Artist: Chris Bell
Album: I Am The Cosmos
Label: Omnivore Recordings
Release Date: 09.15.2017
Rock snobs rejoice. This latest reissuing of Big Star co-founder Chris Bell’s solo output is an all-encompassing treat. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Omnivore Recordings is re-releasing I Am The Cosmos as a preview of the label’s upcoming November 24 release of The Complete Chris Bell, a six-LP set, which will feature all of the material from I Am The Cosmos as well as early Chris Bell recordings and an interview the late musician conducted with journalist Barry Ballard in 1975. What an introduction.
According to the album’s liner notes, the two-CD deluxe edition of Cosmos is, “the most exhaustive survey of Chris Bell, the recording artiste, as is possible. Unless some new studio sessions come to light in the future, it is essentially the last word on the work of this quixotic talent.”
For the uninitiated, the short version of the story is as follows. In 1971, Bell, along with former Box Tops singer Alex Chilton, drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel, formed the power pop band Big Star. After the release of the group’s critically-praised but commercially underperforming debut album #1 Record, Bell left the fold and would release only two more songs in his lifetime before dying in a car accident n 1978.
Those two tracks, “I Am The Cosmos” and “You and Your Sister,” though overlooked upon release, would reemerge in 1992 as part of a full-length album entitled I Am The Cosmos, which also included other Bell recordings from the ‘70s. Now fans new and old can enjoy almost every cut from that 1992 release and its 2009 reissue plus 10 more tracks, eight of which have never been issued before, all in one place.
The magic begins with the title number. Issued here in four different versions, “I Am The Cosmos” is a yearning, spiritual anthem awash in shimmering chords that remains charming even when shorn of vocals as on one included take. “You and Your Sister” also gets the completionist treatment. Four different cuts of the track are featured over the two discs, with none ever dispelling the love song’s aching beauty, which rewards repeated listens.
Other standout moments abound. So do the rarities. Studio chatter, unfinished instrumentals, studio demos that take shape before your very ears – every second begs to be pored over, dissected, or just enjoyed. Bell’s talent as a guitarist, arranger and producer continually shines through.
The reality though, with over two hours of music spread over two discs, is that this release is more intended for Big Star obsessives and cultish music aficionados alike. Newcomers will find much to appreciate, but a better start would be Big Star’s catalog, especially #1 Record. That’s where the legend begins, and with this definitive version of I Am The Cosmos the legacy of Chris Bell only grows.