Top positive review
Stunning and deserved box set for a band that should been Big Stars
Reviewed in the United States on September 27, 2009
If you're thinking of buying this, one would assume you already have either heard Big Star or own some of the music. Yes, there is quite a bit of duplication on this set with already available copies of their three albums. The remastering is terrific on this set. The sound is much punchier and fuller to my ears on # 1 Record and Radio City than the 1992 Rykodisc release. The box chronicles the before, during and after of Big Star's tumultuous career. For the dedicated fan this box is the last word on Big Star, containing a wonderful live set, alternate versions of classics as well as some unreleased cuts. For the neophyte this box might be a little tough going, so the individual releases are the obvious first choice.
It begins with early cuts by Chris Bell and one solo cut by Alex Chilton after leaving the Box Tops. Then we go straight to #1 Record, Chris Bell's towering achievement. It's interesting to hear the alternate mixes of these; engineer John Fry brings out something different with many of these alternate mixes. Sometimes the mixes are quite different from the released versions, but in a few cases it's difficult to find any difference.
The second disc is made up of Big Star's greatest (for me, anyway) achievement Radio City. This album comes on a little rougher than its predecessor, more rocking, but still filled with gorgeous harmonies and snappy guitar work. The end of disc two is where the box set rates five stars for me. Track 19 and 20 are the A and B side of Chris Bell's solo single after leaving Big Star. The music is heartbreaking and wonderful, especially if you've never had the chance to hear it. The final six tracks are solo Chilton demos for Third/Sister Lovers. These demos are nothing short of a revelation. Where even big Big Star fans may not appreciate the weirdness of Third, these solo demos are transcendent.
The third disc continues with more Third demos and then features nearly the entire Third/Sister Lovers album in its entirety. I never was a big fan of this, but the demos certainly give it a different sheen. Chilton was apparently working through some difficult emotions in song and the music is appropriately difficult to listen to at times.
The fourth disc is a live recording at a bar in Memphis circa January 1973, after the release of #1 Record. The band plays fabulously; the only thing that isn't on the live recording are some of the backing harmonies, but Chilton and the rest of the band sound terrific, proving they could prove it all night on the stage as well as in the studio. Ironically the sound is great on this recording because the audience was indifferent; the notes indicate a crowd mike was used, and the crowd was impatiently waiting for Archie Bell and the Drells.
Topping it all off is the usual Rhino extravagance: a huge 100 page book packed with photos and a bio on the original cult rock band. The packaging mimics a large 45 sleeve and the CDs are housed in a sturdy fold out case/sleeve that pictures each band member. The book alone is worth quite a chunk of change, but when you add the live disc along with the Third/Sister Lovers demos and the other unreleased tracks, this is a gold mine for Big Star fans or fans of intelligent rock music. It might not be the best way to get acquainted with the band, but if you choose to go this route, you'll keep coming back to this set. Highly recommended.