Stax/Concord Music Group 2014
Review by David Bowling
Big Star’s 1972 debut album, #1 Record, was one of the defining albums of its era. The problem was hardly anyone bought the album. Group co-founder Chris Bell became disenchanted with the lack of commercial success and left the band. Alex Chilton, along with bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens, forged ahead and despite the loss of Bell, managed to create an album almost as good. That album, 1974’s Radio City, has now been reissued.
Radio City was a little edgier lyrically, plus found Chilton incorporating some British pop elements into the mix. The harmonies remain intact but it is Chilton’s guitar play that makes a difference. Now the sole guitar player, he proved that he was an upper echelon musician. His prowess is particularly demonstrated on “O My Soul.”
Tracks such as “Mod Lang,” “What’s Goin Ahn,” and “She’s A Mover” contain some of the better lyrics of Chilton’s career and when you combine them with bouncy melodies, it adds up to a good foundation for the album.
Bassist Andy Hummel’s contributions on the band’s first two albums have often been over looked. He provides the vocal for his own composition “Way Out West.” He was also a key to the group’s harmonies, which is very apparent on “What’s Goin Ahn.”
As with the reissue of their debut album, #1 Record, the sound quality has been greatly enhanced to the point where it has a very modern feel. The liner notes are again are by Mike Mills of R.E.M. which provides a hint of Big Star’s lasting influence on American music.
Radio City continued the band’s development of the power pop sound as it pushed it in some new directions. It may not have the consistency and cohesion of their first release, but it remains an excellent album four plus decades after its release.