CD Review: Big Star - Radio City

Big Star's second album gets the remastered treatment.
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When the commercial impact did not match the artistic triumph that was #1 Record, Big Star's Chris Bell (who was already battling depression) left the band during the sessions for the group's second record, Radio City. While Bell reportedly worked on "O My Soul" and "Back Of A Car," he is uncredited on the album. The band was reduced to a trio and was now, for all intents and purposes, Alex Chilton's baby. While losing a talent such as Bell was a blow, Chilton was still an incredibly talented writer and Radio City is nearly as good as its predecessor. The album, which was available for years (and in several versions) as a twofer disc coupled with #1 Record, has been remastered and rereleased in a stand-alone configuration with liner notes from REM's Mike Mills.

The lack of Bell's studio polish gives Radio City an edgier feel than #1 Record. "O My Soul," a rare lengthy track by the band opens the album and features some fine guitar playing from Chilton. "Life Is White" features a staccato guitar riff and an impassioned vocal from Chilton while "Back Of A Car" could easily fit on a late period Beatles album. It's as strong a cut as anything on the first album.

Chilton shows off his romantic side on the acoustic "I'm In Love With A Girl." His vocal shows a vulnerability of someone in love for the first time and the song, while simple, may be the perfect love song. The album's best-known cut though is, of course "September Gurls." With its ringing guitars and memorable hooks, it remains one of the finest examples of the power pop genre.

While Radio City has always had a bright, trebly sound, this CD sounds better than the previous twofer edition from 2009. The audio is reportedly from the Redbook layer of the out of print 2004 SACD and, unlike too many CDs in this era, it is thankfully not brick walled, leaving the original dynamics intact.

Big Star continued to fall apart after the release of Radio City. Andy Hummel followed Chris Bell's lead and left the band, leaving only Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens. Bell died in 1978. Chilton led a new version of Big Star in recent years, but he and Hummel died in 2010, leaving Stephens as the only surviving original member of the band.

The loss of a talent such as Bell would decimate most bands. Still, Chilton managed to capture lightning in a bottle again with Radio City and the reissue is a must-own for power pop fans.