16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
The diamond standard,
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This review is from: Keep An Eye On The Sky (Audio CD)
The first time I stumbled across Big Star I was certain there had been a printing error. It said 1972. This cannot be, I thought. The sound is so crystal clear and the music so fresh and powerful that this just cannot have originated from the early 70s. Even the band members didn't look like they were of those times. When I learned there was no printing error I still found it hard to believe I was hearing something that was created almost 40 years ago. Through the years indulging my musical passion I have heard Big Star namechecked by so many artists, most noticeably The Replacements, and covered by others, most noticeably The Bangles. Having always been a sucker for a punchy, clear and precise sounding hook I knew I had to check out Big Star and duly acquainted myself with No.1 record and Radio City. I cannot remember how many times I have played these albums but I know it's many and their consistent ability to move me never dwindles. As soon as I learned of this box set, and knowing that the involvement of Rhino would ensure its quality, I was intrigued. How could a band who never enjoyed huge success financially or commercially be viable for a project like this? 4CDs is a lot to fill. Sure enough though, Rhino have pulled of one of the finest collections in their history bringing together pre-Big Star recordings, key album tracks, unreleased and alternative versions as well as a whole CD devoted to a fine sounding live performance that was supposedly made on a bad day (not that you would realise this). Put this together with a wonderfully researched book containing an intro from John Fry, founder of Ardent, as well as photos, recording notes and all the facts you need to know. Ardent Studios were ahead of their time technically and the Big Star recordings have often been described as some of the best sounding of the 70s. I'd go a bit further and say they are of the best sounding ever! The dynamics and intricacy of the performances are as pure as they can get. They are the utmost joy to listen to and surely a lesson to those in the music industry who continue to compress and distort modern music. This is how music should sound. Rhino have employed the talents of their long-standing mastering studios, Digiprep to ensure the sound is treated with the respect it deserves. The result is tremendous with even the earliest of the recordings sounding full and natural. Only the SACD of the first two albums betters this but that is purely down to the format and not the mastering itself and not a great amount of people will have the facilities to play SACD.
The music itself is a mixture of radio-friendly power pop and acoustic forays into heart wrenching and emotional balladry. Beatlesque melodies and intricate layering of sound. These guys knew how to use the studio to create and enhance. The drums are one of the key elements of the music. They are nothing short of momentous and really drive the sound. So rare to hear a backbeat as powerful as this.
The tracks from the era following Radio City show a man (in the form of Alex Chilton) really losing his desire to create. There are few moments of inspiration and instead a sound of someone falling apart musically. They are worthy of inclusion because they are a key part of the BIg Star story but they do not leave an impression in the way the earlier recordings do.
The live CD is a truly wonderful performance. No tricks, nothing false. It's proof that they had the ability to recreate the sound in a live setting and this fine example is enough to convince you that maybe if they had not suffered the curse of the music industry they may just have been huge. They weren't but this only goes to prove that you don't have to be huge to be legendary. Big Star are legendary and their influence continues. Those early REM albums (when Stipe had hair) are the only example you need to know to realise how important Big Star were.
The story of Big Star is a tragic one, not only because they were cruelly robbed of their chances by an incapable distribution network but because Chris Bell, bitterly disappointed by the failure, did not live to see the recognition he deserved finally come to pass. This boxset is a tribute to him and to Alex Chilton who could have done so much more with his ear for a melody and attention to detail.
I cannot recommend this boxset enough. Don't even think twice.
Agree with the previous reviewer about the packaging. Mine too arrived slightly squashed. Amazon need to address this as it's a costly product.