For fans of Big Star, Chris Bell's `I Am the Cosmos' is a must have. Bell writes sugar-sweet love songs (Speed of Sound, You and Your Sister, Thought I Knew Her) with infatuating melodies that stand well against the best of Paul McCartney. Love lost is seldom heard with such despair. Of particular interest, `I Am the Cosmos' overwrites a beautiful melody with some ripping guitar chords emphasizing the composition's aura of futility. The rockers (Get Away, Make a Scene, I Don't Know) remind me not so much of Big Star, but of John Lennon's rebellious Plastic Ono Band period: fiery but chaotic. Those familiar with Big Star songs such as `The Ballad of El Goodo,' My Life Is Right,' Try Again' and `Give Me Another Chance' shouldn't be surprised with Bell's spiritual affirmations. `Better Save Yourself,' Look Up,' and `There Was a Light' clearly seek the heavens for inspiration. I wouldn't rate `I Am the Cosmos' on par with Big Star's first two albums, but Chris Bell's influence on the band's majestic sound is profound.
Some anxiety is revealed by the nature of this music. I had four sisters who had some friends, but the "sister says I'm no good" idea is like a choice of Adam and Eve or Steve after the changes our culture has gone through.
I Am the Cosmos was released posthumously in 1992 and shows what Chris Bell was capable on his own. There are some notable songs but it doesn't quite match what he had composed with Alex Chilton some years earlier. 'Get Away' and 'I Don't Know' are two different versions of the same song while Chilton does contribute a vocal on one of the versions of 'You and Your Sister'. The title track 'I Am the Cosmos' is a good one but there's a downbeat feel prevalent throughout yet it shows Chris Bell was a good songwriter nonetheless.
Chris Bell was always the underappreciated half of Big Star - while critics and fans raved over Alex Chilton's intense, brooding pop songs (deservedly so), Chris Bell was somewhat lost in the shuffle. His songs are often chilling and desperate in the same mold as Chilton, but his voice is not quite as powerful or accessible as Chilton's - which never detracts from the songs. This CD is a worthy companion to the essential Big Star albums, and fortunately is widely available. Nothing here approaches the anthemic status of "In The Street" - Bell's one contribution to mainstream culture, from That 70's Show - but the more low key songs make this work well as a cohesive record. Best Tracks: "I Am The Cosmos" - Soul-searching, lonesome, and an all time power pop classic. Would have sounded just as good on Third/Sister Lovers. "Speed Of Sound" - Runs a little long, but this emotionally fragile tune is one of the best on the CD. "You And Your Sister" - Chilton's backing vocals and the sweeping arrangement make this one of the greatest love songs nobody has ever heard. Truly a keeper, in any of the 3 versions that appear here (they aren't TOO different, but all worthy). "There Was A Light" - I'd describe this as George Harrison and Mitch Easter jamming on a soul-pop theme.
An absolute must for Big Star fans. Chris Bell's infamous solo album finally available in a listenable CD format, just barely. The production of these songs is fair, leading to poor. This is no reflection on Chris or his songs, but rather on the recordings themselves.The instruments/vocals sound distant and muffled, while at times Bell's voice comes across as weak and unconvincing. But what of the music itself? Quite interesting actually, sort of like solo Lennon stuff early 70's. Good, solid, tuneful rock. What a terrible waste that Chris didn't stick with B.S. and add these very nice songs to what Chilton was doing and produce two more great albums. Between this and Third/Sister Lovers Bell wins hands down.
If Big Star's Radio City and #1 Record are five star records, this is four-and-a-half. The high points are just as high (the title track, You and Your Sister), the weakest tracks maybe a bit weaker. There is a real melancholy beauty to this music. It creates its own atmosphere.
Liner notes are rarely worth mentioning, but the ones here (by Bell's brother) are fascinating, telling the story of the recording and mixing of these tracks in Europe, including a brief encounter with Paul McCartney at Abbey Road. Bell's is a sad story in many ways, and his depression is palpable on Cosmos. One of those artists who was severely underappreciated in his too-short lifetime and still underrated today.
I love Big Star, but I never picked this up. I listened to it for the first time tonight--its too good for words. Sure--the songs arent as tight as Big Star but no matter. Maybe Mr Chilton stole everything from Mr Bell or vice versa--regardless it brought chills. Unbelievable. Played it twice in a row--that is very rare. Bittersweet is the only way to describe it.
What I really want to say is that while I have always felt that Big Star is one of the most overrated "unknown" bands in the history of pop music, I really like this album. So go figure. Everyone's been saying "if you like Big Star" etc, and yet I can't stand that band but this solo lp transcends anything I've heard from BS.
compare this to the dreck alex chilton has wasted his solo career on and tell me again that alex chilton deserves the accolades he has received for his contribution to big star. even though it's just a collection of demos, this is a heck of a lot tighter than the wreck that is sister lovers.