There’s a simple, plaintive track about perseverance and moving through life called “Lucky Guy” on Those Pretty Wrongs’ eponymous debut LP that works as a nice summation of the career of former Big Star drummer and current Pretty Wrong Jody Stephens. Make no mistake, Stephens is a talented drummer and an essential part of the Big Star legend deserving of his spoils, however modest they may be. Yet, it was undoubtedly heartbreaking for Stephens to watch as members of the Big Star family—both immediate and extended—passed on one by one. Stephens, though, is alive and well and making music. And as the last surviving member of the original Big Star line-up, Stephens has also become the de facto spokesperson for the band’s ever-expanding legacy, sitting for docs and participating in the now semi-regular tribute performances of Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers. Those Pretty Wrongs (Ardent Music/Burger Records) feels like a humble acknowledgment of that good fortune.
Joined here by collaborator Luther Russell, Stephens delivers 10 wistful, laidback tracks of sunshine-drenched West Coast pop with hints of the stark, shimmering ballads Big Star were capable of working out back in Memphis. There are nods to The Beatles, Beach Boys, and ’70s AM gold here, but Big Star’s legacy looms, and not just melodically; the album was recorded at Ardent, Big Star’s studio homebase, and the Wrongs even utilized some of the same guitars Chris Bell played on #1 Record.
Though the album is charming in many way and displays instrumental precision, lovely harmonies, and keen pop songwriting chops, it’s somewhat debatable whether it would receive as much attention as it has if it didn’t involve a member of Big Star. The song “Ordinary,” for example, is on the one hand a pleasant acoustic number about sifting through the mundane in search of the sublime, but on the other it never quite locates the latter and in the end serves as something of a metaphor for the whole album. Still, one gets the feeling that Stephens isn’t necessarily reaching for greatness here. Rather, he’s content to sit back and marvel at it all.