Had it not been my recent infatuation with Big Star, this is a record that I would have never considered. I've just turned 50 and been a fan all my life of power pop such as Badfinger and Cheap Trick but Big Star was a band I never listened to until recently. Their first two records are genre defining, and I could not wait to listen to everything I could find recorded by Alex Chilton and Chris Bell.
There are several tracks on "I Am The Cosmos" that show the talent Chris Bell had- the title track is gorgeous (though I have to admit the Posies covered it better), "Speed of Sound", "Get Away", " I Don't Know" and "I Got Kinda Lost" sounds like they would fit well on a Big Star record. Several other tracks have an early solo John Lennon sound- "Better Save Yourself" and "There Was A Light". There are several versions of "You And Your Sister" that Bell recorded with Chilton that show how well they sang together. However, several other tracks on this disc are just plain awful and I wonder why they were included ("Fight At The Table, "Though I Know She Lies"). Of note- Chris' brother David Bell has written a brief history in the liner notes of his brother's influences, how he got involved with Alex Chilton and Big Star, his short solo career and his untimely death.
Overall I think this is a must have for any fan of Big Star, but it is by no means a classic record.
As great as Big Star was, it's sad that neither songwriter was able to put together a decent solo career. Chris Bell drifted off and was never able to get a record deal (except for one single), while Alex Chilton seemed to take perverse pride in making sloppy, uninspired music. This CD represents the entirety of Chris Bell's solo work and was released 14 years after his death. It doesn't quite work as an album. For the most part, the recording quality is somewhere between a demo and a real album, and there is no real progression to the song sequence. It's just a bunch of Chris Bell songs--some fast ones and some slow ones.
There are some very good tunes here, and if you are a serious Big Star fan you will want to own this CD. And Ryko, as usual, has done a fantastic job with the packaging, which includes several photos of Chris Bell and a long, heartfelt essay by his brother David, summarizing Chris's musical career. The best songs are "I Am the Cosmos" and "You and Your Sister," which made up the single that was released during Chris's lifetime. Another highlight is the dreamy "Speed of Sound." The acoustic guitar playing on the slow songs is gorgeous throughout.
The fast songs, like "Get Away," "Make a Scene," and "Fight at the Table," sound a bit forced. Bell contributed some great rockers to the first Big Star album, but without a real band to back him up, he sounds a little out of his element on the fast songs here. His singing is not quite strong enough, maybe because the lyrics are a little too complicated to work in a loud, uptempo setting.
The slow songs, on the other hand, are almost TOO personal. A couple of them mention Jesus or Him with a capital H. Musically, they are very good, although the Beatles influence can be a bit too heavy, especially on "There Was A Light," which sounds like a slowed-down "Let It Be."
Ultimately, the title, "I Am the Cosmos," is very fitting, and almost unifies the collection all by itself. Chris Bell sounds like he's on an island here (or alone on a mountain top, as in the cover photo), but this is more tragic than enlightening. In songs like "Better Save Yourself" and "There Was A Light," he sounds like a man who is fighting his demons--and losing. The effort is noble, and there are some memorable melodies to be heard here, but it's an uncomfortable album to listen to. I admire it a lot more than I enjoy it, and it seems that I can only listen to it every two or three years.
Several strong tunes, several near-misses. If you prefer the first Big Star album, you'll find a lot here to like, but ultimately I AM THE COSMOS will leave you wondering what could have been, as Chris Bell had a great album in him. You'll only find traces of his unrealized potential here.
Alex Chilton's genius really put Big Star on the map. Sure there was the original vision that Chilton and Bell were going to be a Lennon/McCartney type songwriting team which fizzled after #1 Record. I have to say that Bell's songs drag the debut down a notch and that's probably my least favorite of the three Big Star albums. "I Am The Cosmos" is an okay single; the rest of this is a haphazard collection of songs Chris Bell recorded over the years, some with little production value that really never quite gels as a cohesive album in the proper sense. The alternate versions flesh it out enough to make it the length of a full length album, rather than purely serving as bonus cuts. As a Big Star fan I bought this out of curiousity, but I'm not all that impressed. Yes Bell is Beatle like, but his songs always seem at a crossroads, where he's torn whether to emulate Lennon or McCartney, and he seems inferior at either. Also many of his songs are a little too lengthy for their own good and tend to wander in search of direction or a hook. I remain a staunch Chilton fan.I don't think the real glory of Radio City Or Third/Sister Lovers would ever have been achieved with the compromise of having Bell in the group.