Fossils Can Still Rock
Post-reunion Dinosaur Jr. is a profoundly different beast than its Jurassic predecessor.
For those who don’t sit at their computers all day refreshing music news websites like freakish recluses, J Mascis and co. triumphantly returned from a decade-long hiatus in ’07. It seems they’ve once and for all cast off the quintessentially Generation X-held fear of widespread comparison to the self-indulgences and clichés of ’80s hard rock and hair metal (i.e. the occasional over-produced vocal hook or the use of extended solos). Secure in the credibility left over from their anti-image grunge days, Dinosaur Jr.’s now-canonized back catalogue serves as the perfect filter through which to understand the bombastic arena rock sensibilities and liberal approach to guitar leads that they showcased so beautifully in the Farm closer “I Don’t Wanna Go There.” Since their great Triassic reemergence, Dinosaur Jr. have taken to songwriting that feels much less constrained to grunge and alt-rock formulas. They’ve already established themselves masters of that particular trade – there are no real wrong answers for them anymore. Their latest effort, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not is the fourth installment from a band unfettered by the pretenses of the musical wave they spearheaded, and sees the seminal trio splay out their deepest influences (and a few passing fancies) before its audience like a winning poker hand.
Glimpse is far from dreary in the vein of Without a Sound. A second listen through confirms that it’s not even particularly melancholy like Green Mind, which is something Dinosaur Jr. fans tend to take for granted. Songs like “Tiny” feel very informed by the power pop of Cheap Trick and Big Star, but Mascis’ chords still have claw marks in them, and their arrangements still have the grime of distortion accruing in the corners. Opener “Goin’ Down” sounds fittingly like some long-slumbering giant snapping awake to arise from under years of moss growth and erosion. Cheery but still sloppy and built of earthen palm-muted chugs, Mascis’ guitar-playing has always balanced showmanship with subtlety. This time around, however, he’s thrown caution to the wind as far as solos go. Amid the murky chordal dips of the otherwise understated “Be a Part” lies an unabashed shredder of a lead that rips through the relative calm like a stray bullet. By the time “I Told Everyone” rolls past, it’s clear that Give a Glimpse is most like the group’s 1985 debut than any other previous release. The album’s songs seem to share the same brisk pace and rough texture, with the hard-driving percussion always pushing upward. What distinguishes the songs from one another is how flashy Mascis decides to get with the clean arpeggios that glide gently over the top of all of his famously dense, hairy chords. The first burst of bass fuzz appears on what might be the album’s lightest fare; with its warbling vocal melodies and acoustic strumming, “Love Is…” could pass as an Automatic For The People-era R.E.M tune were it not for the ripping, needley tone of the guitar lead. It just serves as further proof that all alternative rock icons inevitably metamorphose into Michael Stipe with age. True heaviness comes even later when the towering blues riff of “I Walk For Miles” rears its psychedelic, reverb-soaked head. It’s perhaps the only track that would come close to standing alongside the doom-laden trudges that ring out from the gatherings of Witch, Mascis’ stoner metal side project.
Fear not, lovers of the old way: certain, unshakable Dinosaur Jr. constants remain intact. In “Good To Know,” J Mascis still utilizes his trademark singing style in which he sounds like a terribly congested version of Kenny Rogers competing with the instrument mix – his version of soulful crooning. The solos still take off. The bass lines still thunder on. Those who pine for the days before the Amherst group added the suffix need not fret. Just think of this as the next step in a natural evolution that hopefully doesn’t end with a cataclysmic natural disaster.