Big Dipper can be counted among the casualties of the major-label maw as it chewed through indie acts looking for Nirvana in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Signed to Epic after two fine power-pop/neo-psych/post-punk albums, the Boston supergroup (formed from members of Volcano Suns, Dumptruck, and The Embarrassment) imploded under the expectations laid on its over-produced third album, 1990’s Slam. The band remained a relatively obscure musical footnote until Merge Records anthologized its entire oeuvre on three discs, collected as Supercluster in 2008. The renewed interest sparked reunion shows, and now a comeback album reprises much of the act’s initial charm. Like They Might Be Giants, the Boston quartet makes clever, quirk-laden indie pop vacillating between hooky jangle and spunky, minor-chord uneasiness.
Though everyone contributes, singer-guitarist Bill Goffrier’s songs shine brightest. Chief among these is “Hurricane Bill,” which nicks a lick from “Afternoon Delight” and turns it into a fine extended metaphor about a tempestuous relationship. Goffrier also authors “Lord Scrumptious,” whose jangly catchiness and keen lyricism recall Big Dipper’s 1987 debut, Heavens. As the opening track, it manages to invoke God’s indolence/absence, the perceived “let them eat cake” indifference of the wealthy, and Earth’s increasingly troubled environment in three percolating minutes. Fellow singer-guitarist Gary Waleik offers another highlight in his self-deprecating, genuflecting ode to “Robert Pollard,” which acknowledges the melodic genius of the Guided By Voices frontman in similar British Invasion-inspired pop-rock while dressing down Paul McCartney’s recent efforts.
Those three tracks clearly frontload the first third of the album, while the middle third falters. It regains momentum in the home stretch, led by the haunting minor-key pop elegy “(I’ll Never) Forget The Chef,” Goffrier’s noisy, slashing, rather inscrutable rocker, “Joke Outfit,” and particularly the punchy “New Machine.” Given the band’s fresh approach to smart, well-crafted rock, Big Dipper’s second coming could last a while.