Big Star: Third / Sister Lovers
Here we have the least accessible of the Big Star studio catalogue (such as it is), but also the most artistic. There are times it almost borders on progressive (yes, they even used a mellotron). Given the trials and tribulations the band had gone through, you might wonder how they were even able to pull together for this one. The truth is that things were definitely falling apart. Jody Stephens was the only band member left to assist Chilton, with the other slots being filled by session musicians (including Steve Cropper) and their producer, Jim Dickinson. Chilton himself was not in the best mental state, and this is borne out in the music.
“Third” is not a happy affair. Pop sensibilities are present, but darkness reigns supreme. It is also not as taught as the previous two. The whole thing sounds as if it was done on a tightrope, and could fall apart at any moment. But it is precisely the combination of despair, tenuousness, and song craft that makes the album such a thing of beauty.
There is variation. Once more the album is introduced with a powerful rock opener in “Kizza Me.'” “Thank you friends” is orchestrated and soulful. “Stroke it Noel” sounds like a cross of Celtic folk and Bob Dylan, and they may have been the first on the list of great bands to cover The Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.” Adding to the chaos are some odd experimentations. But the real ‘tell all’ about this work is “Dream Lover.” Never have I head something so painful sound so beautiful. It is listed as a bonus track, but the album was never properly released in the first place.
This may not be an easy album to love, but I recommend taking the chance. A few things don’t really work, but what does makes it all worthwhile. The artistic statement is stronger than “Radio City,” and there is an almost morbid curiosity involved. Listening to these musicians on the brink is almost rubbernecking a sonic car crash. “Third / Sister Lovers” is not for the timid.
Alex Chilton – vocals, guitar, keyboards
Jody Stephens – Drums
Lee Baker – guitar
Lesa Aldredge – vocals
Jimmy Stephens – bass; Jim Dickinson – bass, drums, mellotron; Steve Cropper – guitar; Richard Roseborough – drums; Tarp Tarrant – drums; Tommy Cathey – bass; William Murphey – bass; Tommy McClure – bass; Carl Marsh – reeds, woodwinds, synthesizer, string arrangements