"Well, it's the best I came up with/It's not much...". So sings J Mascis, Dinosaur Jr's guitarist/vocalist/keyboard player/drummer/songwriter/producer three tracks into "Without A Sound", and the world's only industrious slacker is worryingly close to the truth. There ain't much here, apart from a crushing air of resignation, J's whining voice and a selection of songs that sound like they just, can't, y'know, like, be bothered. How they can follow the sublime "Green Mind" and "Where You Been" albums with a work as hollow and empty as this is beyond me. The irony is that he's still a superb guitarist: "Grab It", for example, is riddled with the kind of sonic shrapnel that recalls past towers of song like "The Wagon" and "Start Choppin" in exactly the same way that much of the rest of the album doesn't. "I Don't Think So" is possibly the year's second most sussed love song (after Jeff Buckley's "Lover, You Should've Come Over"): "I'd like to think she cried for me/I don't think so". And he's still got a great gift for mellowness not often encountered in the genre, witness "Outta Hand" and "Seemed Like The Thing To Do". But the overhanging air of "Will this do?" sinks the whole proceedings. Let's hope J can regain his own particular variant of enthusiasm during the next eighteen months, because if Dinosaur Jr make another record like this they'll be everything their detractors accuse them of.
DINOSAUR JR In Session (Strange Fruit)
Following their inevitable, if long-delayed, demise last year, Beeb archivists par excellence Strange Fruit present this ten track sampler of the sporadic genius of J Mascis and his ever-changing assemblage of grunge collaborators (who at one time included Lou Barlow, later of the parish of Sebadoh) culled from various Radio 1 sessions recorded between 1988 and 1992.
Speaking as someone who takes the not particularly hip view that the best of Dinosaur Jr's music is concentrated on their first two major label long players ("Green Mind" and "Where You Been") the bulk of "In Session" comes as a pleasant surprise. Earlier albums such as "Bug" seemed like just so much noise to me, but the songs aired here are mainly dextrous three-minute high speed romps that sound not unlike a rocket-powered Jesus And Mary Chain. Note also how this compilation tiptoes around Dinosaur's more famous songs - there's no "Freak Scene" or "The Wagon" on display. The coveted finest track accolade is won by an acoustic 1992 trudge through the slacker anthem (hang on, aren't all Dinosaur Jr's songs slacker anthems?) "Get Me".
Despite the excellence of the music on show, and the enthusiastic, if brief, booklet notes, you may well wonder why anyone other than a J Mascis completist would want to pay £12 for a mere 36 minutes of alternate takes, which suggests that the definitive introductory Dinosaur Jr package has yet to be assembled. For those of us already on the bus, though, "In Session" is probably an automatic purchase.
DINOSAUR JR. Youre Living All Over Me (SST)
On their second album, Dinosaur Jr. explored similar territory to that claimed by The Jesus And Mary Chain, drowning fragile little pop songs in feedback and distortion. That said, Youre Living All Over Me is more interesting than anything the fractious Scottish duo have produced. Perhaps thats down to J Mascis ear for a Neil Young melody (if not his little-boy-lost Neil Young whine). Little Fury Things, for example, captures the same sense or hurt that moped all over Youngs Zuma album, the cred quotient upped even further by a youthful Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth popping by to contribute backing vocals. In A Jar is pure pop thats decayed into something more interesting, and Poledo, a collage of noise and acoustic foreboding apparently recorded on 2 crappy tape recorders by Lou & Lou alone in his bedroom anticipates the direction second-in-command Barlows post-Dinosaur Jr. career would take. Theres even a cover of Peter Framptons Show Me The Way, a sincere (well, in their own way) tribute to growing up in 1970s America.
Nevertheless, in a post-Nevermind universe these songs sound spindly and thin, not only due to the insubstantial production values, but also due to the quality of the songwriting, which both Mascis and Barlow would better in their later work. As an enjoyable pre-grunge timewarp trip Youre Living All Over Me has much to recommend it, but it hasnt weathered the years particularly well.
