Tag Archives: Big Star

475. The Liquor Giants – “The Liquor Giants”

How appropriate that this album has a velvet themed cover.

This album evokes a sense of adult sophistication (like the velvet bags that one purchases at the theatre), yet it is playful and textural.

Indeed, the juxtaposition of the single title Chocolate Clown keeps up the sweet, but possibly psychotic theme:

Ahh, so finally I got to share this band’s sound with you. Polished but fresh isn’t it?  (there’s that contrast thing again).  That particular song is the most Buffalo Tom-like on here.

The rest mine the B-band vein of the Beatles and Big Star, with enormous dollops of pop sensibility,jaunty guitar work and luscious yet raw harmonies (all delivered by one-man-show Ward Dotson). Dotson sings more confidently and consistently, and he pens some great lyrics, including rhyming ‘Scott Baio’ with ‘Gallileo’ (of course, those two geniuses are often in the same sentence).

There is much more killer than filler on here.  I find myself humming along to most, and belting out the choruses to $100 Car, Bastanchury Park and the big-rocking Cheap Trick-esque closer which is untitled on the CD, but my iTunes tells me (as does the chorus) is called Hold Tight.

File under: Sweet with a punch

405. Icecream Hands – “Memory Lane Traffic Jam”

Icecream Hands seem to have always been around the Melbourne music scene.

Purveyors of a power pop with roots in the work of those Beatles guys (amongst others), and similar in sound (at times) to Weezer, my sense is that the band never achieved anywhere near the success levels they might have deserved.

Indeed, there are fellow Melbourne bands of the power-pop ilk, such as Even and Snout, who I suspect shifted substantially more units than the ‘Iceys’ in the mid-late 90s.  Perhaps it was the persistence with a two-word name that held them back (although that didn’t seem to hurt Big Star).

Anyway, to the CD itself. It’s a well-engineered, well-written and well-executed excursion into the somewhat jangly power-pop world.  Chuck Jenkins has an ideal warm voice for the genre.

The songs are somewhat delicate and take a little time to open up to the listener.  There are no big washes of guitar or killer riffs to grab the attention, nor any massive swings in tempo.  Alas, there aren’t really any super memorable choruses either.

I’m pretty sure this was their full-length debut, and it was a nice entrée into their world, but not a slam dunk in any way.  But, I was willing to persist…

File under: Promising roads ahead

292. Even – “Less is More”

Despite my lukewarm affections for the band, I also own Even’s debut long-player on vinyl.

Giving it a rare pair of spinnings this afternoon, I stand (well, sit) pretty impressed.

Perhaps it’s the crackly, earthy sound of the platter and stylus, or just my relaxed post-work, beer-sipping demeanour, but I find this earlier work considerably more vibrant and energetic.

It sounds less like a tribute and more like a band with their own ideas.  It’s somewhat janglier and less consciously British.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been listening to a bit of Big Star today (in honour of Alex Chilton’s passing), but I hear that same joyous love of the guitar power-pop artform.

Ash Naylor’s vocals and guitar work hook up well with Matt Cotter’s and Wally Meanie’s rhythm work.

This serves as a worthy companion piece to other Aussie retrograders like The Stems, You Am I, Icecream Hands, and even the Hoodoo Gurus.

This set would get my attention if they played it next time I stumble across them on a Fitzroy stage.

File under: I might scream for More

Vale Alex Chilton

It is with sadness that I find myself stepping away from the review process to acknowledge the passing of a subject of three reviews on here: Mr Alex Chilton of Big Star fame.

It is a loss to the music world. Here are the reviews: Review 1 Review 2 Review 3 and some clips:

170. Alex Chilton – “A Man Called Destruction”

It is rather curious that in searching for an image of this album’s cover on-line that all the options showed Mr.Chilton photographed in colour.  The Australian version is a black and white pic… and that seems so much more appropriate given the highly retro content therein.

Album Cover Alex Chilton  A Man Called DestructionYou may recall my earlier reviews of one of Chilton’s bands – Big Star.  He is an icon (for some) of the power pop world, and had a young start as a white R&B star. 

He has written some classic tunes over his career.  Which makes this album even more bizarre.  Much of it sees him covering reasonably obscure old-school R&B tracks, and all in the incarnation of very standard bar band.

It seems below Chilton to be mucking around like this.  More importantly, it just isn’t that interesting a listen.  The tunes are very, very standard fare.  He clearly had a bit of fun playing with the cheesy What’s your Sign? but that ain’t enough.

The album is also poorly balanced, with three concluding Chilton-penned tunes that simply don’t gel with rest of the material. They are much closer to the Big Star sound… and better for it.

File under: Insufficiently distracting

60. Big Star – “Radio City”

What a step up these guys made from album one to two. This effort is stunningly coherent and well-structured. The band have developed a clear, unmistakable sound, one which will be aped almost to the note by a few followers down the track (Matthew Sweet, are you out there?).

big-star-radio-city-album-coverIt is seems so stunningly simple. Lay down a tom-heavy beat, some Byrds-ish guitar layers (especially a trebly lead riff), and then top it off with some relaxed, adenoidal vocals. Folks have been trying this on for decades. Somehow Big Star get it so much more on the money than anyone sense (other than perhaps Teenage Fanclub who are ever so more rockingier – Wow, could that sound any more contrived?).

While the album lacks an all-time classic single, it certainly gets inside your head. The opener O My Soul is a fantastic roadhouse bar band effort, with a hilarious opening rift. Back of a Car is the tune you’d play to show how Matthew Sweet sounds. While this album is much less Brit-invasion than their debut, Mod Lang would easily fit the Stones’ repertoire.

Oh, to timemachine back to 1974 and see these guys in action…

File under: Power pop mastery

59. Big Star – “#1 Record”

I’m not quite what to do with double-CDs which actually include re-releases of two albums. I’m gonna treat my Big Star two-pack as if it were the two distinct albums. So here’s the first one…

big-star-1-record-album-cover1Sometimes bands have a reputation that precedes them. Teenage Fanclub regularly lauded this early 70s influence. I finally heard a cover of their In the Street as theme song to a sitcom (That 70s Show!).

Listening to this album is a fun game of ‘spot the influences’. From track to track you can hear The Who, The Kinks and The Byrds all thrown into a well-watched melting pot. At its best it is pure, unadulterated guitar-driven, snare up the front of the mix, mid-60s power pop.

It’s the sort of music that many bands have mastered over the years (including more folks prefixed with the definite article like The Stems and The Smithereens, and even, in their earlier less adventurous days, REM (or should that be The REM?)).

Having stereotyped the band in such a fashion, it is worth noting that this debut release actually has a lot of light and shade (wanky music talk for variation), from direct poppy numbers, to more swirly, harmony exploratory pieces. On all accounts, this reflected the existence of two distinct songwriters (a bit like Sebadoh I guess).

That’s enough namedropping from me.This album is a wonderful snapshot of an exciting band who should be bigger.

File under: Sweet and sweaty stellar sounds