In the conclusion of his masterfully written and highly informative 30 page piece concerning the early years of Dinosaur Jr, Michael Azerrad relays an anecdote about a meeting between sheepish bass player, Lou Barlow and disaffected front man J. Mascis some time after the less than amicable spilt of the band and right around the time of the breakthrough of Nirvana. According the Barlow, he was “like totally high and drunk” on the streets on Northhampton, Massachusetts where he unleashed a quick litany of curse words that culminated into a statement of blame.
“[Nirvana] fucking beat you to it,” shouted Barlow. “You could have done it, you asshole, we could have fucking done it!”
That Dinosaur Jr. would have reached the monumental heights of Nirvana-esque fame and idol worship is highly unlikely though after reading Azzerad’s piece, we can be assured that Murph and Lou often prayed for Mascis to swallow a shotgun shell of his own. However, to say they were unable to reach the subsidiary fame awarded to so many “alternative” acts of their time is up for debate. With the deceptive departure of Barlow (and then Murph after 1993’s Where You Been), Dinosaur Jr. forged on making (in this re viewer’s humble opinion) some of their best music. Sadly, their fame manifested itself into spot slots on soundtracks and overall, was more akin to underground appeal than that of an arena affiliation. One could conclude that since quality musical output was being produced on a frequent tip by Mascis under the Dinosaur Jr. moniker from the pre-to the post-era of grunge, it just wasn’t in the cards for the band, despite whatever lineup they strung together. Then again, one could also wonder, if all original elements were in place could the ceiling have been blown through as opposed to merely grazed?
Fame speak aside, 2007 now finds Lou, Murph and J together again on Beyond, the first album under the Dinosaur Jr. name since 1997’s Hand It Over and the first one featuring the original lineup since 1988’s Bug. And such as the case is with reunion ventures with mentioning, Beyond isn’t about reinvention but a memory game pastiche comprised of all the past elements that made their former albums adored and sprinkled with ingredients of songwriting maturity from what Barlow and Mascis learned during their separation period.
The 20-year extinguished fuse of the firework relights itself with “Almost Ready,” a roman candle explosion of warbled and muddy blasts complete with Mascis’ maudlin moan. “Come on life/ I’m almost ready” states our front man paralleling his personal life with that of his newly rekindled friendships of old band mates. It is a motif that finds its way into nearly every song on the album and one that will probably come to be accepted by the base but denied by the man himself.
“Crumble” is a sourly strummed and sung number that peers itself through a peekhole of the past and focuses upon the frozen images that so neatly fall into a 4 by 6 frame. Musically taking cues from Mascis’ later output ( a la the Fog fame), it’s a story that sneaks by as opposed to balling you over. Little brother Lou gets not one but two spotlight moments by the way of tracks “Back To Your Heart” and “Lightning Bulb.” No longer content to toil by his lonesome on the four track and certainly eager to show what his post-DJR projects have learned him, the confident Barlow stands on par with Mascis and establishes himself as the formidable partner his fans always knew he was.
The country twinged twang of “Pick Me Up” sprawls itself out on one of the albums most epic moments; a free falling guitar lick that leaps into a surround sound outro and is as enjoyable as it gets without forcing Mascis & Co. to trip over their own laces.
By now we realize that this album is not what it may appear to be, that being a watered down version of DJR’s earliest output, rung through the gears of modern technology in an attempt to lure everyone to come on and “get it.” Instead, it is a patient study in the craft of songwriting, one that Mascis and Barlow have spent the past 20+ years (!) perfecting. The result of such diligence are songs like “Been There All The Time,” a wonderfully timed pop outing that once again treads the line between what J says and who is he saying it to as well as “I Got Lost,” the albums stand-out track; a moment of stark, bare and honest humility for the band as a whole that wraps itself in falsetto admittance of Mascis’ breath and is as moving as any of his previous fretboard bullying. The question is repeated and of course the answer is clear, “Can we be the same again?” No, but you can be better. By God, you can be better.
Built to Spill – You in Reverse
Dinosaur Jr. – Where You Been
Meat Puppets – II
MP3: “Almost Ready”