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Looking backward: a dissenting opinion
Reviewed in the United States on September 21, 2017
I have to leave a dissenting opinion on this stuff. I love everything Big Star did and the Chris Bell solo recordings released posthumously as I AM THE COSMOS prove that many of the qualities that made Big Star great came from Chris. In fact, I think COSMOS is a stronger record overall than #1 RECORD and vies with Chilton's THIRD/SISTER LOVERS.
This compilation is lovingly produced and very diligently annotated. The sound quality is also excellent. It's a beautiful artifact, but I'm sorry to say the music itself isn't anywhere near the standard of COSMOS or the Big Star albums. I'm really not sure there's a single truly memorable song here, besides the two later redone by Big Star. I do enjoy the Rock City track "Shine on Me" -- which is strangely similar to the Stones' "Shine a Light," which I believe hadn't yet been released when this song was cut -- and a few other scattered items.
The Wallabys tracks are fun Donovan pastiches with tuneless singing and scant Chris Bell involvement. The Icewater stuff is highly variable proto-Big Star stuff, while the Rock City tracks are largely tiresome stabs at arty pop. Tom Eubanks's self-conscious singing (reminiscent of Ian Tyson) is really, really dated, and the songwriting is nothing to write home about either. it should be emphasized that Chris Bell wrote very few of these songs and sings even fewer.
Strangely, what the stuff on here reminds me of most is not Big Star, but 80s Paisley Underground bands like the Rain Parade. A lot of it has that "corniest aspects of psychedelia" quality that underground teen music of the period often has. Based on I AM THE COSMOS, I was expecting memorable pop tunes with imprecise but heart-tugging vocals and churning guitars. You really don't get much of any of that here.