Listening to Big Star’s album Third, also called Sisters Lovers, is an interesting experience. The performances are erratic, instruments fade in and out, guitar feed back is noisy and everything drenched in reverb. Beneath clumsy guitars and pianos are eccentrically shaped songs. But strange production and poor musicianship doesn’t make for bad music. It is widely believed that authenticity is more important. ..
Third is a documentation of singer and guitarist Alex Chilton’s disillusionment with the music industry. Reportedly someone told Chilton that a song on the record had hit single potential; he then destroyed the song. It didn’t seem like he cared anymore about being popular. He couldn’t even keep up his trademark jangly guitar through a whole song. Yet there is something infectious about the self-destructive quality of the music. When I heard the album the first time, I had to it play again and then over again because I longed a part of the destructive nature of the music. I identified with the crazy pounding piano parts and the lazy songwriting. The record is not technically perfect, but it appeals to a larger part of the human spirit than most other music I hear, perhaps because the people involved in making the record were not concerned with appealing to many people. There was no hope of distributing the record to record stores; no record companies were interested. Unfortunately, the record is generally at risk of being too self absorbed, Chilton indulging in depressing and gloomy soundscapes. What saves the record are the few moments of joy that may be sarcastic, but are uplifting. The Memphis string orchestra joins a choir and rolling tympani on a few songs. Legendary guitarist Steve Cropper contributes guitar work to one song. These moments in which all the Memphis session musicians are playing together are marvelous.
And there are moments of true inspiration and innocence behind all the noise. In some places Chilton innocently strains to reach his high falsetto notes. Nihilism and innocence go hand in hand in rock and roll. Rock music is very simple and carefree in expression, appealing to innocence, not caring much about understanding the world. The music is an escape to not knowing and not caring about the world. People say Alex Chilton revitalized rock and roll and it took him and Big Star three records that sold very poorly to do this. It sounds like he’s been through a lot of pain, but he doesn’t pretend to know anything about the world. He is less concerned with understanding the world than creating beautiful music. The best thing about the record is that it made me smile. It is really special when music is humorous.