Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009 | 2:59 p.m.
As integral to the big star myth as its musical genius was its commercial failure. Big Star lives on as the ultimate cult band, offering a flourish of early-’70s creativity that went largely unheard until the 1980s, when bands like The Replacements, R.E.M. and the Bangles all offered devotionals. Yet Big Star’s music was almost impossible to hear until 1992, when Rykodisc paired its first two records on one CD and reissued elusive third LP, Third/Sister Lovers. (That same year also saw a gathering of fallen member Chris Bell’s solo recordings.)
Surviving frontman Alex Chilton has always had an uneasy relationship with this revered band, and the one weakness of this four-disc, 98-track box is his apparent total lack of participation in it. Bell was gone by Disc 2, leaving Chilton as the main creative force in the band. And while it’s nice to have an official Big Star live show released (Memphis, 1973), Disc 4 mostly proves that Big Star ruled the studio, not the stage.
Still, Keep an Eye on the Sky is the grail for Big Star diehards, fully exposing the band’s brief musical life by lovingly showcasing its genesis and refreshing the canon with rehearsals, alternative lyrics, mixes and unreleased takes. Big Star’s joy in making records— a joy tinged with escapist desperation perhaps even above Chilton’s melancholy teen lyrics—remains the band’s most vital element. This box delivers that experience.