For over a decade and on eight full-lengths, the members of Boston’s Major Stars have been involved in a sordid romance with the electric guitar, elevating it to the status of cult object and employing three full-time lead players: long-running husband-and-wife duo Wayne Rogers and Kate Village along with Tom Leonard. The nature of Major Stars mission was stated plainly with the title of their first LP, The Rock Revival. Since then, Major Stars have developed their own personal Randy Holden-inspired universe of sound while principals Rogers and Village run Twisted Village, a label and retail store that is one of the guiding lights of the American underground. Return to Form is their second record for Drag City, and it continues their association with vocalist Sandra Barrett and the re-configured lineup they debuted on 2006’s Syntoptikon. It’s a listenable but intermittently frustrating record from the perpetually underrated outfit.
Beginning with the three-minute “Better Stay Down,” and continuing with “Black Point” (nearly eight minutes), the opening tracks set the structure of Return to Form: short blasts of traditional hard rock alternating with loose and lengthy excursions into psychedelic guitar soloing. This relentless assault could be fatiguing, but Major Stars keep things interesting; just when you think the bluesy stomper “Low Grade” has run out of steam, an unexpected riff comes on like methamphetamine enhanced classic rock and kicks the song into overdrive. “The Space You Know” has a memorable vocal hook that sounds as if it would incite a frenzied sing-along in an alternate universe where Major Stars are the arena-rock gods they deserve to be.
Eight albums in, it seems that Major Stars are more than happy to continue kicking out the jams in their particular corner of the psych-rock universe. Although the studio sound of Major Stars often levitates above basic rock conventions — like the piercing, distortion-soaked solo at the center of “The Space You Know” — it also features surprisingly faceless alternative rock, like the bland “Two Degrees.” It is both a wonder and a shame that the group have yet to record a definitive live record (a rare split 12-inch with the like-minded Comets on Fire notwithstanding). The unhinged guitar liberation the group achieves on stage can’t be touched by the inspired but ultimately uninspiring sound of Return To Form.