Third by Big Star

Restless and anxious. That is how ‘Third’ by Big Star feels to me. Actually, it sounds like I feel when I’m overcome by panic. The weirdest sensation born out of excess thoughts, feelings, ideas, and the doubts underlying it all. Within its grip, it overwhelms, and I am at the centre trying to make sense of the different strands surrounding me.

In that context, it is hard to explain how ‘Third’ also makes me feel better. It should be a reminder in good times of the anxiety and in bad times it should be a channeling or even a multiplication of it. The opposite is true. It feels like possibility – a reminder that either I am good now or that the anxiety will pass and that something better can follow.

Because ‘Third’ is gorgeous. Gorgeously strange and misshapen perhaps but with plenty of loveliness to go around. I am a big believer in the importance of rhythm in albums. The tempo of songs and where they are placed within an album often feel more important than any narrative through line that links a song to the one before and after. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the quality of an individual song can be diminished when sequenced poorly or elevated when placed ideally. This version of ‘Third’ (as arranged by producer Jim Dickinson) gets that part of it right: diminishing nothing and elevating all within a self-enclosed universe of odd melodies, lyrics, sounds and rhythms.

There are pop songs here, but they have taken on different shapes and even after multiple listens each left turn is still surprising as the impulses within the music push against each other. Creative doubt giving way to freedom and then returning to doubt. The ebb and flow of anxiety within as it builds and subsides, clears, and obscures and through it all the sweetness of possibility remains. That is what helps give individual songs their almost perverse power even as it remains a struggle to work out the exact meaning of it all.

What is left behind is the miracle of something uniquely born of doubt and anxiety. This is something we all possess and that is why I will listen to the end and then start the album over again. Letting it reveal, obscure, and confuse me further in its own distinctive way. Not so much a mirror held up to me as frosted glass with familiar, discernible shapes on the other side; shapes I fear only because I do not fully understand them but the more I look and listen the more I see myself and understand they are another part of who I am and who I can still be if I keep searching, keep looking, keep listening.

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