Of all the bands from the Boston Rock Class of 1990, Big Dipper weren’t the first candidates for the “Most Likely to Succeed” superlative. They wrote songs with undeniably catchy melodies and witty lyrics, and their shows at mid-sized East Coast clubs never failed to attract an audience.
Unfortunately, they had signed to Homestead Records, whose history of poor distribution and corrupt business practices restricted their reach to all but their most diehard fans. Though they jumped ship to Epic at the close of the decade, a series of shakeups at their label left them with little support. By the middle of the ’90s, “Dippah” (as their local fans called them) had joined fellow Beantown heavy-hitters Tribe and O Positive in the great cutout bin in the sky.
Fortunately, Big Dipper had a big name fan in Tom Scharpling. Inspired by the VH1 show Bands Reunited, the WFMU on-air personality called the band at home begging them to reunite. His persistence led to the release of the Supercluster box set in 2008 and a short reunion tour. Judging by their occasional New England-area shows, Big Dipper’s reunion agreed with them. Over two decades after the release of Slam comes the release of Big Dipper Crashes on the Platinum Planet.
Listening to this album feels like getting a letter from a long-lost friend. The lyrics directly address the goings-on in the lives of core band members Bill Goffrier, Jeff Oliphant, and Gary Waleik. (Bass player Tom Brewitt, who replaced original member Steve Michener, didn’t contribute any songs.) You’re in the passenger seat for lows, such as the clear-eyed post-cancer-diagnosis narrative “Princess Warrior” and the heartbreaking unrequited love narrative “Forget the Chef.” In true Dipper fashion, though, they take a cockeyed view at the highs as well. “Robert Pollard” is Waleik’s internal monologue about trying to measure up to the legendary prolific songwriter (and, in his estimation, failing miserably).
On a musical level, the members of Big Dipper seemed to decide that their brand of jangle pop wasn’t broken and didn’t need fixing. After the slick, horn-happy production of Slam, the quartet reverted to the live-in-studio sound that made their Homestead albums so timeless. Unlike the high-end-y production on Heavens and Craps, though, the guitars and vocals are well balanced by the steady, rolling rhythm section. The sound quality is consistent with their recent live shows. Better, the camaraderie among the current lineup really shines through.
After the lack of support the Boston music scene got in the ’80s and ’90s, hearing one of the perennially underrated bands get back together is great news. Big Dipper Crashes on the Platinum Planet is a must-have Christmas gift for fans of power pop and for those who miss the Rat and the Channel.
Big Dipper Crashes On The Platinum Planet was released November 27 through Almost Ready Records and is available to order from the label’s website.