Thirty years ago, Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens gathered at Midtown's Ardent Studios to preside over what seemed to be the final days of their soon-to-be legendary band, Big Star. But three decades after the completion of the cult-classic Third/Sister Lovers, Chilton and Stephens were back at Ardent working on a follow-up, this time in concert with Big Star fans turned Big Star bandmates Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow (of Seattle power-pop band the Posies).
The fruit of this unexpected labor, In Space, sometimes sounds like what you expect a Big Star album to sound like and sometimes it doesn't. The mercurial Chilton opens the record in familiar Big Star form, his bracing guitar line and vocal on "Dony" evoking the band's musical legacy. But after that, Chilton leaves it up to his bandmates to meet audience expectations.
Thankfully, they're all up to it. Auer and Stringfellow first got into the band because of their fidelity to the Big Star sound. Here Auer's "Lady Sweet" could be a #1 Record outtake, while Stringfellow's "Turn My Back on the Sun" sounds like a blend of Radio City and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. And Stephens proves more than adept at conjuring the melodic magic of his band's past with standout tracks "Best Chance" and, especially, "February's Quiet."
As for Chilton, he fills the rest of the album with varied, compelling material that sounds a lot truer to his nomadic post-Big Star solo career. "A Whole New Thing" is a rootsy mix of soul, surf, and garage. "Love Revolution" is a sunny goof with a near disco-like groove. "Makeover" is decidedly heavier than anything that ever graced a Big Star record. Chilton's still his own man, which is part of what made Big Star so refreshing to begin with. -- Chris Herrington