Chris Bell: I Am The Cosmos (1978/1992)

Chris Bell, who co-founded Big Star with Alex Chilton, is one of rock's great tragedies.  After pouring his life into producing one of the greatest debut albums of all time, which was all but completely overlooked during his lifetime, he walked away from Big Star (leaving Chilton to soldier on for 2 additional legendary records).  He did some solo recording, but aside from the title track of this album, released as a single, never saw any of it commercially released.  He died in a car crash in 1978 at the age of 27 (becoming part of the 27 Club, alongside Cobain, Joplin, Jones, Morrison, etc.), too soon to see the belated adulation later bestowed upon his work with Big Star.  And according to books I've read, his short life was less than happy; besides the commercial flop, he was balancing his deeply religious Southern Christian roots with alcoholism, depression, and questions about his sexual identity.

But for all the sadness, he did leave behind one posthumous album, and what a great album it is.  As it wasn't finished during his lifetime (recorded in the mid-70s and finally released in 1992), it's a little rough and DIY sounding in spots, but elsewhere is as polished and stunning as #1 Record.  (The deluxe edition includes a number of alternate takes, many of which I prefer to the versions on the "original" posthumous release.)  And as with his contributions to #1 Record, he vacillates between gorgeous ballads and surprisingly boisterous hard rockers.

The opening title track is a masterpiece, beautiful and spiritually moving, an absolute stunner of a love song.  Nearly is great is the acoustic ballad "You & Your Sister," particularly the version which includes a duet with Chilton, making it the great lost Big Star song.  (There's a really pretty cover of the song by the goth/dream-pop project This Mortal Coil, with Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly handling the vocals.)  "Speed of Sound" is dark and dreary and lovely; and "Better Save Yourself" and "Look Up" see Bell exploring his spiritual side with what sound like pop gospels.

While I'm less partial to the rockers, which can be a little abrasive in spots, they're often great as well, seeing Bell approaching Cheap Trick territory.  "Get Away" has a killer riff, the sound of Bell exorcising his plentiful demons; "I Don't Know" is cut from similar cloth, noisy and aggressive but catchy as all hell (and at times reminiscent of Chilton's own cathartic post-Big Star recordings).

It's hard to listen to this without imagining what might have been if Bell had stayed on with the band, and you can mash this up with Radio City and cobble together an even better follow-up to #1 Record; but even stripped of history, it stands well on its own as a powerful, great lost power pop classic with an atypically religious edge.

Here's an audio rip of "I Am The Cosmos":
 ...and an audio rip of "You & Your Sister" (with Chilton):
...and an audio rip of "I Don't Know":
And as long as we're here, here's a video for This Mortal Coil's cover of "Sister," which may be the great lost Breeders song you were looking for:


Comments

  1. Thanks for inspiring me to go back to this album. Probably only listened to it five or six times since I bought it on release. Title track is an all-time classic. Need to sit with this to appreciate some of the others.

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