At a certain point, the world doesn't need another version of "You And Your Sister", am I right? And, at the same time, the world realizes that the wealth of versions of Chris Bell's classic out there is the result of the slipshod nature of Big Star and Chris Bell releases in years past. Now, thanks to the masterful series of reissues recently undertaken by the folks at Omnivore Recordings, the world has what amounts to the first comprehensive look at the late genius who, along with Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens, formed Big Star.
Without a lot of self-congratulatory fanfare, Omnivore Recordings has been establlishing itself as the keeper of the Big Star legacy, and fans can rest securely in that knowledge. Following this year's Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star, and last year's Complete Third set from Big Star, the team at Omnivore Recordings has now turned their attention to the one official solo release from Chris Bell and expanded that. The result is, like those other offerings mentioned above, now the definitive document on the market.
Disc 1 of this 2-CD I Am The Cosmos set offers the crispest sounding version of I Am The Cosmos we're likely to ever hear, with standards like "I Got Kinda Lost" and "There Was A Light" rocking and chiming in the styles of Badfinger and The Rolling Stones, respectively. The Rykodisc compilation of Chris Bell's work -- his one "album" -- originally released in 1992, has here been expanded and rendered in a stunningly clear mix that presents stuff like the Sabbath-like chord progressions in "Better Save Yourself" as things of immediate menace, while the gentle "Speed Of Sound" sounds like Bell is in the next room, the guitar plucks nearly tangible things as you hear them in your headphones, or through your speakers. Here, more than ever, the case is being made -- again -- for the greatness of Bell as a solo artist, one who was, however briefly, the equal of the newly-solo Paul McCartney (as others have pointed out), and mid-Seventies Todd Rundgren (a comparison others may not have yet tried to make).
So, what's extra here on this 2-CD version of I Am The Cosmos? Well, over the course of these 2 discs there are 8 songs previously unreleased. And, naturally, a large part of Disc 2 is made up of alternate versions of Bell's best, most familiar tracks. That said, the versions recorded at Shoe Studios are remarkably different iterations of some of these familiar numbers, and there are a few nuggets mixed in here too: "In My Darkest Hour", a lilting duet with Nancy Bryan; "Stay With Me", an Eagles-like ramble with Keith Sykes; and an absolutely awesome version of "I Am The Cosmos" with some piano parts that make the song seem even more like a classic than it already did.
There are folks out there who will never get tired of Big Star and I count myself as one of them. That said, the prior haphazard packaging of the band's legacy was an annoying thing. So with every Big Star-related release from Omnivore Recordings the team there should be praised a little bit more for rescuing this legacy, righting sonic wrongs, and rendering this treasure trove of material as it was always meant to be presented. This version of I Am The Cosmos is superb and I think that one can hear even more clearly the spark of the late singer's genius. What's here on these 2 discs is a flowering of artistry that was cut tragically short, and it's an artistry that seems a necessary extension to the Big Star story and not just an epilogue to that musical drama. I Am The Cosmos makes a compelling case that Chris Bell's solo work was the equal of not only Alex Chilton's stuff, but that of the band they were both in together. And, thanks to the backstory on Bell in the liner notes from Bob Mehr, and the wildly informative track notes from Alec Palao, I Am The Cosmos is now an educative experience for any fan of Bell or Big Star. Absolutely essential.
I Am The Cosmos is out on Friday via Omnivore Recordings.