I think that everyone who has been following this blog for any significant length of time knows how much I love rock music, especially power pop music. Early in the month, I tackled that brilliant Omnivore release of a concert album of the 2004 Raspberries reunion tour called Pop Art Live. Then, a few days later, I stated that I wanted to change my 2017 Album of the Year from U2’s sublime Songs of Experience to Derrick Anderson’s excellent power pop confection A World of My Own, by the way, is also on Omnivore. For some reason, power pop music speaks to my soul. Maybe, it was all of that bubblegum music that provided the foundation of my musical tastes coupled with those screaming guitars that remind me of The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” or The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” or anything by the early version of The Kinks. Whatever it is, I dig it. So, I thought I would challenge myself today and tackle a triple-double album set of Big Star’s last album from the Seventies that was released by those cats at Omnivore Records and titled Complete Third.
First of all, I love the care the people at Omnivore put into their vinyl releases; much of their stuff is made specifically for the mega-fans/collectors of the artists on their roster. Few of the artists are actually active, so their releases are lovingly packaged releases of fairly obscure yet profoundly significant artists. To list but a few of my favorite artists on the Omnivore label are the aforementioned Raspberries and Derrick Anderson, along with Jellyfish, Bangles, Big Star and Game Theory. You can also find albums by Buck Owens, Old 97s, The Knack and The Posies, along with a multitude of fantastic people from many other genres. Due to the fantastic quality of every album that I have purchased from Omnivore, that label has moved to the forefront of labels who specialize in preserving musical history. They remind me of the quality releases that Rhino Records made until just recently.
But, what Omnivore did with the weirdest album in Big Star’s catalog, has been an effort that was way above and beyond the call of duty. Even though Big Star’s first album, #1 Record is the one that initially makes you a fan of the band, Big Star’s third album, initially titled Third/Sister Lovers on its 1992 Rykodisc CD release, yet later labeled as Third when their original label, Ardent, re-released it a few years ago, is the album that makes you a long term fan of the band. Of the three albums, it is the last one I suggest that you purchase, because it can be a rough listen for the first couple of times. It’s really an Alex Chilton solo album, as the album was created after Chilton’s yin, Chris Bell, left the band. As a matter of fact, only original drummer Jody Stephens remained from Big Star’s original lineup.
Like I said earlier, Omnivore’s version of this album consists of three volumes of two vinyl albums, while the compact box set is simply three discs. The first volume of this set, I purchased during a Black Friday Record Store celebration in 2016. This double-album collection, titled Complete Third Vol. 1: Demos to Sessions to Roughs, begins the creation of this wonderful album. In it, you can hear the band attempt different versions of the same songs. For instance, a couple of songs are tried out as male-female duets, giving the listener a whole new perspective on the songs “I’m So Tired” and “That’s All It Took”. Many of the songs are totally different than the versions that will come to be associated with this classic album.
Then, between Black Friday RSD 2016 and the actual Record Store Day held in April 2017, Omnivore released Complete Third Vol. 2: Roughs to Mixes, in which Big Star is making great strides in the studio to smooth out and strengthen this group of songs into something worthy of release. The growth of these songs can actually be heard, as the band continues to experiment with tempos and even letting a female singer, Lesa Aldredge, take on lead vocal on the song “After Hours”, once again totally changing the perspective of the song. Throughout the first two volumes, you are being witness to the playfulness of this version of Big Star as they rock through versions of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, The Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” and two songs written by Lou Reed, “Femme Fatale” and “After Hours”, in addition to several other covers.
Finally, on Record Store Day in April 2017, I finally completed my vinyl collection of three double-album sets of Complete Third, when I picked up Complete Third Vol. 3: Final Masters. Now, I had what Omnivore’s vision is for this album, and I must say the album finally sounds as though it belongs together. The songs are in a different order on these albums than on the CD from the Nineties. I actually feel confident that this may be the order in which Big Star, specifically Alex, wanted the songs sequenced. This album has been pieced together is so many different orders that we may never really know what the intended version was supposed to be. But, I believe that the fine people at Omnivore researched the project so thoroughly that they might have this whole collection done the right way. And, it sounds impeccable.
Omnivore Records’ version of Big Star’s Complete Third is a musical archeological study unto itself. Likewise, it is a rock music history lesson, as we hear a band that is falling apart trying to stick together to release an album that maybe should not have been labeled as a Big Star album but ended up as such anyway. This six LP vinyl set is a gift of excellent research, every bit as important as the tender remastering that was done to preserve the music as well as the whole creative process. Big Star’s Complete Third is a musical lesson plan for music professors and teachers throughout the world. Big Star may have created the music, but Omnivore made the whole experience of recording the album transcendent.