I don’t usually spend too much time catching up on late discoveries from the previous year (indeed I’d planned on not doing that at all this year). But I’m going to make an exception today having discovered that a new Big Dipper album came out at the end of November.
The Boston based alt-rockers enjoyed a relatively short career at the end of the 80s/early 90s. Two critically acclaimed albums (‘Heavens’ and ‘Craps’) paved the way for a leap to a major label. But the resulting, disappointing LP ‘Slam’ pretty much proved to be the death of the band.
That was until several years ago when Big Dipper reformed for some live dates. And that reunion has ended up producing an LP of new material – the first in over 20 years.
Given their illustrious past, ‘Big Dipper Crashes on the Platinum Planet’ (a reference to that ill-starred major label adventure?) has a lot to live up to.
The good news is that much of the band’s trademark sound has survived the intervening decades. Most importantly that means that the album comes laden with the sort of big hooks they were always renowned for. The lyrical approach is recognisable too as they are rooted firmly in the slightly whimsical tradition of previous albums.
Musically the record seems to have been sequenced specifically to highlight all aspects of the band’s sound. It starts off showcasing the jangly guitars of the effervescent eco-fable ‘Lord Scrumptious’ quickly followed by ‘Robert Pollard’ – a paean to the craft of songwriting which features the immortal couplet “Paul McCartney/ it pains me to say/ that you have a great gift / but hide it away”.
Over the course of the album there’s a shift, there’s a couple of gentler tunes, most notably the gorgeous ‘Happy New Year’, whilst the new wave influenced ‘Pitball, Cruiser Blue’ is one the tunes to claim some new ground, sitting somewhere between Joe Jackson and the Police,.
By the end of the record the band’s crunchier side is to the fore with the three heaviest songs all featuring in the last four songs.
On first listen I wasn’t convinced, strong though it is, that the LP has any truly outstanding songs of the calibre of previous classics such as ‘All Going Out Together’ or ‘A Song To Be Beautiful’. Yet repeated listens soften that impression significantly not least because the intro to pretty much every song seems to generate the reaction ‘Oh, I DO like this one’.
Perhaps the best of the bunch though is ‘Forget The Chef’. Featuring a quintessential Dipper melody it may be slightly more considered than a lot of the other tunes but that doesn’t stop its hooks managing to bury themselves – deep. But the likes of ‘New Machine’ and ‘Robert Pollard’ certainly run it close.
It may have been a while but it’s great to have Big Dipper back and “… Crashes on the Platinum Planet” is a real unexpected treat.
Any prospect of any UK shows?
From the LP: