With the release of Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, the classic lineup of indie rock legends Dinosaur Jr (J Mascis on guitar, Lou Barlow on bass, and Murph on drums) have now officially outlasted their original incarnation’s output of material. Writer Michael Azerrad’s portion on the group in his epochal Our Band Could Be Your Life tells of the inner turmoil experienced in their first run through the mid-to-late-eighties – spiteful attitudes flung from all angles and insecurities felt by its members that only fueled the fire within. The story holds much more levity now, as Barlow jokingly recalled during their thirtieth anniversary residency at Bowery Ballroom in New York City: “all bands hated each other back then.” They’re all adults now and that drama has been laid to rest so that they may continue recording loud-as-all-hell indie rock ‘n’ roll for the masses.
Much of the appeal of the trio’s first string of albums (Dinosaur, You’re Living All over Me, and Bug) stems from the gritty production. Seeing the band live is anything but gentle on the ears, and their records have always reflected that. From the triumphant opening solo to “Almost Ready” on the return record Beyond, it was instantly made clear that they had resisted the urge to polish their sound with studio sheen and gloss as many bands tend to as the longevity of their career expands. It wouldn’t be a “true” Dinosaur Jr LP without Lou’s mucky distorted bass picking, Murph’s nerve-splitting snare and tom rolls, and of course J’s guitar solos – all of which remain intact here.
The band’s retained few elements of the “solo” era in which J took the reins on overseeing songwriting and instrumentation on Without a Sound and Hand It Over; with the restoration of Lou and Murph, Dinosaur Jr feels much more evenly minded again. However, J has since carried onward with the vocal confidence developed on those earlier albums and his vocals have received a considerable bump in the mix, reminding us that he’s not always guitar-first-lyrics-later; that’s never been the case, especially considering the surreal, self-conscious, hermetic writing behind their debut. In fact, there are times where the shredding could stand to be given a break – despite its reliable riff, “Lost All Day” overstays its welcome before too long, and in a rare instance, J’s fretwork isn’t enough to warrant the runtime. Behind Mascis’s glazed exterior, there is a guy writing about universal heartache. On “Be a Part,” he wears his feelings on his sleeve and it’s inarguable that he’s as “broken hearted” as his singing suggests. His pipes are downright pretty at times, as he meanders into falsetto – an inclination that J has tastefully restrained to one or two appearances per the past few releases, like an acquired surprise for serious fans – on the track “Knocked Around.” When it comes to writing lyrics Mascis has always been pragmatic, but there is some real poetic merit to the line “And I miss you all the time, ‘cause I miss you all the time.”
Barlow contributes a couple of songs, as is tradition, and this time around, his efforts are hit or miss. “Love Is…” comes off as a weak rehash of “Love Is Stronger” from his other group Sebadoh, and not just in name. With past raucous Barlow-penned titles like “Rude” and “Lose,” it’s strange to hear something so mild from the prolific songwriter. For once, it sounds like he’s taking an idea that would work better in the context of Sebadoh and unfittingly giving it life as a Dinosaur Jr song. The closing track “Left/Right” patches up this notion, granting the band their most dynamic moment on Glimpse. An uncharacteristic acoustic interlude takes place leading up to the final push of the song, spicing things up just enough so that it doesn’t shatter the tried and true formula to their compositions while forming a beacon of melody that goes unmatched up to that point.
“I Told Everyone”
Dinosaur Jr have done an incredible job of sounding indefatigable thirty years into the gig. There are, naturally, brief moments on this LP that may find fans longing for the past. It is hard to listen to “I Walk for Miles” and not work up a hankering for something a little more along the lines of “Sludgefeast,” but these are not flaws. If anything, these three noisy beasts from Amherst are continuing to debunk the myth that “reunion” does not equate to “phoning it in.”