When In Space came out in 2005, it received a mixed to highly critical response. To be fair, as the first new music under the Big Star banner, it had to live up to both the band’s previous output and the mythology that had grown up around the band in the intervening 30 years. That was an impossibly high bar. Original members Jody Stephens and Alex Chilton were joined by Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer (aka the Posies). The band had been playing gigs as Big Star for a decade at this point and when they finally went into the studio, it wasn’t with the goal of making any kind of definitive statement. They went into Ardent studios with the goal of working up and recording a song a day, with a few days for overdubs and mixing. That’s a formula very much in keeping with Alex Chilton’s late career working methods, but worlds away from the meticulousness of the original Big Star sessions.
This Omnivore reissue is a chance to reassess In Space for what it is, not what people were hoping it would be. So, the record bombed when it came out. The general consensus was that it was a good Posies album or the best Alex Chilton album in years, but it wasn’t Big Star. Well, should we have expected anything else?
Chilton was infamous at this point for playing whatever he felt like, and you can hear that on In Space. There are well-crafted pop songs that have intricately arranged harmonies in the vein of the Beach Boys (“Turn My Back on the Sun”), songs full of Memphis soul and innuendo (“Do You Want to Make It” “Whole New Thing”) and some raunchy garage rock (“Mine Exclusively). Just to confound things a little more, Alex brought in an arrangement of some pieces by Baroque composer Georg Muffat (“Aria/Largo”). It’s a mélange that perfectly reflects what Chilton (and Stephens and the Posies) had been up to since the end of Big Star’s original run.
If you take the album, as it’s own thing, as a reflection of what the reanimated Big Star was all about, it’s a really enjoyable album. I really like some of the loose and goofy moments. “Love Revolution” is a completely bonkers ’70s R&B rave up. I like the silly revolutionary shout outs for “making it all night long” and “platform shoes.” I am amused by that the Beach Boys harmonies are on a song saying that there is such a thing as too much sun. “February’s Quiet” and “Best Chance” even approach the power pop majesty of Radio City.
Will In Space gain the mythical stature of Radio City or #1 Record? Probably not. Is the record a decent document of four guys who called themselves Big Star having fun in the studio some 30 years after their last recording session? Hell yes.