1999: Alex Chilton - Loose Shoes and Tight Pussy

A few years ago, a good friend of mine turned me on to Big Star. Although I had heard some of the band’s songs here and there, he lent me his vinyl copies of Number One Record and Radio City, explaining that most of my favorite artists were already devoted Big Star fans. After that, it was all over. I spoke with him about my developing obsession with the group, and he sagely informed me that Big Star is not the kind of band you just like. He couldn’t have been more right. Years later, I’m the kind of guy spending $30 on import copies of Thank You Friends: the Ardent Records Story for the Rock City and Ice Water tracks; the kinda guy grooving on songs by The DBs and Chris Stamey written about members of Big Star (“Paper Hat,” anyone?); the kind of guy seething with righteous fury as the DJ at my favorite bar tells me he scored an original pressing of the “I Am the Cosmos” single for 99¢ at the record store where I work. The cultish nature of the band naturally leads to a peculiar kind of rock ‘n’ roll archeology, where any desperate scrap of Big Star lore is dug up, be it apocryphal or disputed. Unearthing each pop gem associated with the band prompts a same rush of giddy excitement, like a desperate religious fanatic uncovering some new piece of scripture.

But even among us true believers, the solo work of Big Star main-man Alex Chilton is a mixed bag. With the exception of his art-punk, deconstructionist debut Like Flies on Sherbert, Chilton’s solo work has largely been written off as trite genre exercises in jazz, soul, blues, and polite pop (and plenty of of fans despise Like Flies on Sherbert, too). Chilton’s lyrics are often especially suspect, and that’s when he even bothers to write songs, with most his records containing more than a few covers. Tight Shoes and Loose Pussy, his last proper solo effort, contains no originals and, sure enough, finds Chilton taking on a collection of jazzy, blues-beholden soul tunes. Those put off by this sort of breezier fare will find plenty to despise. There’s nothing as golden-hued as the first two Big Star records, and those looking for the immaculate bummer vibe of Third/Sister Lovers will be offended; all 12 tracks here are upbeat, even the country-soul, tear-in-my-beer numbers. There’s none of that famed Chilton anguish, and the sparse accompaniment of bass and drums is all that’s left to embellish Chilton’s vocals and guitar work.

But if one can separate the man from the myth for a moment, it becomes apparent that Loose Shoes... isn’t a bad record. In fact, it’s mostly a pretty good one. Opener “I’ve Never Found a Girl” does well to set up the record. Yes, it’s breezy, informed by a swaying, jazzy lilt and a perfectly bouncy bass line, but those writing Chilton off as a mellow standards singer really aren’t listening: Chilton’s singular voice oozes a certain punkness, a raw quality that sounds the way Elvis’ sneer looks. His guitar playing is aggressive, too, a tangled mess of jazz chords and whammy bar leads, delivered with biting treble and a bit of overdrive. It’s not often that people note Chilton’s six string prowess, but tracks like his take on Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Hook Me Up” and the albums instrumentals, “April in Paris” and “Shiny Stockings,” all reveal a nuanced, deft player, not afraid to get a bit nasty, as if the madman approach of Like Flies... was subtly integrated into his traditionalist leanings. Chilton works tiny wonders with his selected pallet. On “The Oogum Boogum Song” he offers pure pop, while “I Remember Mama” echoes the thumping, yearning rustic soul of The Band. “If You’s a Viper,” a cute ode to weed fueled runs to the liquor store, snakes and twists like its namesake. It’s all far more subversive than cursory listens suggest.

But it’s not all fantastic. “You Got a Booger Bear Under There” goes for a raunchy, sex-soaked vibe, but sounds as awkward as the title suggests. Maybe Isaac Hayes could pull this kind of thing off, but Chilton doesn’t, and it’s the album’s longest track, painfully dragging on two minutes longer than it should. “Lipstick Traces” sticks too close to a formula, illustrating why Chilton’s solo work is so problematic for many of his followers. The guy practically defines a genre (with much respect to his Big Star writing partner Chris Bell), but here he is, cranking out such plainly uninspired stuff. At least in the instance of Loose Shoes and Tight Pussy, the bad doesn’t outweigh the better, more surprising fare, which helps establish the album as one of the finest of his solo canon, a sort of grown up, medicated Like Flies on Sherbert minus the false starts and James Luther Dickinson (sadly).

It’s hard not to be reminded of another power-pop icon, Rivers Cuomo, who crafted his Third as his sophomore record with Weezer, Pinkerton. It famously tanked like its spiritual forefather, and while both records have grown to cult status in the years following their release, it’s hard to blame Chilton and Cuomo for retiring into the confines of pop recipe: less heart, more theory. The risks and naked honesty to these beleaguered songwriters just didn’t pay off, no matter what us basement-dwelling rock critics say to the contrary. Luckily, Alex Chilton still has the knack for a catchy tune, which constantly hints at a once obvious greatness. He’s still around, tossing us little bones like this record when he feels like it. There’s not a lot of meat, but if you gnaw for awhile, there’s certainly some tasty marrow.

1. I’ve Never Found a Girl
2. Lipstick Traces
3. Hook Me Up
4. The Oogum Boogum Song
5. If You’s A Viper
6. I Remember Mama
7. April In Paris
8. There Will Never Be Another You
9. Single Again
10. You’ve Got a Booger Bear Under There
11. Shiny Stockings
12. Goodnight My Love

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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