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Friday, March 07, 2008

Musical Flashback

Third/Sister Lovers, Big Star
Released in the UK 1978
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Big Star is the American cult band. And other than The Velvet Underground the best, the most complete. And this is their masterpiece. Releasing two obscure albums then breaking up. It was in the midst of this break up, of friendships, of the band, and of his own mental capacities that Alex Chilton and his band recorded their final album, which has gone under at least 3 different titles. Not released until 1978, and then only in the UK (it wouldn't be until 1992 that the US saw a proper release), the album brought a new generation to Big Star, solidified their mythic status, and fell into the right hands. REM, The Replacements, Dream Syndicate, Teenage Fanclub, and later Matthew Sweet, Primal Scream, Elliot Smith, You La Tengo, and The Jayhawks, essentially built their careers off of the foundation Big Star laid. Two of the songs appeared on the influential Goth band This Mortal Coil's first album. And their influence only grows with the years.
When I made my list of the greatest rock albums ever Third/Sister Lovers was in the top 15. It is a mess of an album, and yet that fragmentation and deconstruction adds to the albums overall and singular and poignant portrayal of despair, loneliness, and most immediately depression.
Big Star was founded in Memphis in 1971 quite shortly after the Beatles disbanded, and Lou Reed left the Velvet Underground. A fitting moment in time as Big Star's first two albums are masterpieces of rock music, some of the most beautiful pop songs (the term power-pop was invented to describe their sound) ever laid down to tracks combining the pop mastery of The Beatles, and the sparse and bittersweet realism of The Velvet Underground. All of these are heightened on Third/Sister Lovers. Which features a haunting cover of the VU's Femme Fatale. While the first two albums are quite self-sufficient and succinct, this is a sprawling and diverse album including the devastating "Holocaust," a portrait of depression that is perhaps the most heartbreaking song ever recorded (NME named it the most heartbreaking album ever), the best modern Christmas rock hymn "Jesus Christ," "Blue Moon," which is one of the most gorgeous songs ever recorded, a cover of Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy," and "Kangaroo," which has been described as "a cole-porter song in the hands of Sonic Youth." This is an historical document, a painfully personal expression, a eulogy to a waining musical era, a tribute to teenage possibility, and a total musical experience.

Surfer Rosa, The Pixies
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Released March 21, 1988 :
Picking up where Husker Du's Zen Arcade left off, Surfer Rosa introduced the world to perhaps the most important American band since Pere Ubu.Incorporating Angst and aggression, as well abrupt changes in tone, cryptic lyrics, in studio conversations, and screams of primacy, Surfer Rosa is perhaps the Pixies most raw album, except for two of their most accessible and polished songs, Where is my Mind? and Gigantic. In fact, songs like Break my Body are actually catchy. This is an album of pure energy, where it feels like you're listening to the moment of its creation. As well as an album of distinct influence. Billy Corgan, PJ Harvey, and Kurt Cobain all stated that they were deeply influenced by the album, and Cobain even had Steve Albini, the producer of Surfer Rosa, produce In Utero. This album would be followed by their masterpiece, Doolittle, the next year.

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