Alex Chilton-Like Flies on Sherbert
October 15, 2008
Like Flies on Sherbert (Peabody 1979)
What happens when a pop genius goes on a bender and tries to give a middle finger to his record label? The answer is found on Like Flies on Sherbert. If you are looking for utter dourness of Sister Lovers, the punchy pop of the Box Tops or the power pop of Big Star’s most accessible tunes, you will be sorely disappointed. It is a drunk and drugged ode to the origins of rock and roll that is evenly split between moments of utter brilliance and sloppy bar band chaos. However, I even like the unrehearsed and thoroughly fucked versions of classics as well as sabotaged originals that are deformed into some base form that sound like little else I’ve heard.
Somehow my teenaged self heard a radio show on Brave New waves where Yo La Tengo played their favorite songs for a bit. This was in the early 90s before I even knew about Big Star or the “The Letter” was a byproduct of Alex Chilton. They played the title track and it was an epiphany. There is so much going on in this song. It is a combination of apathy and passion. He attempts to ruin it with high-pitched vocals and intoxicated piano chords, poorly placed chourses and synthesizer mayhem, but I swear it is one of the most beautiful things thine ears have had the pleasure of hearing. Chaos suited him and his increasingly mannered follow-ups to Like Flies on Sherbert suggest that he should despise the world more often.
“I’ve had It” reminds me of John Cale circa Paris 1919 after too many whiskeys and a stick removed from his anus. It has the grandiose chorus and piano chords of Cale’s prime period, but Chilton fucks it all up in the right ways. it lacks in the intricacy and orchestration of Cale’s work, it makes up for in a shaggy dog charm that Cale would probably revile with all of his heart.
To be honest, some of the album misses the mark and descends into a charmless middle finger, but I wish there were more albums that could hold a candle to Chilton’s mangling of R&B, soul, 50s and 60s rock and roll. I find it hard to believe that this was intended as a throwaway since it brings out previously unseen qualities in his work. Sadly, they were never seen again. If anyone can suggest a great 1980-2008 Chilton, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org because we would love to hear it.