Comp and Circumstance: Big Star?s empty vaults make for a dull box set.

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The amount of material produced by Big Star in its initial, constantly imploding heyday during the first half of the ’70s was sparse enough to fit neatly onto two CDs. Rhino’s Big Star collection, Keep an Eye on the Sky, doubles that. While itpromises to illuminate the back corners of a group that helped to codify both power pop and mope-rock, Keep An Eye On The Sky mostly succeeds in presenting a band far too efficient in its productivity to be archived in a box set without slipping into redundancy. The band produced three studio albums during the ’70s, each essential in its own way, none duplicating the strengths of the others: 1972’s #1 Record, 1974’s Radio City, and 1978’s Third/Sister Lovers. Keep an Eye on the Sky provides a disc-to-disc correlation with the original releases, capped by a live performance in front of a crowd so apathetic that you can hear frontman Alex Chilton rushing through to reach the last note so he can pack up and split. With every song accounted for in one version or another, the set would be an ideal starting point for a neophyte, if only the albums themselves and a slew of comps didn’t cover mostly the same ground with less clutter at a fraction of the cost. The problem for the band’s devotees is that the vaults don’t seem to be especially deep. There’s little to show how the band evolved into Big Star; for that, you’d have to go back to 2003’s excellent Rock City. Several unreleased tracks are more familiar than they appear: With rewritten lyrics, “Lovely Day” and “Country Morn” would become “Stroke It Noel” and “Watch The Sunrise,” while “Gone With The Light” and “Manana” were repurposed as song intros. Just how little remains untapped becomes clear on disc three, which dives into the psychic collapse of Third. It should be the equivalent of the Beatles’ Anthology, offering glimpses at how a deconstructed pop masterpiece was created. Instead, it drops the ball, featuring the album in its entirety, albeit in a different running order. Save for a bracingly straightforward solo-electric “Downs” (the final version of which Chilton famously sabotaged out of sheer persnicketiness), none of the works-in-progress differ substantially from how the songs would eventually come out. That’s a theme that runs through the set: The live tracks from Radio City, recorded around three months after #1 Record’s release, already sound fully formed, as do most of the demos and rehearsals. One exception: a wild psych-rock “O My Soul” that sounds as much like a chopped-and-screwed “Tom Sawyer” as the sprung rocker it would become. That leaves the Neil Young–ish live “ST 100/6” (which at four minutes is an epic compared to the fragmented original) and stinging ballad “There Was a Light” as the worthwhile rarities. It’s a terrible ratio, but it hints at another, less depressing lesson, which is that Big Star purposely left nothing in the tank for later. Keep An Eye on the Sky may be a missed opportunity, but Big Star made sure its music wasn’t.