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Dinosaur Jr - Dinosaur Jr

  by Jeff Thiessen

published: 24 / 6 / 2009

Dinosaur Jr - Dinosaur Jr


In the second instalment of his 'This Metal sky' series, in which he will examining in depth a new piece of music each month, Jeff Thiessen looks at Dinosaur Jr's latest comeback album, 'Farm'

The road to musical comebacks is generally paved with monetary intentions. Rarely is an extended hiatus or outright breakup a catalyst for future critical/artistic triumphs. We’re jaded by this point, and really, why shouldn’t we be? History has taught us, there is a hell of a lot to be said for sticking through it all, and I’m saying this because time and time again we see some truly disastrous results when a band reforms and tries to stay relevant. It’s getting to a point where once a band announces their intentions to scatter, I consider their discography a finalized one, just because I’ve been disappointed by so many reunion efforts. This strategy is easier on my psyche. It really shouldn’t be that hard to figure out, and it’s wrought with struggle for two main reasons: i) Naturally, the scene they’re throwing themselves into is not the same one through which they achieved their success and subsequent exile years in the past. Let’s be honest here, any band that actually ‘makes it’ in the music industry has fluked out bigtime, and don’t start ragging on me about talent and drive, because anybody with a brain cell in their skull should know that some of the most talented and driven bands out there can’t even see the door, much less get their foot in it, so really we’re talking nothing short than a perfect constellation of the stars coinciding with public trends, movements, etc for a band to become a household name. Once that’s established, it will probably dwindle, unless you’re a behemoth in the U2 or Eagles vein, in which case your initial impact is so huge and overwhelming, the tidal wave will carry you well into death, and post-humonously as well. But if you’re not one of those gargantuan types, it’s that period of a downward spiral, that ranges from swift to downright rapid, that usually spurs the end of even the most strong-willed groups, as it’s a pretty hard pill to swallow to go from headlining sold-out stadium tours to playing county-fair shows in Porterville, California for $50 beer vouchers, all within the period of a couple dozen months or so, which probably would feel like a few days, considering the drastic nature of the windfall. So a lot of bands throw in the towel before this horrible ordeal actually finishes its painful process, because if you do start playing cruise-lines, there is absolutely no chance to reclaim your spot on the totem-pole. I understand it, I get it, but what a lot of these comeback groups don’t get, is when you do come back after kicking it in Daytona for half a decade, is the power the band’s name once held, now amounts to exactly jack-shit. Essentially, they’re starting from square one again. Maybe square one-and-a-half actually, because there will always be some dedicated followers lurking around in the fold, but your goal will be a mutated one in contrast to the mission statement everyone rolled around in their head when they were playing out of their mom’s garage in the very beginnings. When it all began, a lot of it had to do with proving why you deserved to be relevant, why people should pay good, hard-earned dough to hear what you have to say. On the trailblazer of the comeback trail, it’s a different sort of beast. You’ve already taken their cash for years in the past, disappeared into total oblivion, and now have returned in the wake of hundreds, thousands of reunion efforts that have preceded yours that have done nothing but made people wonder why they even spent the money on those groups in the first place. Now you have got to prove that you want more then to simply stay pertinent, but the problem is, most of these bands don’t actually desire more then contemporary significance. Therefore it comes off as laboured, a shuck, and a sham, and in fairly short order, you’re co-headlining a cabaret tour with the Cult. That bus you used to drive around the country before meeting a label exec used to be a symbol of strength and unity within the band. Now it’s terror on wheels, a stern, rolling reminder that every journey from here on out will most likely be a downhill one. This brings me to the second reason reunited groups nearly always fail on catastrophic levels: ii) Successful music is nearly always time-specific. Marilyn Manson is exactly what our world needed in 1996, but now even many of his most die-hard fans have discarded his albums along with their white face-paint and black hair dye. You probably couldn’t walk down any major American city in 1987 without hearing 'Appetite for Destruction' blaring out of open car-windows everywhere, but if that were released today.....well I’m going to stop myself right there, because there isn’t a label in the world that would buy the rights to an album that sounded like Gun 'n' Roses infamous debut album, in 2009. Just wouldn’t happen. This isn’t meant as an insult to the music, and I’m not saying great music isn’t timeless, I do buy into that romanticized theory, but I’m saying the initial boom that carried this music into the stereos of people everywhere, is always in direct correlation to the modern state of the society it was released in. People don’t change nearly as much as they like to think they do, even when they try on a conscious level, but the world is mutating into new and twisted versions of its former self on a daily level. It’s this contrast that doesn’t really allow comeback efforts to jibe on any significant level, its solidarity trying to mix with rapid