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Third/Sister Lovers (2 albums sur 1 seul CD) Edition spéciale
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THIRD/SISTER LOVERS (2 ALBUMS SUR 1 SEUL CD)
Alex Chilton a connu le succès à seize ans avec les Box Tops ("The Letter") puis a subi l'indifférence du public et des critiques avec Big Star. Amer, vieilli avant l'âge et asocial, il rentre presque seul en studio pour enregistrer le dernier album de son deuxième groupe. À l'exception du batteur, présent sur quelques morceaux, les autres sont partis. Alors, avec le producteur Jim Dickinson et quelques musiciens de studio de Memphis (dont Steve Cropper de chez Stax sur "Femme Fatale" du Velvet), il tente de concilier toutes ses lubies : les Beatles et les Byrds, les Kinks et la soul de Memphis, les Who et les classiques de la comédie musicale. Il n'a plus aucune confiance dans le show-business, qui l'a spolié, et n'en fait qu'à sa tête. Si un tube pointe derrière un morceau, il en sabote aussitôt l'enregistrement. Il va même jusqu'à intituler une chanson désespérée "Holocaust"&"160;! Personne encore n'avait osé chanter : « Tu es un holocauste » ! Et les arrangements du disque sont au diapason : percus hésitantes, larsens rampants, pianos romantiques, violoncelles lyriques, voix frêle. Sinistre et honnête, fantomatique et baroque, unique, Sister Lovers a finalement influencé le meilleur rock des années 90, de R.E.M. à Jeff Buckley. --Hubert Deshouse
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Terriblement déçu, hanté par la gloire de sa jeunesse, par l'absence de Chris Bell et la consommation de drogues diverse, Chilton rassemble ce qui lui reste de forces pour cet album bancal mais terriblement beau, pathétiquement sublime. Ironiquement, "Thank You" remercie les nombreux amis qui ont "soutenu" Big Star, et une bonne partie de l'album évolue ainsi en équilibriste, entre l'innocence des mélodies et le déséspoir dans la voix du chanteur. Mais c'est celui-ci qui s'impose sur les monumentales "Holocaust" et "Kangaroo". Ce dernier morceau vient achever une longue descente au enfer, qui ne s'ouvre sur aucun retour possible. La production de Jim Dickinson est parfaite, enrichissant au maximum l'espace sonique, guitares en feu dans un coin, cloches qui sonnent brusquement le glas... l'album se termine sur des ballades sobres, frêles, pudiques.
Sur cette rééditions, quelques reprises plutôt anecdotiques, valables uniquement pour la voix, toujours au top, de Chilton.
Attention : contrairement à ce qui est indiqué, il ne s'agit pas de deux albums sur un même disque, mais d'un album portant deux titres différents (Third et Sister Lovers, surement une histoire de pressages US/GB).
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Fast forward to college, mid-90s: a friend stumbles on a copy of the Ryko "Sister Lovers" reissue and puts "Kangaroo" on a mix tape for me. I immediately assumed it was a cover that some contemporary indie band had done recently. Interesting and oddly familiar. Then my friend tells me it's Big Star, that this was the original version, and that it was recorded in 1974. Needless to say, my jaw dropped to the floor. This song sounded NOTHING at all like anything written or recorded in 1974. The feedback, the ultra-clear, wet, reverbed-out production, the singing, etc, ... A lot of revolutionary artists were making ground-breaking records in '74, from John Cale to Roxy Music to Brian Eno to Can to Faust, but none of it really anticipated this particular sound that so many bands would ape (sometimes without realizing it) in the 80s and 90s.
I soon got a copy of "Sister Lovers" and was immediately blown away by the seminal songwriting and arrangements. It was clear that bands like the Cocteau Twins took something from mellow, gorgeous, melancholic, atmospheric tunes like "Big Black Car," "Take Care," and "Holocaust." It was also clear that "Stroke it Noel" and "For You" perfected what many call "baroque pop": pop songs centered around chamber-like, stringed arrangements, they pushed "Smile"-era Beach Boys and Love's "Forever Changes" into a whole new territory. Echo & the Bunnymen's classic "Ocean Rain" might not have been quite the same without this.
The atmosphere and overall mood, the sometimes incomplete arrangements, the desperate, sometimes bitter and sardonic vocals, suggested the sound of a band falling apart (which indeed was happening at the time). The use of space, reverb, and spare, sometimes jagged and jarring arrangements and mood swings, the sense of anger and defeat, all worked its way into so many 80s new wave/post-punk records, one couldn't begin to keep track. From Echo and The Bunnymen to the Go-Betweens, from the Replacements to Sonic Youth, few records have influenced such a wide array of artists.
What's even more fascinating about this album is how timeless it sounds. When you listen to those other "ahead of their time" records, like "Pet Sounds," "Forever Changes," "Another Green World," "VU w/ Nico," etc, it's pretty easy to tell which decades they were recorded in. But with "Sister Lovers," the sound isn't derivative of anything that was happening during its time of creation. If I knew nothing about Big Star and I simply heard "Sister Lovers" w/ out any band photos or anything lying around for contexxt, I swear I might've placed it somewhere in the 80s or 90s. That, my friend, is what I would call "timeless".
