Alex Chilton’s 1995 selection of covers and originals produced with constructed spontaneity is reissued with bonus tracks and a vinyl debut.
As the second Alex Chilton reissue this year along, following Take Me Home and Make Me Like It, a revisited expansion of A Man Called Destruction illustrates his success, legacy, and unique qualities as musician with greater structure and intent. The former album, an extremely unpolished set studio recordings from 1975, illustrates works-in-progress of tracks that eventually surfaced on Singer Not the Song and Bach’s Bottom and accordingly lacks the career direction of a fully produced record. With A Man Called Destruction in 1995, 20 years after the recordings on the most recent prior reissue, Chilton enjoyed critical and commercial success on top of an oft-mentioned solid legacy and place in rock history. This reissue celebrates the 1995 success well, bringing the sonic qualities of Chilton’s recording habits and directions out in a new remaster, and adding bonus tracks that enhance the original album without distraction.
When it was released in 1995, A Man Called Destruction served as a kind-of follow-up to Chilton’s 1993 solo album, Clichés. That album was the product of touring on a bill of seven other singer-songwriters in the Netherlands in 1992 and enjoyed mild success in the United States due to a licensing deal with Ardent Records. Chilton returned to Ardent, the same label he earned his “place in rock history” with the Box Tops and Big Star in the 1960s and 1970s. Clichés was recorded at producer Keith Keller’s New Orleans studio Chez Flame, but Ardent offered Chilton unlimited studio access at Ardent Studios in Memphis. The new album was eventually named after a Memphis based piano player that had recorded with Howlin’ Wolf nicknamed Destruction. In his liner notes for this reissue, journalist Bob Mehr referred to this naming and the connection as one of Chilton’s jokes: “invoking the specter of an old Memphis legend… it was a way to poke fun at his own ballooning mythos.” Equally ironic then, this reissue invokes Chilton’s legend.
A Man Called Destruction was a mixed bag of styles and interests captured by Chilton, producer Jeff Powell, and a collection of musicians and instruments, including prominently placed horns. The tracks sway between fast-paced garage rock, to jazz and R&B covers, never entirely comfortable lined up in their sequencing, but amazingly pleasurable given this complicated construction. The covered songs on the album included the opening track “Sick and Tired", a song Fats Domino originally recorded, and the single “Lies", written by Clichés producer Keller. Chilton additionally covered, and infused his unique vocal quality (sinister take) on the Jan & Dean hit “New Girl in School". The album also included wry and sarcastic originals by Chilton, including the closer “Don’t Stop” and heavy horn-infused “You’re Looking Good". Guitar solos and fun licks permeate Chilton’s songwriting and arrangements well, giving the album a solid collectively even as the sequencing generates a nearly uneven pace from song to song.
On the reissue, Omnivore Recordings have added seven songs, of which three are different versions or takes of the original A Man Called Destruction. Given Chilton’s unique recording capabilities and the generous spontaneity of the musicians playing on the records, the bonus tracks blend well to the original track listing. All but one are originals, which means they lack the minimized cohesion of the original album that pieced together covers that illustrated Chilton’s early career and status as a music fan with his material that reflected that influence decades later. The bonus tracks accomplish the latter part well but largely illustrate Chilton’s writing in 1995 rather than the connections derived through the album’s sequencing.
Twenty-two years after its release, and seven years after Chilton’s death, A Man Called Destruction remains a significant contribution and demonstrates the workmanship of his career well. With bonus tracks attached, the stand-out component of this reissue is his studio management and arrangement. Chilton’s vocals and instrumentation, including his guitar and the musicians he led in the studio, are nicely balanced sonically, leaving the recording fresh and direct. Coming a few months after Take Me Home and Make Me Like It, a posthumous release of demos and works-in-progress, A Man Called Destruction alternatively documents Chilton in a comfortable career phase, not in transition, but as a legendary rock musician with ideas clearly fleshed out and recorded with intent. It’s impossible to predict this will attract new fans to Chilton and his career, but this reissue of A Man Called Destruction is a worthwhile revisiting for his fans and enjoyable re-documents the legacy seemingly rejected in its title.