Big Dipper 3xCD Box Set review by Amy Yates Wuelfing
Apr 18, 2008, 17:06
BIG DIPPER Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology 3 x CD BOX SET
For the uninitiated, Big Dipper's members previously did time in the Volcano Suns (Gary Waleik), Dumptruck (Steve Michener) and The Embarrassment (Bill Goffrier), and, as such, were Boston's best rock export from 1986 to their breakup in the early 90's. (If you want to argue with me about that—then let's go duke it out.) This three-disc box set is a must-have for any Big Dipper fan—nay, this box set is a must-have for anyone who understands finely crafted guitar-based rock.
Listening to this comprehensive collection you can only wonder why Big Dipper weren't much bigger than they were—especially considering that their live shows were consistently second to none. The band showed an appreciation for music of every stripe, e.g. melodic rock, power ballads, punk, metal, and all things sloppy, messy and meaningful.
This collection also comes with a booklet of extensive liner notes and comments from the band members about every song on DISCS 1 and 2. After reading the “making-of” you realize how much just about every song was a true collaborative effort between band members, which is probably why each song is so strong and unique. Â Unlike some other bands, Big Dipper NEVER sounds same-y, where you can barely tell one song from another.
DISC 1 contains the first Dipper EP, Boo-Boo, and their full-length Heavens. Despite that fact all the songs are 20+ years old, they sound as though they could have been recorded yesterday. The guitar parts are fresh, the vocals clean and songs hook-laden. Not to mention the spotless production—nothing is muddled or buried. It makes you long for music recorded in analog! It also gives you the sense of their lyrical capabilities; steering clear of trite boy-meets-girl predictability Dipper was more about boy-meets-UFO. How many bands use the Loch Ness Monster as a metaphor for love?
Â Boo-Boo highlights include the Buzzcocks-esque “Faith Healer” and the pogo-inducing “Wrong in the Charts.” Heavens kicks off with “Meet the Witch” which is instantly sing-along-able with layers of guitar and vocals. And the mandolin-enhanced “Man o' War” makes you want to hit repeat as soon as you get to the end. Upbeat songs like “All Going Out Together” and “Younger Bums” are balanced out by the dreamy “Lunar Module” and slightly rougher “Mr. Woods.” But to see Dipper personified, check out the bonus video for “Faith Healer.” Laugh out loud funny, but truly what they were like when they played live, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves and always danced like nobody was watching.
Dipper's second LP Craps is DISC 2, along with bonus tracks from that era. Craps was the last record Big Dipper made for Homestead before signing with Epic and shows a slightly darker side of Dipper. Craps opens with “Meet the Witch,” where you can't tell if meet-the-witch is a warning or an invitation. The moody “Semjase” introduces a farmer who receives visits from a bewitching extraterrestrial, and “Hey! Mr. Lincoln” gives us humor about our 16th President in the form of lines like “Why the long face?”
The bonus tracks include “Golden Shame,” featuring drummer Jeff Oliphant on vocals, the classic “You're Not Pasty” from the Homestead compilation The Wailing Ultimate, and the just plain baffling “Which Would You Rather?” One B-side that is sadly NOT included is their cover of Husker Du's “Girl from Heaven Hill,” (the flip side of the 12” XX) which is worth uncovering if you get a chance.
The only thing missing from this collection is their one and only major label release—the okay-but-not-quite-up-to-Dipper-standards SLAM. I pulled this out of my collection to give it another listen and frankly, the box set is better off without it. Looking at the photos of Dipper on every release up to SLAM, the band is always laughing, smiling and having fun—basically being Dipper. On the back cover of SLAM, they stare out motionless and glum letting the world know they're miserable. Are they trying to convey how much they HATE the front cover? (That red arrow, what was that about?) SLAM has a few keepers, namely “Impossible Things,” but overall it sounds like a record made under duress.
Which brings us to DISC 3 (or Life After SLAM), Very Loud Array. At this point, other than Bill Goffrier and Gary Waleik, the line-up was ever-changing, with numerous bass players coming and going, and drums being handled by Woody Giessmann. Even so, most of the songs are still strong. “Wake Up the King” hears a plea for Elvis to open his eyes, while “The Beast” goes from an intro full of fuzz to an alternatively clean/dirty guitar sound with a catchy chorus.
“Nowhere To Put My Love,” with literally howling vocals and rock-steady bass, carries on like the too-drunk-to-stand-up Replacements on a good night. “Lifetime Achievement Award” explores the irony of being given an award that you know is actually an insult.
Overall, this collection is everything a Big Dipper fan could ask for and more. And for those not yet acquainted, go out and get this NOW. You really have no idea what you're missing. [Merge]
-Amy Yates Wuelfing