Essential New Music: Chris Bell’s “I Am The Cosmos”

If a pop masterpiece drops in the forest, does it make a sound? It took four years for “I Am The Cosmos”/“You And Your Sister” to be released as a single. It took another 14 years for the rest of these songs to become the greatest posthumous pop album ever released. It took 17 more for the Rhino Handmade deluxe reissue and another eight for this Omnivore 35-track extended version. (Omnivore also just released the six-LP The Complete Chris Bell, which includes this extended I Am The Cosmos, pre-Big Star recordings and an unreleased 1975 radio interview.) With each Cosmos reissue, there’s another handful of alternate mixes/outtakes, another set of tweaks that fall short of the versions Bell started shopping in 1975. At this point, there’s little gold left to mine, but with each new pressing, we get another chance to hear Bell in all his passionate pop perfectionism, to marvel at the intensity of these performances, to imagine what might’ve happened if he hadn’t died—and to be amazed that these recordings even exist. If Bell’s brother had given up hope, and if Rykodisc hadn’t championed these songs in 1992, who would’ve known?

—Kenny Berkowitz