Picks and Pans Review: High Priest

updated 02/29/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/29/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Alex Chilton

Taken on its own, this album is a fair-to-good white boy revision of the Memphis blues. But taken in the context of rock history, anything Alex Chilton does deserves a certain attention. Just about everybody who has ever dialed a pop music radio station knows the lyrics to The Letter ("Give me a ticket for an aeroplane/ Ain't got time to take the fastest train..."), the 1967 No. 1 hit that Chilton sang as the 16-year-old leader of the Box Tops. That song, written by Wayne Carson Thompson, made Chilton and the group an instant success but, he said later, left him disillusioned with the recording business. He dropped out of the mainstream music scene and recorded three albums in the early '70s with his second band, Big Star. When the group failed commercially, Chilton ended up washing dishes in a New Orleans restaurant. Today, however, a corps of young, hip music lovers and a long list of cutting-edge rockers trace a lot of advances in pop music back to those obscure Chilton albums. The Bangles, for instance, recorded Chilton's September Gurls in 1985; the Replacements included the lyric "I never go very far without some Big Star" in Alex Chilton, their 1987 hit. All that being said, however, Chilton's first full album in seven years sounds pretty tame. He has an unambitious nice-guy style of singing that undercuts his cult status. The record even includes a tongue-in-cheek, untranslated rendition of Volaré that will not make Dean Martin fear the competition. Chilton does get a sexy turn in his voice for his own tune, Thing for You. And the album contains a couple of other winning songs—the Lennon-like tribute, Dalai Lama, and a gospel number, Come by Here. Overall, though, genius it ain't. Perhaps Chilton is just rusty after years of relative silence. It will, at least, be worth paying attention to see what this high priest of pop does next. (Big Time/RCA)

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