R.I.P. Alex Chilton
fatmatt | Cleveland, OH | 03/19/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A rock legend has died. Along with #1 Record, Big Star invented the genre that is now commonly referred to as "Power-Pop." What is astonishing about Radio City is that, notwithstanding the departure of co-founder Chris Bell, the album equals, if not surpasses, #1 Record. "Back of a Car" and "September Gurls" are essentially perfect pop songs, and alone worth the price of admission. The bonus here is every other song. "Oh My Soul" chugs along with a propulsive groove that somehow combines Brit Pop with Memphis Soul. The druggy intro of "Daisy Glaze" morphs into a rhythmic finale reminiscent of The Who. Radio City is an absolute classic and an essential element of the pop/rock lexicon.
Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round
They sing "I'm in love. What's that song?
I'm in love with that song."
We'll miss you Alex."
Chilton's Crowning Achievement
A. J. Mcconnachie | Sydney Australia | 03/30/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The untimely death of the Alex Chilton has inspired a bunch of career retrospectives lauding him as an unsung hero who produced great music with little commercial success. "Radio City" is Exhibit A in the case for the defence.
Chilton made his commercial breakthrough in his teens as lead singer for the late 60s blue-eyed soul outfit The BoxTops, but it must be acknowledged that his best and most enduring work was with Big Star, the semi-legendary 1970s pop-rock lineup.
In stark contrast to The Box Tops, Big Star's "#1 Record" was a huge flop in terms of sales, and creative tensions within the group led to the departure of co-founder Chris Bell before Big Star, now a trio, regrouped in their home town of Memphis to work on their second album in 1973. What eventually emerged was yet another huge market failure, but also one of the best and most influential LPs of the 1970s.
Like many southern musicians, Chilton's music is an amalgam of genres - and intriguingly he adds a Britpop layer to Big Star's mélange of American roots influences. Ringing vocal harmonies descended from the Beatles via The Byrds, jangly muscular rhythm guitar not a million miles away from Pete Townshend's work with the early Who, and a clattering, loose but funky rhythm section fill out a sound which is plenty more than the sum of its parts.
Alternatively hard nosed and lovelorn, Chilton brings a cynical strength to the core of "Radio City" - songs like the opener "Mod Lang", "What's Going Ahn" and "She's A Mover" pack a desperate edge among the shimmering arrangements.
Chilton's guitar is on fire here - never before or since did he establish such a distinctive guitar voice on record. His Fender Telecaster switches from lead to rhythm, from jagged riffs to more languid lines, all without apparent effort.
And then there are his vocals, soaring on snatches of power pop like the insanely catchy "September Gurls" and "Back Of A Car", edgy in the minor key "You Get What You Deserve" - on this record Chilton synthesises his blues, soul and country roots into a totally convincing melodic and dynamic whole.
The album ends with Chilton unaccompanied on the haunting "I'm In Love With A Girl", an early excursion into Low Fi twenty years before the term was invented.
It's not completely a one-man show, as bass player Andy Hummell and drummer Jody Stephens make significant contributions - this is a band, not a solo record after all - but Alex Chilton's utter commitment to every line he sings and note he plays is self-evident.
From this point on, Chilton's work would become increasingly focused on breaking his music down to its constituent parts, jumping on them, smashing them up and then randomly reassembling them (for examples, if you dare, check out 1979's "Like Flies On Sherbert" or 1985's amazingly shambolic "Live in London").
While "Radio City" stops well short of that sort of outright commercial self-harm, Chilton infuses it with a tangible bitterness which lurks just below the surface of what would be a straight pop record in the hands of another. It's laced with a strung out weariness that adds to the record's poignancy, a vibe it shares with contemporaries like "Exile On Main Street" by the Stones and Iggy Pop and James Williamson's "Kill City".
"Radio City" is a tremendously influential record, inspiring bands the world over from the Replacements to Teenage Fanclub, from REM to Ice Cream Hands.
Despite its surface glaze of power pop, this is a raw, desperate record which requires your attention.