of added angst and a bit of distortion for good measure. I'm mean, replace Alex Chilton with Thom Yorke on 'Back Of A Car' (maybe get that chorus howled) and you could slot it straight in The Bends, or a current Porcupine Tree album.

I think Big Star is the case of a somewhat uninteresting band that is redeemed by solid emotion, strong hooks, fine production and song-writing, but has somehow had a deceptively large influence and originality to it. Big Star ain't no big shakes, but there's nothing wrong with it, and really...why couldn't they have achieved success? Surely this music is prime radio material? Oh well, some things ain't fair and can't fully be explained. I mean what do Fleetwood Mac have over this band to be able to become so freakin' popular with such easy-going music? Nuthin'. Nuthin' at all.


Michael A <> (30.12.2002)

I'd give this one a 9. Great, great, great opening four songs. I can't get enough of them! "Feel" is an excellent way to start the album off, and easily the best song Chris Bell ever wrote (or helped write, dunno). "The Ballad of El Goodo" and "Thirteen" are astoundingly good. "In The Street" has a topnotch little riff and nice chorus to boot. The biggest problem I run into though, is "Don't Lie To Me." I really dislike this song. Its got a moronic chorus, and to my ears, the most generic riff out of all Bell's compositions on this record. "When My Baby's Beside Me" is a step up from "Don't Lie To Me", but doesn't come anywhere close to "Feel" or "In The Street." While the rest of Chilton's songs don't live up to the aforementioned ballads, they are all good in their little ways. Whether it's a catchy capoed guitar riff ("Watch The Sunrise"), chorus, or sentimental chord playing ("Give Me Another Chance"), something's in them. A fine debut.

Mark <> (01.01.2004)

I agree that this is a powerpop record in the same vein as Beatles/Kinks/Hollies/Who etc etc, but you are also right that they are surely a product of the 70's, not sounding like they are aping any of their (I guess) heroes. I like most of the songs, but lilke you say about Radio City, sometimes I have to put on the CD to remember the song; mostly at the end of the record. The first 5 songs ("Feel", "El Goodo", "In The Street", "Thirteen" and "Don't Lie To Me" are virtually a perfect trio of pop/rock songs to open an album and leaves me breathless. After that, "When My Baby's Beside Me" is the standout track for me and the rest never captures this opening quintet of tracks which is a bit of a disappointment to say the least. The rest is okay.....but not as stellar as the opening. In retrospect, it's not really hard to see why they were a cult band and not a mainstream success; while the band was always vocally and musically proficient, the songs, though sometimes brilliant, were so much "pop" in a world where heavy rock and or progressive rock ruled that it's almost predictable. (They were not hard/heavy/progressive enough for the "artsy" or "rocker" crowd, but too edgy for let's say the "Carpenters" - god forbid - crowd so they never fit in anywhere). It's good to see that history sometimes rights the wrongs.

Ryan Maffei <> (27.06.2005)

I actually think this one is their least effective recording, wonderful as it is, simply because the profundity of the stuff they'd achieve after they started to break certain power-pop conventions (and, ah, Bell left) isn't really anywhere to be found. The lyrics, while never Big Star's forte, aren't graced with the touch of madness Radio City's, and especially Sister Lovers are, and thus the only times I feel the band says something meaningful (to me, at least) here are Bell's "In The Street" (it's an excellent song), Chilton's effervescent "The Ballad Of El Goodo" (one of the most uplifting songs ever written, surely) and Hummel's "The India Song" (well, it must mean something). And even then, the second side drags like crazy in spots, which I suppose is a matter of sequencing, not songwriting. My point, which I'm sure was clear several sentences ago, is that the pop on this record is good, but very little moves me in the way that most of the songs on Radio City (and a handful on Lovers) do. Plus, City is genuine, gritty rock 'n' roll (though yes, this first one has "Don't Lie To Me", a fine Chuck Berry rip). Somewhere along the line, that sort of thing started meaning more to me. I suppose it really does pack more punch when handled right.


