Shuffleathon 2007. Part 6

Chris Bell – I am the cosmos

I never really got what was so great about Big Star. During my college years in the late eighties and early nineties, my muso friends were all and they were constantly being given the heads up by the likes of REM, Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub and Bobby Gillespie, up there on the greats list with The Beach Boys, Neil Young and The Byrds. Most of Teenage Fanclub’s early work was heavily indebted to Big Star. Yes, September Gurls was a great song and all three of their albums, #1, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers had some lovely songs on them, but they just didn’t seem to jump out as being anything more than nice west coast sounding (albeit made in Memphis) early seventies rock. The particular spark/voice/chord sequence that makes me fall in love with a song or record just didn’t seem to be there. In my mind they were one of those bands who benefitted from having been ignored for many years and then picked up as “lost classics” by the cognoscenti, being records that were out of print hard to find and rare as hens teeth at the time (mid to late eighties). Anyway, I didn’t get it. But then when my mate Julian played me “I am the Cosmos” I found something a lot more interesting and worthy of attention. Chris Bell, who was the drummer in Big Star, left after their second album “Radio City”. His solo work sounds less laid back, rawer and more vulnerable. Probably partly down to his struggle with clinical depression. The two tracks which grab you first are the title track and “You and your sister”. The rest take a bit more getting into. The album is effectively a collection of tracks which were recorded at different times and in different places. They could so easily have got lost in the ether but fortunately didn’t and were released as a collection until 1992. I think the title track is my favourite and it appears in two different versions on the most recent cd re-issue. It is otherworldly and mundane at the same time, sounding in part like a cry for help and partly like a manifesto, albeit the lyrics are couched in terms of a break up. Bell died in December 1978 when he lost control of his Triumph TR-7 in East Memphis on the way back home from his family’s restaurant. Another loss of real talent.


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