fruition, and the latter will always dance circles around the former. Perhaps the best example to illustrate my point is that study they conducted in the early 90s revolving around lottery winners. A group of researchers studied the dispositions of two people who had both won the jackpot prize of several million dollars. They examined testimonials from friends and family, co-workers, ex’s, all in regards to their former outlook on life prior to winning the big prize. Then, after a period of six months following their new giant financial upswing, they examined their personal attitudes again, and overwhelming evidence concluded that more or less, the people were now demonstrating basically the exact same personality traits they exhibited prior to their rush of good fortune. Interpret that as you will, but the way I saw it, if a monumental life-change like randomly acquiring ten-million dollars on a $37,000 annual salary doesn’t completely shake one’s equilibrium to the very core, then what hope do four musicians have of morphing enough in relation to their new and different world, while still staying true to the initial musical instincts that drew people to them in the first place? It’s an extremely difficult task, filled with many factors that are quite simply well beyond the band’s control. That’s the part that really sucks, even if the group does everything exactly how they should when they return to music, there’s still a real rolling-the-dice element to the whole thing, and I’m not saying you got toroll snake-eyes, but the point of all this is, a pretty girl can blow on the dice all you want, when they’re rattling around on the table, sometimes lady luck still doesn’t see a victory fit, even if you have immaculately crunched all the probability numbers. This lengthy introduction is necessary, because I wanted all of this to be clear before I actually went about giving Dinosaur Jr’s new album, 'Farm', a thorough listen. This reviewer is a huge fan of 'You’re Living All Over Me', and to me the guitar work on that record by J Mascis kills pretty much every other guitar-driven record of that decade, or any other for that matter. Prior to that album, I was simply not aware a guitar can bend, weave, soar, and wheel around everything else going on, and more importantly, as freewheeling as it was, none of it clashed with the core structures of the songs, which was fairly pop-hooky in nature. Convention was never truly sacrificed, nor was it ever even appreciably shattered, but it was given enough of an overhaul to make all the proceedings fun and unpredictable, all the while not cutting off ties with the casual FM community. That contradiction was not only brilliant and nearly inimitable, but it gave me some really credible rationale to play the record at max volume. My girlfriend at the time absolutely hated when I would blast he Replacements or Ween at ridiculous decibel levels, but when I cranked 'You’re Living All Over Me', it had enough recognizable chorus’ and recognizable sonic architecture, she never once bitched at me about it. Perhaps that’s the case, but there’s also the possibility that there simply is no other way to play that album, and that lack of viable options might have been the real reason she kept a cork in it. But that record was released twenty-two years ago, and considering I didn’t have a lot of vested interest in Dinosaur Jr from 'Green Mind' to anything released after that, I didn’t really know what to expect with 'Farm'. Their first ‘comeback effort’ was 'Beyond', and while I didn’t buy into the fairly universal praise that surrounded that release, I thought there were definitely enough interesting elements contained within the music that would warrant a follow-up. I think I’ve wasted enough time here, and I must note before I continue that there is very little doubt in my mind that 'Farm' is not only their best release since 'You’re Living All Over Me', but this is some of the most powerful and genuinely remarkable music I have heard in years. A problem I’ve always struggled with when it came to Dinosaur Jr, was I always found it difficult to really like the band. Sure I admired the hell out of their SST stuff, and I still listen to 'You’re Living All Over Me' fairly frequently years after my initial purpose, but despite my love of their music, I have never felt that sense of personal attachment that has accompanied so much of my other favourite acts, just as a pure offshoot of the music. I’m not saying I hate J Mascis, or Lou, or Murph, but despite my adoration of so much of their work, if I were out having drinks in the pub and someone started bashing away at the group, I’m not sure I would have a real interest in slamming my beer down in defence of the group. Mascis speaks although he is perma-catatonic, giving frustratingly bland answers to the point that the British Press found so much deadweight and open space in his words, they assumed there had to be a lot of profound stuff in there. There wasn’t. This was a guy, who has a tremendous gift, but to him the only tangible service it provides him, is it allows him not to work a 9-5 job every day. His songs are mostly about how people perceive him, and subsequently how he can’t find the time or effort to give a shit about public perception, or anything really, so please explain to me why I’m supposed to plant my flag in Dinosaur Jr’s corner? Hell, they only had one song on 'You’re Living All Over Me' that had literal substantial meaning, which was 'Poledo', and it was full of ukulele, plus it had Barlow singing the words, since you know, it had raw emotion, something Mascis is not really capable of, or cannot muster since it might take a long time to come back down to neutrality, and regression is valuable time that could be