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Dirigé par Alex Chilton (ex-Box Tops) et composé du chanteur/guitariste Chris Bell, du bassiste Andy Hummel et du batteur Jody Stephens, le groupe se distingue d'abord par sa musicalité inspirée: Pop Sixties, jeu interactif puissant, mélodies irrésistibles... le mélange est excitant, insolite, et nettement décalé par rapport au son Mainstream Rock habituel de l'époque. Si Chilton vient de connaître son heure de gloire avec un tube aux yeux bleus (le #1 des Box Tops intitulé "The Letter"), la musique de Big Star compose un merveilleux tissu: Pop Music sous influence British, on y retrouve ça et là les Byrds, les Beatles, les Kinks et autres Badfinger...
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Il suffit de constater l'étendue de la puissance évocatrice des 12 morceaux (pour 36 minutes) que le disque renferme : "O My Soul" est dévastateur, de même que "Mod Lang" et le plus complexe "Daisy Glaze". On y trouve de belles petites pépites pop telles que "I'm In Love With A Girl", "What's Going Ahn", "Way Out West", et le classique "September Gurls". Quant à "You Get What You Deserve", c'est tout simplement LA chanson à ne pas oublier de toute la décennie 70.
Un sommet absolu, un disque à posséder absolument !
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Chilton made his commercial breakthrough in his teens as lead singer for the late 60s blue-eyed soul outfit The BoxTops, but it must be acknowledged that his best and most enduring work was with Big Star, the semi-legendary 1970s pop-rock lineup.
In stark contrast to The Box Tops, Big Star's "#1 Record" was a huge flop in terms of sales, and creative tensions within the group led to the departure of co-founder Chris Bell before Big Star, now a trio, regrouped in their home town of Memphis to work on their second album in 1973. What eventually emerged was yet another huge market failure, but also one of the best and most influential LPs of the 1970s.
Like many southern musicians, Chilton's music is an amalgam of genres - and intriguingly he adds a Britpop layer to Big Star's mélange of American roots influences. Ringing vocal harmonies descended from the Beatles via The Byrds, jangly muscular rhythm guitar not a million miles away from Pete Townshend's work with the early Who, and a clattering, loose but funky rhythm section fill out a sound which is plenty more than the sum of its parts.
Alternatively hard nosed and lovelorn, Chilton brings a cynical strength to the core of "Radio City" - songs like the opener "Mod Lang", "What's Going Ahn" and "She's A Mover" pack a desperate edge among the shimmering arrangements.
Chilton's guitar is on fire here - never before or since did he establish such a distinctive guitar voice on record. His Fender Telecaster switches from lead to rhythm, from jagged riffs to more languid lines, all without apparent effort.
And then there are his vocals, soaring on snatches of power pop like the insanely catchy "September Gurls" and "Back Of A Car", edgy in the minor key "You Get What You Deserve" - on this record Chilton synthesises his blues, soul and country roots into a totally convincing melodic and dynamic whole.
The album ends with Chilton unaccompanied on the haunting "I'm In Love With A Girl", an early excursion into Low Fi twenty years before the term was invented.
It's not completely a one-man show, as bass player Andy Hummell and drummer Jody Stephens make significant contributions - this is a band, not a solo record after all - but Alex Chilton's utter commitment to every line he sings and note he plays is self-evident.
From this point on, Chilton's work would become increasingly focused on breaking his music down to its constituent parts, jumping on them, smashing them up and then randomly reassembling them (for examples, if you dare, check out 1979's "Like Flies On Sherbert" or 1985's amazingly shambolic "Live in London").
While "Radio City" stops well short of that sort of outright commercial self-harm, Chilton infuses it with a tangible bitterness which lurks just below the surface of what would be a straight pop record in the hands of another. It's laced with a strung out weariness that adds to the record's poignancy, a vibe it shares with contemporaries like "Exile On Main Street" by the Stones and Iggy Pop and James Williamson's "Kill City".
"Radio City" is a tremendously influential record, inspiring bands the world over from the Replacements to Teenage Fanclub, from REM to Ice Cream Hands.
Despite its surface glaze of power pop, this is a raw, desperate record which requires your attention.
Vinyl is flat, pretty thick (160 gram or so), flat (and black), and when I bought it was cheap ($13).
Chris Bell's departure meant Alex Chilton was pretty much free to write an album without Chris Bell's influence (though bassist Andy Hummel makes more contributions than before). Wow, does it make a difference. Big Star still make the pop music as infectious as they ever have, but this time, the sound is pretty different. The Crunchy rock and roll of songs like Feel, Don't Lie To Me, In The Street, you know, well, that's no more. There isn't much Byrds-like influence either (evident in songs like Try Again and Give Me Another Chance), and not much happiness. It's evident that Alex Chilton was not happy, and it shows (perhaps even more in Third/Sister Lovers, but I can't say). I'm pretty sure you're ready to know what's on this album, so here is the track by track overview.
