18 Songs, 51 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Recorded in 1974 but left unreleased for years, Big Star’s third album is one of rock’s greatest enigmas. After their first two albums of British Invasion-inspired power pop failed to set the charts alight, the former quartet was down to just singer/guitarist Alex Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens. And the wild, wandering music they created with producer Jim Dickinson—a bleary-eyed fusion of soul, gospel, chamber pop, and avant-garde experimentation—sounded nothing like Big Star’s previous output. Chilton scrapped the project, but the recordings eventually surfaced through various unauthorized releases, each bearing different titles and tracklists that tried to make sense of a record that, by conventional standards, makes little sense.

In 1992, Dickinson oversaw a Rykodisc reissue that’s become the definitive version, one that both reflects his original vision for the record and reinforces the popular myth surrounding its making. It’s hard to hear Third as anything but a real-time document of a disillusioned artist deliberately sabotaging his commerical prospects—certainly, the seedy rock ‘n’ roll swagger of the opening “Kizza Me” is a distant memory by the time we descend into the funereal mid-album abyss that is “Holocaust.” But that interpretation undersells this album’s exquisite, uncanny beauty. Chilton may have lost the will to write jangly sing-alongs in the typical Big Star mold, but he displayed a far more sophisticated style of songcraft on orchestral reveries like “Stroke It Noel” and “Blue Moon.” And to this day, the astonishing “Kanga Roo” sounds like nothing else in rock music—a mesmerizing fever dream of proto-shoegaze feedback and disorienting symphonic psychedelia that suggests Third wasn’t Chilton’s bitter attack on pop music, but an ecstatic, liberated effort to transcend it.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Recorded in 1974 but left unreleased for years, Big Star’s third album is one of rock’s greatest enigmas. After their first two albums of British Invasion-inspired power pop failed to set the charts alight, the former quartet was down to just singer/guitarist Alex Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens. And the wild, wandering music they created with producer Jim Dickinson—a bleary-eyed fusion of soul, gospel, chamber pop, and avant-garde experimentation—sounded nothing like Big Star’s previous output. Chilton scrapped the project, but the recordings eventually surfaced through various unauthorized releases, each bearing different titles and tracklists that tried to make sense of a record that, by conventional standards, makes little sense.

In 1992, Dickinson oversaw a Rykodisc reissue that’s become the definitive version, one that both reflects his original vision for the record and reinforces the popular myth surrounding its making. It’s hard to hear Third as anything but a real-time document of a disillusioned artist deliberately sabotaging his commerical prospects—certainly, the seedy rock ‘n’ roll swagger of the opening “Kizza Me” is a distant memory by the time we descend into the funereal mid-album abyss that is “Holocaust.” But that interpretation undersells this album’s exquisite, uncanny beauty. Chilton may have lost the will to write jangly sing-alongs in the typical Big Star mold, but he displayed a far more sophisticated style of songcraft on orchestral reveries like “Stroke It Noel” and “Blue Moon.” And to this day, the astonishing “Kanga Roo” sounds like nothing else in rock music—a mesmerizing fever dream of proto-shoegaze feedback and disorienting symphonic psychedelia that suggests Third wasn’t Chilton’s bitter attack on pop music, but an ecstatic, liberated effort to transcend it.

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