perennially wasted. Slacker haven rejoiced at such a downright consistent and stark offering. And rest assured, 'Farm' is an offering that will provide a valid, audible backdrop for their droopy lives, while not providing any real threat to their outright rejection of anything black/white. There isn’t a weak cut from start to finish, and while there is an aura of familiarity flowing freely throughout 'Farm', it’s never relied upon. No doubt it’s a Dinosaur Jr. album, but it sounds just as vital now as it did twenty years ago. This isn’t 'You’re Living All Over Me' remastered, but it is the sound of a band comfortably aware of their identity, yet not afraid to take the group in new, wild directions. It all starts off with 'Pieces', and it’s an important track to examine not just because it sounds like a cut off of Pearl Jam’s 'Vitalogy' filtered through a very potent LSD cap, but it’s such an authoritative way to start the record, a thundering sound that doesn’t lose any of the addicting, sidewinding nature of their best stuff, but it’s just more at the forefront. Maybe age has given Mascis the confidence to stay true to his most haphazard impulses, while not relying on distortion and ambivalence to blur the line between catchy paranoia and a convenient escape route. Immediately following that is 'I Want You To Know', and it’s becoming clear that while the tracks on this album are more intricately crafted than on their most notable work, they are still given a lot of room to breathe and grow into something else, while never losing the initial identity of the track. This ensures it’s a cohesive, yet endlessly enthralling effort that has the band pushing themselves into new territory they had previously never inhabited. It’s like they finally met someone who had some of their records, and now they’re playing with the knowledge people actually want to hear Dinosaur Jr. music. Mascis doesn’t seem overly intent on turning over his Gen-W (W standing for ‘who cares?’) ethos, and if you were hoping he was going to take off his sunglasses and jump in the deep end on 'Farm,' well you’re not really a Dinosaur Jr. fan, but let me save you some time and quote his words in the terrific Plans: “I’ve got nothing left to be/do you have any plans for me?” After everything the band has went through, I’m still strongly reminded of his quote when a reporter from 'Melody Maker' questioned the band’s future following the initial departure of Barlow: Interviewer: What do you guys plan to do next? Mascis: We have no plans what we want to do next. We have no plans about anything, really. There is a difference that must be observed though. No longer is Dinosaur Jr. content to hide behind the wall of fire. We still have the same general pro-slurpee, who-cares-about-anything-else credo, but now the songs aren’t necessarily a product of such prolonged impartiality. instead they take a life of their own that exist in a world that probably wouldn’t allow dudes like J Mascis behind city walls. They do mean something, not through awkwardly revealing lyrics, instead directing us through a path of sheer exhilaration from start to finish in the sonic realm, and that in itself will trigger a lot of inner-sentiments you never thought possible from listening to a Dinosaur Jr. record. There is no clearer example of this on 'Farm' than 'Said the People', which serves as the centrepiece of the album, as well as the strongest song. Trivialize Mascis’ emotional range all you want, the fact remains he is a human being, who does experience and interpret events in his life, and just because he can’t eloquently put these emotions on paper or on a lyric sheet like a Kurt Cobain or Nick Drake, his guitar can. Slash once called the guitar an extension of the literal being, and I can dig that in rare cases, although certainly not when it’s coming from the guy in Velvet Revolver. 'Said the People' is an epic, vastly commanding effort that actually does bear some crude resemblance to an 'Estranged', or 'November Rain', but in the case of the Dinosaur Jr. track, the guitar solo is not provided as a means to connect the words. Instead the guitar here is the words, and if you don’t get that, well you’re just not lazy enough to have earned the right to be a Dinosaur Jr. follower. It’s a satisfying, yet thick-headed existence, something that cannot truly be explained, only felt in the dead of night with an unplugged alarm clock and droning train endlessly careening by in the distance. Put it this way: life in a fishbowl isn’t so bad if you’re a piranha and have plenty of other fish to chew on. 'Farm' is inescapable proof that Dinosaur Jr. aren’t attempting to stay relevant, instead they no reservations when it comes to their significance. Maybe the guys are even a little cocky by this point, having gotten so far and still having lyrics like “I’ve been on the fence/Now it’s making sense, everything I see” (found on 'Over It'). Maybe I’m starting to see that Dinosaur Jr. are the real Guns of Navarone, knowing full well their hand-cannons still have more to say than anything that could come out of their mouth, and unfortunately it’s starting to dawn on me that the very construction of this piece all but ensures I will never be truly into the essence that is Dinosaur Jr. I love their music with all my heart, but the spirit of the band exists beyond any realm I can describe or articulate, and the unspoken glory of an effort like 'Farm' is a sweeping, prevailing bond that is just too transcendental for puny analysis conducted by those who just can’t figure out why they keep coming back to it. The good news is there is nothing to figure out, and the bad news is there is everything to figure out. Just buy 'Farm' and start in the middle. It’s J’s favourite place in the world.

