FARM - Dinosaur Jr (Liberator Music)
Dinosaur Jr defy conventional criticism because they're self-defining. No one does "fierce melancholy" and excessive guitar soloing as well, and the re-animation of the classic line-up just feels right. So how does "Farm" rate on the Richter scale when gauged across the five albums by the Mascis-Barlow-Murph triumvirate? Higher than you'd think if you're a student of music history.
Albums by reformed bands have an ordinary track record. If you were having a punt at the races and you saw one of them in the field you'd put your dollars on a short-priced favourite. Putting aside the obvious stinkers - I can't bring myself to name the Stooges' dismal effort and the Johansen-Sylvain Band's latest surely reduces them to the Who York Dolls - most are fair-to-middling.
So what's surprising? It's impossible for any band to be what we remember they were 20-plus years on, and it's usually the ones that work best take a new tangent or play to their strengths (e.g. greater abilities acquired over time - check Radio Birdman's "Zeno Beach" whose swift progression to the bargain bins is a travesty.)
Dinosaur Jr's 2007 comeback "Beyond" was an exception to most rules. Time might have marched on but Dinosaur Jr just did what they did back in the '80s, oblivious to the decline in the DIY touring circuit and the faded influence of college radio as a sales driver. It was like their sound had been preserved in aspic, tucked into a time capsule and broken out to show the Nintendo Age kids what it was all about. Cleaner sounding than "Bug" but not a lot less powerful, "Beyond" was a stunner that's only grown in stature with repeated listenings.
Who cares if they stole the album title for this one from the moniker Midnight Oil used to use ("Fuckin' All Right Mate" supposedly being the derivative form). They could call it "Girl's Blouse" and it'd still scorch.
Opening cut "Pieces" is a high-water mark that wears a familiar face but sings a near pop refrain, but it's heavy as a sack of wet seaweed, and you can be assured that the tide doesn't stretch far lower. Far from writing formulaic retreads, J Mascis delivers the goods throughout and weaves guitar lines like American roadmaps.
"Said The People" is a swaying and soaring thing of beauty, eventually yielding to an irresistible lead-guitar line, while "See You" displays almost calming restraint and the loping bassline in "Imagination Blind" would wake the dead. "Oceans In The Way" opens up like a sprawling soundscape of widescreen guitars and waves of drum fills.
It might be J's baby but the band doesn't fire on one cylinder. Lou Barlow and Murph's engine room precision is awe-inspiring. Lou's "Your Weather" is a strong song that changes the mood exactly at the right moment.
If there's one criticism it's that "Farm" is a degree cleaner-sounding than "Beyond", but you can probably live with that.
Rumours abound of another Australian visit. We can live in hope. – The Barman
DINOSAUR JR - Dinosaur Jr (Shiny)
YOU'RE LIVING ALL OVER ME - Dinosaur Jr (Shiny)
BUG - Dinosaur Jr (Shiny)
Melbourne label Shiny Records have gone the whole hog and re-issued remastered versions of seminal American band Dinosaur Jr's first three albums in Australia and New Zealand. Two decades after they first appeared, it does feel funny trying to apply a critical analysis to albums that defined a time and place in so many people's lives (and arguably presaged that thing called grunge, from an American perspective at least). Anyway, let's have a stab at it.
Dinosaur Jr came storming out of small town America (which easier to spell than Massachusetts) armed with a couple of chords and a determination to be different from the hardcore scene that spawned them. It was (is) a genre with rigid limitations. There were a lot of less rigid ideas than the format would've allowed swirling around in the heads of guitarist/singer J Mascis, drummer Murph and bassist Lou Barlow - and it seems like they were determined to let all of them loose at once on their self-titled debut album. It's scrappy, under-produced and all over the shop, but also exposes elements of what made them great when they peaked on "Bug".
"Dinosaur Jr" goes from new wave-tinged rock-pop of "Forget the Swan" to the frankly dire live closer of "Does It Float", and all parts inbetween. The album's a patchy curiousity that points the way to what was to come. If you 're a diehard, you're going to want it. If you're not and only have the later records, it might be interesting enough to attract, for all its flaws.
Mascis was (and still is, when he puts his mind to it) a truly gifted guitarist, and if his alternately plaintive and whining vocals can grate or delight, they can't be ignored. By the time "You're Living All Over Me" came around he'd refined his vision on both scores. The guitarwork is scorching, and his voice runs the range from angst-ridden screams to resigned crooning (and that's just on the opening track!)
Some of the tempos drag (and change, midway) but there's enough rough-edged hooks and dissonance jumping in and out of the mix (a la "Raw Power") to make this a fascinating ride. Jagged and dreamy, sometimes miked up close, and then distant. The juxtapositions sit well throughout, but especially in a song like "Just Like Heaven" whose sudden cessation (what's a fade?) was (another) attempt at unnerving the unwary.
No need to labour the (amplified) Neil Young comparisons but they were never as obvious as on "Bug". The grizzled old Canuck had an obvious influence on the pick of the crop of bands of which Dinosaur Jr was a part (years later he'd return the compliment by inviting Sonic Youth on tour, although Neil was barely seen in their company, by all accounts). All those commonalties (the circular lead breaks and the vocal tonalities most prominent) coalesce in crystal clear focus on album number three.
And how. "Bug" is one of the best US records of the '80s. Powerful and more structured than its predecessors, it's all about guitars, guitars and guitars, in all their bleeding, ear-ringing, distorted glory. Acoustic beds ("Pond Song") battle walls of stunning cacophony ("Don't") driven by Murph's now monster drumming. If the increasingly distant Mascis and Barlow weren't on talking terms by then, the album's all the better for the underlying tension (which would ultimately deep six this line-up shortly after). The single was "Freak Scene" and it defines Slacker Culture to be a template for a thousand college wimp acts that wouldn't hold a candle. Not sure whether to say thanks.
Dinosaur Jr, or more correctly Mascis, would make other records, but this one is the pick for a non-obsessive like me. Props to Shiny for taking the plunge and giving wings to it and its predecessors all over again. The timing seems inspired, not only for a generation of mature slackers, but a whole new crop of potential fans. – The Barman
- "Dinosaur Jr"
- "You're Living All Over Me"
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