By 1975 Big Star was reduced to the duo of Chilton and Stephens, while their record company was collapsing around them. Third/Sister Lovers was not released until 1978, while Chilton and producer Jim Dickinson were never able to agree on an official title, let alone a track sequence. Chilton set out to make Third/Sister Lovers his way and the result is shambolic: but mellow and drugged out rather than the messier version of Radio City that I anticipated. Importantly, unlike Neil Young’s contemporary and similarly drugged out Tonight’s The Night, Third/Sister Lovers is pretty. Alex Chilton’s voice is far more pleasant than Young’s, even when he’s trying to deliberately sabotage the album by bad singing, while someone decided to plaster stunningly beautiful strings all over Third/Sister Lovers.
The production and strings counterbalance the roughness apparent in the unpolished performances and the scattershot nature of the songwriting. Chilton writes a Christmas Carol (‘Jesus Christ’), plenty of languid, despairing tunes (‘Holocaust’, ‘Kanga Roo’) and pretty, low key pieces (‘Nighttime’, ‘Take Care’), and only an occasional moderate rocker (‘You Can’t Have Me’, the irony-laced ‘Thank You Friends’). But almost all of them work. Stephens scores his only individual writer credit with the soppy ‘For You’, which would sound lifeless without the strings. Bonus tracks include some sloppy covers (The Kinks’ ‘Till The End of the Day’, Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, and the bizarre ‘Downs’ which Chilton sabotaged by substituting a basketball for a snare drum.
Third/Sister Lovers is sloppy, but it’s a compelling and surprisingly pleasant listen.