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Dinosaur Jr - Dinosaur Jr

Dinosaur Jr - Dinosaur Jr

Visitor Comments:-
201 Posted By: Lemmy, Chicago on 14 Jul 2009
Do yourself a favor and pick up the two J Mascis & The Fog albums, More Light and Free So Free. You'll be glad you did.

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Interview (2005)
Dinosaur Jr - Interview
About to reform, Dinosaur Jr were one of the great guitar acts of the 89's, but fell apart in spectacular fashion after recording three classic albums. Frontman J Mascis talks to Mark Rowland about their traumatic break up and getting back together


Profile (2019)
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Mark Rowland examines Dinosaur Jr's four 1990's albums, which have just been re-released in expanded and remastered editions on Cherry Red.

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Andrew Carver watches reformed grunge rockers Dinosaur Jr plays an excellent, if deafening show at the Capital Music Hall in Ottawa
Metro, London, 28/2/2007


Profile (2006)
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After Lou Barlow's departure from influential late 80's grunge group Dinosaur Jr the band carried on with J Mascis taking the helm. Mark Rowland looks at the band's first post-Barlow albums, 'Green Mind' and 'Where You Been' which have been reissued

digital downloads



Pieces (2009)
Impassioned latest single, the second from their ninth studio album for influential alternative rockers, Dinosaur Jr
Over It (2009)
Freak Scene (2005)

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