The folks out in L.A. at Omnivore Recordings keep doing an amazing job at getting wonderful music out to the public. In 2014 they upped their game and in the process of cranking out so many great reissues let 2 more slip out to appreciative audiences: Big Star - Live in Memphis and Failure by The Posies. Both records involve Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow from The Posies.
Big Star's Live in Memphis captures an early Nineties moment when a version of the band was touring and getting the attention that the band had always deserved. A line-up of Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens, and the 2 dudes from The Posies was hitting the road, playing TV shows, and trotting out a sort of "greatest hits" set of Big Star cuts. I say that not to diminish what is here but to say that you will be rewarded with this album if you love songs like "The Ballad of El Goodo" as much as I do. On this record it sounds like you're hearing Big Star in a small club and the cuts seem more intimate than those that are on the Columbia (1993) live CD that you probably already have. For that reason, I'd say that you should grab this disc on the format of your choosing. There's also a DVD of this performance as well.
The other Posies-related reissue of note is the re-release of an expanded version of The Posies' debut Failure from 1988. Also out now on Omnivore Recordings, the disc is a delight. I'm one of those guys who got Dear 23 when it was new and never quite jumped on-board with this earlier Posies stuff. Once "Dream All Day" dropped, I probably didn't look back to a time when The Posies were more melodic and not as loud. Failure is a genuine pleasant surprise and I feel silly now for not having this record in my collection so long ago.
Produced by Scott McCaughey from Young Fresh Fellows, Failure should have been a huge, huge hit when it was released. I'm sure this reissue will rectify that problem and get this record into the hands of fans who will enjoy it as much as I did.
This debut from The Posies more than anything makes one thing clear: it was an absurd marketing gesture to ever lump these cats in with the grunge movement. Just being in the same region didn't make these guys Mudhoney, you know? And that whole misguided marketing movement in the early Nineties robbed a lot of people of a chance to hear music this tuneful and beautiful. More than on any other Posies release, Auer and Stringfellow bring out the big hooks here. If the tunes on Frosting on the Beater (1993) edged the band closer to Cheap Trick, than the ones here on Failure put them closer to The Byrds, or even Aztec Camera.
"Believe in Something Other Than Yourself" skates by on acoustic hooks. The giddy vibes of the cut, at odds a bit with the lyrics, make this a sort of template for what The Posies would do so well for so many years. "At Least For Now" echoes stuff from The dB's, while "Paint Me" is a big, big tune hidden in understated production. That is not a slight but a reminder of what strong masters of songcraft Auer and Stringfellow were before the amps got turned up and they got lumped in with the grunge wave. Listen to album closer "What Little Remains" and you'll see what I mean. A foreshadow of what bands like Jellyfish would do a few years later, the song is a marvelously catchy and bright slice of indie pop.
And if that wasn't enough to convince you to get this one -- maybe you already have the old edition of this album on CD? -- here's the lowdown on the bonus cuts on this edition of Failure:
"Believe in Something Other (Than Yourself)" (Live)
"I May Hate You Sometimes" (Demo)
"Paint Me" (Demo)
"Like Me Too" (Demo)
"Alison Hubbard" (Instrumental)
"After Many a Summer Dies the Swan" (Instrumental)
"Blind Eyes Open" (Instrumental Demo)
"At Least for Now" (Instrumental Demo)
That's a lotta cool bonus cuts, eh? Failure by The Posies is a real treasure. If you like "My Big Mouth" you're sure to love these unabashedly catchy tunes from The Posies. And those bonus tunes only sweeten the deal.
Big Star - Live in Memphis and Failure by The Posies are both available from Omnivore Recordings. Get them now.