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Dinosaur Jr - Profile

  by Mark Rowland

published: 8 / 11 / 2019

Dinosaur Jr - Profile


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

In 1990, Dinosaur Jr. was at a crossroads. Original bassist Lou Barlow had been fired in 1989, after the band’s tour promoting third album 'Bug', which culminated in a fistfight. Barlow’s distinctive bass playing had been a key feature of the early Dinosaur sound, so whatever came next would inevitably feel different. The band recruited Donna Dresch for a tour of Australia, and recorded ‘The Wagon’ with Don Fleming and Jay Spiegel of the band"Gumball, which was put out on Sub Pop. The band then signed to "Sire Records", as the US 80s alternative scene went mainstream. Having rid himself of Barlow’s needling challenges, J Mascis was free to shape Dinosaur Jr. the way he wanted it, which is perhaps why he played almost everything on the band’s major label debut 'Green Mind' (now reissued on Cherry Red records with B-sides and live tracks, along with the rest of the band’s 90s output). The new model Dinosaur Jr was softer and more nuanced, if 'Green Mind' was anything to go by. Opening with ‘The Wagon’ – a cleaner take on the sounds and styles explored on 'Bug' – serves almost as a statement that, although things were different, they weren’t that different. Beyond that, however, the album makes much greater use of acoustic guitars. 'Puke + Cry' and 'Blowing it', both layer acoustic and electric guitars and melodic lines are given more room to breathe. 'Flying Cloud' is solely acoustic. The instrumentation has been expanded too – 'Thumb' features prominent mellotron, for example. While the album has fast rockers like 'How’d You Pin That One On Me', there’s nothing to rival the sludgy power of the bands indie records. No wonder some fans are die-hards for the original Dinosaur Jr line-up. 'Green Mind' is still an excellent record however, it’s just different. It set the tone for the band’s output for the rest of the decade, a cleaner, subtler but still very powerful band. Dinosaur’s next album 'Where You Been', was more of a full band effort, with original drummer Murph playing throughout the record (he played on just three songs on 'Green Mind'), and Matt Johnson filling in on bass duties. 'Where You Been' is harder edged than 'Green Mind'. It’s also a jammier record, with five songs exceeding five minutes. The album features some of the band’s best known songs, such as moody opener 'Out There' and bright, fun 'Start Choppin'. Those tracks basically set the tone for the rest of the album, which alternates between songs like the mournful 'Not the same' and sweeter songs such as 'Get Me' and the upbeat 'Hide'. It’s a great record, possibly the high point of Dinosaur Jr.’s 90s era. It’s also worth noting that the reissue’s bonus tracks include a fantastic Peel Session, featuring acoustic versions of 'Where You Been' tracks and a shorter Evening Session with an acoustic version of 'Thumb'. 'Without A Sound' followed a year afterwards, in the wake of Mascis’ father’s death. Despite putting the album together in the wake of such personal difficulties, the album is, musically at least, mostly upbeat. Like' Where You Been', it leads with its singles, 'Feel The Pain' and 'I Don’t Think So', both of which are fun and bright (despite the name of the former, which also happens to be one of the band’s biggest hits). The lyrics do hint at Mascis’ grief in places, but otherwise it stays hidden. With original drummer Murph out of the band, Mascis mostly played drums himself, with Johnson continuing on bass. The album is a little more one-note than its predecessors (Mascis admitted that he found the album difficult to write) but it has great moments, such as the sunny 'Yeah Right' and the plaintive 'Seemed Like The Thing To Do'. It was another four years before the band returned with 'Hand It Over', which lost the band some commercial momentum (the fact that the sheen had gone from alternative music in the eyes of the public didn’t help) but the album is actually a quietly under-rated gem. While it might not reach the heights of the band’s earlier works, it has some great moments, such as the understated 'I Don’t Think', the fuzz-pop-ish 'Nothin’s Goin On', the trumpet-powered 'I’m Insane' and sweeping final track 'Gotta Know'. Apart from the 'Take a Run At The Sun' EP (included on the 2019 reissue of 'Hand It Over', along with B-sides and live tracks), this was the end of Dinosaur Jr, until Mascis reconciled with Barlow and Murph and the original line-up started making (great) albums again, starting with 2007’s 'Beyond'. The original line-up’s output, in both its original run and its recent works, have received more attention than 90s era Dinosaur Jr. While that original line-up is still the best, it’s about time that these albums received the re-assessment they deserve.

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Dinosaur Jr - Profile

Dinosaur Jr - Profile

Dinosaur Jr - Profile

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