DINOSAUR JR. Beyond (Play It Again Sam)
Not a great deal has changed in Dinosaur Jr.s soundworld in the decade since the bands last album (and nearly 20 years since the previous release by this reconvened lineup of Lou Barlow, J Mascis and Murph). Tales of subtly encoded negativity entwine pleasant melodies propped up by searing guitar solos, and the chaotic cover that looks like a pileup between a Letraset catalogue and a slackers den suggests that the bands command of the visual image hasnt advanced much either.
Never caring much for the original trios SST years, my favourite Dinosaur Jr. lives on the first two of their corporate sell-out Warners albums, namely Green Mind and the UK top ten-grazing Where You Been. So, although Beyond is the most entertainment Ive had in the company of the J/Murph/Lou axis, it attains that ranking by sounding most like the work that followed Barlows, uh, departure, in which they carved out their territory as the anti-Nirvana. Although both bands were ostensibly grunge trios, where Nirvana were concise and disciplined (that Knack influence, perhaps), Dinosaur sprawled. What would Steve Albini have made of them?
Melted solos drip all over the song structure of Pick Me Up like Eric Claptons Dali-esque guitar on the cover of Money & Cigarettes. Back To Your Heart sounds unnervingly like Sebadoh well, it is a Lou Barlow tune after all as if its wandered in from another album. This Is All I Came To Do and Were Not Alone are delightful, chiming grunge pop, not quite in the same league as the Beach Boys-tastic one-off soundtrack single from way back Take A Run At The Sun but revealing Mascis soft centre nonetheless.
That title might be something of a misnomer for an album that doesnt obviously push the band beyond their familiar comfort zone. Barlows presence aside, you may wonder why they didnt make this album 15 years ago. Still, while it wont supplant your favourite Dinosaur Jr. albums itll certainly supplement them.
On vinyl, Beyond arrives puzzlingly configured as an LP and a 33 rpm 7 EP, adding the not particularly staggering bonus track Yer Son on the way. With the 7 single something of a sonic pariah, and its prospects hardly improved by the drop from 45 rpm, surprisingly the EP doesnt sound significantly worse that the rather sloppily mastered main feature.
DINOSAUR JR. Bug (Jagjaguwar)
In the jukebox of my memory, “Bug”, Dinosaur Jr.’s third album, originally released in 1988, was always “Freak Scene” and eight other songs. Opening with slackerdom’s greatest non-hit, the aforementioned is all noise and melody wrapped up in a fuzzy, sticky package of irresistibility. Maybe not Dinosaur Jr.’s finest moment, it might be their most fun, especially the everything-louder-than-everything-else guitar solos. From then on, as I remembered it, the album rapidly slumped into a recumbent torpor.
Relistening to “Bug” courtesy of Jagjaguwar’s vinyl reissue, that long-held opinion seems a bit unfair. The likes of “Budge” and “They Always Come” are surprisingly perky, energetic even, and “No Bones” pulls itself off the beanbag long enough for a typically ragin’ guitar solo. ”Yeah We Know” is almost a ballad in this company, albeit one that pummels and kicks. “Let It Ride” drowns J’s whining, petulant vocals in guitar solos of flailing urgency, and there’s a distant acoustic jangle underpinning the slabs of noise that constitute “Pond Song”. Admittedly, the album does slow to a grind towards the end, with the almost Sabbathesque lethargy of “The Post”, and “Don’t” drives the stake in. A monument to the misunderstood, seething and bilious, its lyrics consist solely of the repeated scream “Why, why don’t you like me?”, sloshed in distortion and perpetual guitar soloing.
The albatross that bears down on “Bug” is merely the fact that the majority of its portion of glorious tuneage seems to have been squeezed into its opening track, but if it collapses about halfway through it’s still kicking its legs in the air.
Jagjaguwar’s vinyl reissue shakes no great sonic action; it’s not of the order of ORG’s splendid re-minting of Sonic Youth’s roughly contemporaneous “Sister”, for instance. Nevertheless, this is loud, raucous, distorted music, and that’s certainly what it sounds like here.
J Mascis + The Fog