1.O My Soul-A pretty epic rocker with some glorious guitars. Alex Chilton screeches about being a teenager, and this is one of the teenage anthems for me (well, expect maybe the Drive in my car bit). One of the best Big Star songs.
2.Life Is White-This one gets kind of whiny, but when it doesn't, it's a good one. After the singing, that's the better part, with some jazzy piano and all, some classic rock and roll mixing.
3.Way Out West-This one is a great one. I think Andy Hummel sings this one, because it certainly doesn't sound like Alex Chilton. The guitar tones are great, spidery and longing, full of EXPRESSION. The lyrics are great as usual (Big Star's lyrics are one of it's greatest charms).
4.What's Going On-It seems Alex Chilton is amazing at doing the bittersweet songs, complete with the sound. Great vocal harmonies and lyrics.
5.You Get What You Deserve-More great lyrics and music. Very bitter sounding, and a little angry. There's a blistering guitar solos on this song, perfectly matching the lyrics and mood.
6.Mod Long-Not enough energy to be a rocker, but still a good song. That's about all, however.
7.Back Of A Car-Love this track. This one is to die for once it grows on you. It's like Paradise By The Dashboard Light, only to the point, concise, and not annoying beyond belief.
9.She's A Mover-Kind of like Mod Lang, only a bit dancier, with gives it a groove. Still not great, but it's a keepah, expect some of the weak whaling at the end.
10.September Gurls-Ah, the pop masterpiece. There isn't a thing wrong with this song.
11.Morpha Too-A take on a Beatles Piano ballad. It's short and has a couple of cringe worthy vocals, but yeah, I like it.
12.I'm In Love With A Girl-A pretty, sparse closer, and doesn't bug me the slightest. Great lyrics! Great guitars! And That's all it has. Maybe some atmosphere.
I may prefer their first album, but a lot of these tracks on here are great. Besides, when it comes in a two for one deal of Big Star's first two albums, who can complain? Get it with 1# Record together on #1 Record/Radio City
After listening to Radio City several times, I think I know who Elvis Costello's biggest influence was! Most of these songs would fit in perfectly on any of Costello's early albums.
Another musician I believe was influenced by this band is Tom Petty. Sometimes the lead singer resembles some of Petty's vocal mannerisms, and even the lyrics wouldn't be out of place on any given Petty album.
Sometimes the lead singer of Big Star reminds me of George Harrison, but only occasionally.
Anyway, enough of this little marathon of name dropping I've created here, haha. Radio City is seriously a perfect album from "O My Soul" all the way to "I'm in Love With a Girl".
Big Star really should have been more popular than they were. At least todays generation is doing the right thing by remembering these guys. They're finally getting the attention they so rightly deserve.
Anyway, "O My Soul" is quite the song. A George Harrison comparison in the vocal melody wouldn't totally be out of the question, but that's not all folks! The guitar playing is loud, crunchy, and extremely melodic similar to the classic years of Badfinger. I love when the song expands during the second half and the vocal melody changes into something as equally memorable. Good stuff.
Call me absolutely nuts, but I wonder if the pop/rock band Weezer was listening to "Life is White" because it sounds like something that band would do. I sure love those crunchy guitar chords and vocals.
"Way Out West" is quite possibly the best song on the album, but I have to be extremely careful naming a best song on a classic album such as this one because most likely tomorrow I'll wake up and have a new favorite!
"What's Going Ahn" definitely reminds me of an Elvis Costello ballad. It's awesome. He HAD to be have been listening to these guys whether he wants to admit it or not!
"You Get What You Deserve" has a really ominous chorus. A different song compared to the rest of the album. It's awesome, of course! "Mod Lang" is an incredibly melodic hard rock song. It succeeds in the way it perfectly blends a pop vocal melody with hard rock guitar heaviness.
"Back of the Car" is... once again super melodic. Talk about a song you'd want to hear while being with your girlfriend. In fact the whole ALBUM feels like it's suitable for the younger crowd. I guess that's why so many younger folks love Big Star today.
"Daisy Glaze" has really delicately enjoyable vocals during the first half, and the second half changes gears and focuses on rocking out and just delivering another incredible melody. I can't think of any other description for it- trust me though, it's a keeper.
"She's a Mover" may very well be a tribute to the legendary Hollies. How awesome is that? The Hollies are a brilliant pop band, especially during the early years of their career.
Alright, the next song is solid PROOF these guys were onto something huge back in the day and were fully aware of it. "September Gurls" sounds WAY ahead of its time. No, this is not something from 1974. That vocal melody is REALLY sweet, too.
I love Radio City. Buy it now all you pop fans!