REVIEW: Dinosaur Jr., Beyond, Fat Possum

Posted May 1st, 2007 by eric

If you can close your eyes and pretend that this album isn’t just some thinly veiled cash-cow by three people who would just as soon never look at each other as record music together, then you can almost believe it was created by a great noisy rock band in its underground heyday. So, putting all of the reunion baggage aside, Beyond sounds just like vintage Dinosaur Jr. It’s so good at imitating what Dinosaur Jr. actually sounded like almost two decades ago that it feels like these songs could have been sitting in the vault all these years.

And, yeah, it should sound like vintage Dinosaur Jr., since it’s the original trio of J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph making all the glorious noise. After laying the groundwork for underground rock in the mid to late 80’s with a sprawling mix of folk-rock, Sonic Youth screed, atonal noise, fuzzed-out solos, and a wheezy, self-indulgent whine, Dinosaur Jr. had a tumultuous and acrimonious dissolution, as bassist Lou Barlow left the group in a very public and bitter dismissal/rouse shortly after its third record, Bug, was released in 1988.

Barlow’s and Mascis’ mutual disdain became legendary in indie circles, as Barlow complained via overtly sensitive Sebadoh songs about his victimization at the hand of big, mean J Mascis. Meanwhile, Mascis continued the Dinosaur Jr. name as though Barlow had been little more than a blip on the radar, going on to release four more albums of consistently dwindling results before dismantling the band altogether in 1997. Barlow continued his Sebadoh venture until it, too, ran out of steam around the same time.

So, both of these former indie rock legends have been floundering through various and sundry projects ever since, never achieving the level of cultural shifting that Dinosaur Jr. created in its prime. When news spread a few years ago that the original Dinosaur Jr. trio would be reuniting for a tour, it left many mouths agape at the exciting thought of Lou Barlow and J Mascis sharing a stage again. The reunion garnered enough momentum to convince the band that recording a new album might be a good idea.

Touring reunions are one (usually bad) thing. But having the balls to tarnish a legacy with any dreaded “new” material is quite another. I imagine these guys either felt like they didn’t have much to lose or they knew that the stuff they were writing held up against the classics. And it does. It holds up well. Nothing on Beyond could surpass the bristling menace of You’re Living All over Me, but much of it easily ranks with Bug’s cleaner, more streamlined aggression. And it sure beats the hell out of Where You Been.

With its patented intensity intact, Dinosaur Jr. breezes through eleven new songs without any worries of ruining its reputation. Everyone already knows this reunion isn’t just about the music, so a batch of good tunes is practically a bonus. Mascis’ whimpering croak still sounds just as fragile and mopey as it always has on the first single “Been There All the Time”, and his guitar playing might even be better now. I suppose his learned level of professionalism has curbed some of the atonal squawks that characterized much of the band’s early work, but the man is certainly not afraid to rock. Or to whip out a blistering solo. Barlow, too, retains his melodic edge, underpinning Mascis’ sprawling guitar work with confidant, muscular bass lines.

Whether it’s for fun or for money is unimportant because on Beyond Dinosaur Jr. has little on its agenda other than rocking, as evidenced by the way Mascis tears it up on his unabashedly gratuitous solo that closes “Pick Me Up.” And just to prove that everybody’s cool with one another, even Barlow gets a shot at the mic on “Back to Your Heart”, a typically dark and forsaken emotional bender backed by Barlow’s recessive vocal angst and Mascis’ charging guitars.

This record is proof positive that bands can come back without embarrassing themselves. And not only does Beyond pad Dinosaur Jr.’s illustrious cannon with its strongest batch of tunes in decades, but it also stands as a testament to the power of band chemistry. Mascis clearly needs Barlow and Murph to make Dinosaur Jr. sound hungry and relevant again.

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