The hooks, the atmosphere, the anguish, the tension, it's all here in unrivaled glory. What's even more remarkable is how different this was from the first two Big Star releases, which were filled with tight, English-sounding, fairly conventional pop songs with straight-forward arrangements and sounds. (Those two albums, as important as they are in their own respective ways, do happen to sound a bit dated). This is an album that grows on you with repeated listens. An album where new surprises continue to reveal themselves even after you've owned it for several years. As a collection of haunting, pretty, offbeat pop, or a blueprint for countless bands and movements to come, this album cannot be overlooked.
Although Big Star is thought of as the quintessential American power pop band, you would never know it from their third CD, which I will hereafter refer to as Sister Lovers, because I like that title better. Granted, the disc contains "Thank You Friends", which is in the tradition of their classic "September Gurls". (Neither of which are, in my opinion, as perfect as the greatest power pop song ever, "Shake Some Action" by The Flamin' Groovies, who are also a strong candidate for the quintessential American power pop band.) Apart from that, almost all of the songs on Sister Lovers are stark affairs, ones which stick in your head not because they are catchy but because they're haunting. The range of the band's musical taste - or just Chilton's, as the case may be - is indicated nicely by the covers on the record, which include the sparse "Nature Boy" (made famous by Nat "King" Cole), an even slower (and French-flavored) version of The Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale", and a spirited take on "Till the End of the Day" by The Kinks (which they start off with the opening riffs to The Who's "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere"). Chilton is clearly the star of this CD, as he wrote all but one of the original songs. But drummer Jody Stephens gives him a run for his money with his single contribution, "For You". This track speaks as much for the tone and brilliance of Sister Lovers as any of Chilton's songs do.
There are a few weaker tracks, like "Kizza Me", "You Can't Have Me", and the cover of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On". If nothing else, at least they lighten the mood of the record a bit. The absence of Chris Bell, whose presence was so strongly felt on their debut #1 Record, may explain the lack of higher quality soul and power pop. (Bell had left the group in 1972, and was killed in a car crash in 1978.) However, this same absence allowed Chilton to make Sister Lovers the tormenting masterpiece that it is. This may have disappointed many Big Star fans, but the band was never obligated to be a pop group, and they had very little chance of coming out of this record intact anyway. Hence, the result is a record full of frightening tales of despondency, like the horrifically unsubtle "Holocaust" - "you're a wasted face/you're a sad-eyed lie/you're a holocaust" - and loneliness, like "Nighttime" - "I hate it here, get me out of here". Other songs seek comfort and salvation in whatever may offer it, be it driving ("Big Black Car"), religion ("Jesus Christ"), or love ("Blue Moon"). And that is hardly where the great songs end. The string-laden "Kangaroo", "Strike It Noel", and "Take Care" are all amazing and probably unlike anything you'll ever hear in popular music.
Given the anguished tone of the record, one does have to wonder - as many already have - if the triumphal sounding "Thank You Friends" is sincere or bitterly ironic. In this sense, it reminds me of The Kinks' song "All of My Friends Were There". While this also sounds celebratory, the lyrics indicate otherwise: "And just when I wanted no one to be there/All of my friends were there/Not just my friends, but there best friends too/All of my friends were there/To stand and stare". Alex, meanwhile, says "without my friends I got chaos". Well, if the remainder of the record is any indication, chaos is what he's got a lot of! Is Alex in fact friendless, or were the friends he had simply not there when he needed them to be?
Whatever the case, lonely is something that Alex Chilton will never be in the world of popular music, as evinced by a couple of tribute albums and dozens of artists who admire Big Star. Sister Lovers was a departure from the snap crackle pop of their first two records, but arguably even more ambitious and fully realized than either of them. But while it may be the masterpiece of the band called Big Star, it can't really stand as their most representative opus, as #1 Record and Radio City are just as essential. Alex Chilton once said that he felt that he was joining Chris Bell's band when he became a member of Big Star, and that Bell was the biggest Anglophile in Memphis. With Bell's departure, Big Star clearly became Chilton's band. Thus, Sister Lovers might more accurately be his personal masterwork, while remaining a fascinating piece of the Big Star puzzle.
on its own, sister lovers is full of haunting and lovely material like "blue moon," "dream lover," and "nighttime" but when listened in context, keeping in mind the innocence and youthfulness of #1 record and the "we won't give up" mentality that permeates radio city, only then does this record reveal its harrowing true colors.
take chilton's "car" songs as an example. #1 record gives us "in the street," a youth anthem in which the characters spend much of their time happily driving around town in someone's car. radio city sees this changing for the worse with "back of a car," in which the "music's too loud" and the fun is dissipating fast as the innocence and youth seeps away. here, on sister lovers, there's "big black car," painful in its sorrow and melancholy, talking about driving around as if it's only a memory in the mind of someone who can no longer enjoy any facet of life, not even that which used to give so much; "nothing can hurt me" he says, but we don't believe him, "driving's a gas, it aint gonna last."
in context, third/sister lovers may very well be the most incredible document of giving up since the advent of sound. equally jaw-dropping and miraculous as #1 record and radio city. everything you've heard about big star is an understatement.