As quietly influential as The Velvet Underground, though even less commercially popular in its day, the Memphis band Big Star used The Beatles and The Beach Boys' building blocks to construct a melancholy palace big enough to shelter unsettled teenagers of all ages. Anyone not in possession of Big Star's three landmark studio albumsone of the main sources of everything from power pop to shambolic studio experimentationshould stop reading this now and go purchase them.
Now that that's out of the way, it's time to talk about Big Star's In Space, which is less a continuation of the band's legacy than a forgettable footnote to it. Big Star frontman Alex Chilton has spent the decades since the band's mid-'70s dissolution following a muse discernible only to himself. Since 1993, he's occasionally revived the Big Star name for live shows, reuniting with drummer Jody Stephens and replacing departed members (the late, great Chris Bell and the retired-from-music Andy Hummel) with Jonathan Auer and Ken Stringfellow from The Posies, a band that helped carry the Big Star torch even before playing with Chilton.
That's the lineup here, but what does a new Big Star album in 2005 mean? Certainly not a return to glory. Pleasant in parts, embarrassing in others, In Space sounds more like an okay album from any of a dozen Big Star-inspired bands than like Big Star itself. Chilton comes closest to recapturing the old glory with the album-opening "Dony" (at least until the saxophone kicks in), Stephens delivers a couple of memorable tunes, and the new guys turn in a first-class Beach Boys homage with "Turn My Back On The Sun." But by the time the album rolls around to "Love Revolution," an awful homage to disco and Philly soul, any hope of a latter-day return to glory has flickered out. Chilton repeatedly asks, "Baby, do you feel it?" on the Box Tops-like "Do You Wanna Make It." Does he really want to hear an honest answer?