Big Star | Keep an Eye on the Sky

Rhino (2009)
By MIKAEL WOOD  |  December 9, 2009
3.5 3.5 Stars

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Like most Big Star fans, author Robert Gordon overheats a little in the biographical essay that accompanies this handsome four-disc box set. "The shackles that once bound your freedom now lie at your feet," he writes, "causing you to stumble as you depart for distant horizons just coming into focus."

Gordon is describing the tender age at which Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Andy Hummel, and Jody Stephens formed their cult-fave power-pop band, and though you might object to the purpleness of his prose, there's no arguing with his point. Few bands have ever captured the transformative uncertainty of young adulthood the way Big Star did; 35 years after the original group finally crumbled, their music stands as a monument to anxiety.

Chilton and Stephens have dented that reputation recently, playing uneven reunion shows and releasing a forgettable studio disc in 2005. But Keep an Eye on the Sky — which expands Big Star's three early-'70s albums with a bevy of demos, alternate takes, and a complete 1973 live set — shores up the band's legend for a new generation. One highlight among many: a previously unreleased version of "The Ballad of El Goodo" in which Chilton calls out the judges and landlords, presidents and draft boards responsible for the endangerment of his youthful optimism.

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