Big Dipper
Supercluster - The Big Dipper Anthology

[Merge Records,]

Coming out of the Embarrassment, Dumptruck and the ever mighty Volcano Suns, four members of Big Dipper had a lot to prove. It wasn't that they were forced into a corner or had an obligation to make music as good as that of their former bands. It was that they had an inane vision of making quite normal music amongst the [here comes that dreaded word] indie rock circuit [aren't you glad I didn't use alternative]. Formed back in 1985 in Boston [which was a hot-bed for underground music], the band was made up of vocalist/guitarist Gary Waleik and bassist Steve Michener [both of whom left Volcano Suns], drummer Jeff Oliphant and singer/guitarist Bill Goffrier. Before you knew it, the band was writing songs and touring itself practically to death. As the name suggests, "Supercluster - The Big Dipper Anthology" is a collection of the bands first EP - "Boo Boo" - its first two full length albums "Heavens" and "Craps" along with a third bonus disc "Very Loud Array", which features previously unreleased, post "Slam" [their only major record album, which turned out to be a flop] material. Describing Big Dipper's music isn't really a challenge, especially if you're preaching to those already converted - to those that were around during the 80s to witness the whole scene go down. The air was fertile to plant the seeds for a multitude of indie bands that recorded great records for small record companies - Homestead, SST, Cruz, Touch & Go - only to be suckered in by big labels to record one or two records [that would eventually flop as their hardcore fans would see this as a way of selling out] and then disappear forever into thin air. Before this would happen to Big Dipper, they recorded some very solid material. 1987's "Boo Boo" EP was a sign of good things to come. "Faith Healer" featured their signature rickety guitar sound that culminated in sing-along choruses and unparalleled musicianship. Let's face it, these guys were not master musicians, but for what it's worth, they learned their craft from the ground up to come up with very tight, crafty songs. Four members of the band get shared writing credits, which makes it sound as if this was a true democracy. Many of their lyrics at this point were quirky or just plain fun. From the silliness on "Wrong in the Charts" through to "Loch Ness Monster", there was a ton of fun that the guys wanted to share with their audience. By the time "Heavens" was released at the end of 1987, they were seriously getting their heads wrapped around an impeccable idea of a hit single. "All Going Out Together" should've been a hit on college radio and though it may have received a ton of play on smaller stations, no commercial radio would want to come near them. Not enough funds sunk into marketing perhaps? "Heavens" further proved the band's worth as a solid outfit, one willing to go out on a limb, with smart lyrics and tight, ferocious playing. This was rock at its most pure, melodic form, at its most fun. I remember the excitement of buying "Craps" in 1988 at a local [now defunct] record store. Though still retaining a grubby, rough appearance, their songs at this point were more polished and the possibility of radio hits kept on coming. Side A of the record had two airplay-worthy songs. The rhythmically pleasing "Meet the Witch" and the sing-along, harsh-pounding "Ron Klaus Wrecked His House" were sonically superior to anything they done in the past. Further on, "Stardom Because" and "Hey! Mr. Lincoln" rocked the house with aggressive rock-out moments. "Ahh whatever became of / all of the famous who never got started" from "Stardom Because" worked like a theme-song for so many bands of Big Dipper's ilk. Inclusion of some rare tracks on the second CD is a treat. Especially great is a Volcano Suns leftover song "Which Would You Rather?" and the stop-and-go fury of "You're Not Patsy". Big Dipper was bought out in 1989 to record "Slam" for Epic, at which point things fell apart for good. Poor sales and constant line-up changes forced them to call it quits at the beginning of the 90s. Entitled "Very Loud Array", the third disc features songs that were recorded during upheaval and constant line-up fiascos the band endured during the first couple years after their major label debut. Less polished than anything they've done since their first EP, these songs sound loose and rough. It's as if they were desperately trying to account for some things they had five years prior. It's as if they were trying to turn back the clock, which usually turns out to be a disaster. Nonetheless, their inclusion here sees a continuum of sorts. At their tail end, Big Dipper was a band that realized no money in the world, no contract and no post-production values could do to make them a better band. For what it's worth, they were a band whose strong work ethics, great songwriting and sturdy musicianship kept them alive for a few short years. Never attaining cult status, they were a band that should have enjoyed at least a couple of radio-heavy hits. If they were bred a few years later, perhaps radio would have been a bit more receptive to their melodic hooks. As it stands, along with a few live shows planned for the reunited band, we have "Supercluster" to remind us of their greatness.

- Tom Sekowski

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