Thursday, March 20, 2008

Paste: Review: Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology

My first article for Paste Magazine!

Big Dipper
Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology


Writer: Alex V. Cook
Review, Published online on 20 Mar 2008

College radio in the mid-'80s was fueled on Great Little Bands, and Boston’s Big Dipper was one of the greatest. “I can't get enough of that 'we loved you back then' stuff,” admits bassist Steve Michener. “College radio was the most important part of the music scene back then. Without it, bands like Dipper would never have gotten out of Boston.” Big Dipper formed in 1985 when Michener and Gary Waliek left the original lineup of Volcano Suns (Michener spent time in Dumptruck as well) and linked up with Bill Goffrier, fresh off The Embarrassment’s implosion. Big Dipper’s glory days of sunny alt-rock and final transmissions are lovingly documented here on the three-disc Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology.

Supercluster opens with the band's first EP, Boo Boo, the standout tracks of which, “Loch Ness Monster” and “Faith Healer,” sound just as fresh today. This is followed by Big Dipper's Homestead LP, Heavens, where the band really hit its stride. “She’s Fetching” is one of the all-time sweetest songs about loving a shy girl, but the song-by-song annotation in the liner notes explains there is more to it. “I told Bill that the word ‘fetch’ means the distance wind blows over water between two pieces of land,” says drummer Jeff Oliphant. “He used the definition, so the world’s greatest pop song has a nautical term.”

Whereas Heavens was the perfect soundtrack to the cautious steps of young love, Craps documented the stumbling of adulthood. The infectious “Ron Klaus Wrecked his House” is half-apology/half-glorification of self-destructive behavior, while the sad tales of “Hey! Mr. Lincoln” and “The Insane Girl” paint an accurate portrait of the post-graduation downward slide. Luckily, in “Bells of Love,” Waliek’s rippling solo manages to part the curtains and lets the sun in.

Big Dipper suffered a death-by-major-label in 1990 when Epic put out its oft-derided third 1990 record, Slam, which is not included on this compilation. (It wasn’t all that bad, really, but the cloudy skies of the Seattle-obsessed '90s made it hard for a power-pop band.) In its place is Very Loud Array, a 15-song set recorded after Michener left the band and Epic abruptly concluded the contract. Big Dipper sounds matured with a few of the edges smoothed over on “Restaurant Cloud,” while the inevitable dissolution was nakedly acknowledged on “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Its inclusion, and this set as a whole, serves as a fitting swan song for one of the greatest of the great little bands.

1 comment:

  1. I was around the Boston scence at the time, and if not for this scence - no Seattle in the early 90's. Big Dipper was one of the pioneers of the "pop-punk-indie" that gained commerical success later on. In fact I saw the Pixies OPEN for the Dipper in 1987. Glad to have and hear all the great tunes! I like some of the 3rd disc too.."Edith" and "The King" stand out!