Michael A <> (30.12.2002)

My rating varies on this one. At times I feel like giving it an 8, others a 10 (Similar to Pink Moon, although that one is better). Since Bell's not really there anymore (which is good and bad, he was just somewhat inconsistent), it had mixed effects. "September Gurls", "Back of a Car", and "O My Soul" are downright awesome. Being a fan of Chilton's ballads on #1 Record, I can't help but love this one when I'm down and out about something. This is one of the best mood pieces I have in my record collection. Chilton's melancholy and bleakness is what makes this record great at times, and not so great at others. "What's Going Ahn?" (this one especially), "Daisy Glaze", and "I'm In Love With a Girl" are extremely boring sometimes, and wonderful at others. Consider it a love and hate relationship I guess. A good enough record anyway, despite it not being as accessible as #1 Record.

Mark <> (01.01.2004)

Here I agree entirely with you George. Too much of this album is generic and some individual tracks don't stand out as well. But when it works, it's fantastic. Obviously everyone picks "September Gurls" and with good reason, it's a great track with great lyrics and deserves it's accolades. But other tracks such as "O My Soul", "You Get What You Deserve" (probably the closest track to the style/mood/writing of "# 1 Record") "Back Of A Car", "She's A Mover" and the georgous "I'm In Love With A Girl" are standouts too. I agree with Michael that Chris Bell was up and down, but it was the ying-yang of their work together that made the partnership interesting on # 1 Record (much the same way of Lennon-McCartney's differences that brought out the best in each other that was lost when the Fabs broke up). With only Chilton (mostly) in control, that spark was lost and this is why the second album to me doesn't have the same variety or consistancy as the first. But considering the circumstances (the break up of the band, the flop of the first album and the band regrouping) maybe the inconsistancy that I hear was to be expected. Still though, this album is still a real good album which most bands would kill to have in their catalogue.


Koen Sebregts <> (31.03.2003)

You say: the harrowing cover of the Velvet Underground's 'Femme Fatale', severely spoilt by stupid female backup vocals in the chorus (unintelligible to absurdity - where the original backup vocals just sang 'she's a femme fatale', these sing something of which the word combination 'femme fatale' is only a part, but what it is, I dunno).  

Whilst disagreeing with your opinion of the female background vocals on "Femme Fatale", I am very happy to help you with the 'unintelligible' lyrics (as anyone with a rudimenary knowledge of French could do). The entirely lovely female voice goes "Elle est une femme fatale", which is French for, yes, "she's a femme fatale" (or "she's a fatal woman" rather, those New York art school boys mixing languages like nobody's business on the original).

Furthermore, to anyone unable to appreciate Sister Lovers' side 2 for itself (or at least for its best songs "Stroke it Noel" and "You Can't Have Me"), I must say I feel sorry for you, your life must be dour.

Mark <> (01.01.2004)

While having few (if any) hooks in the style of the previous two albums, this is for me the "masterpiece". George, you are so right in everything you say. It always struck me as a big "fuck you" to everyone.....and possibly to himself too????? While a lot of the songs are not memorable in and of themselves, the whole album gels as a whole. It is a facinating listen; haunting, funny, strange, moving and yeah, as you say depressing. I always feel like I am spying while listening to this - watching facinated while someone is having a nervous breakdown right in front of your eyes. Like how everyone stares at a car accident while they drive past it, knowing that they shouldn't, but not able to look away. Not for the faint of heart or for those who are highly conservative, but I think that was the point. I also think that Chilton figured "What the hell, if the other 2 albums flopped, I might as well just go make what I want" and did. What did he have to lose? He couldn't have expected THIS one to sell if the other 2 didn't. But I lilke this one best, if only for the mood of it compared to the other 2. Consider it Big Star's Plastic Ono Band/Primal Scream Album.

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